Rhyming slang refers to the slang words and expressions probably developed in London, possibly in the 17th & 18th centuries (in 1859, John Camden Hotten's A dictionary of modern slang, cant, and vulgar words refers to the costermongers of London's East End "use of a peculiar slang language"), but which had soon spread to other parts of Great Britain. Its most common version is arguably Cockney rhyming slang, but other versions exist throughout the English-speaking world, most notoriously in Australia.
While not a priority language item for most EFL students - or teachers - those planning to spend time in or around London will inevitably come up against these binomial expressions at some stage. Thus, on a light-hearted note, there are five ATMs in the East End which have Cockney rhyming slang as a "language" option. For classroom work, they may be useful for linking exercises and, of course, rhyming. Rhyming slang works by replacing the word to be obscured, for instance "look", as in "Let's have a look", with the first word of a phrase that rhymes with that word. Thus, "look" would be replaced by "butcher's," because "look" rhymes with "butcher's hook": "Let's have a butcher's". Similarly, since Britney Spears rhymes with beers, the sentence "A couple of Britneys" means "A couple of beers".
While many native English speakers are unaware of it, several rhyming slang expressions, whether true Cockney or not, have passed into common language. On the other hand, the creation of new ones is no longer restricted to Cockneys.
- I should cocoa = I should say so (first appeared in 1936)
- A dictionary of modern slang, cant, and vulgar words (First edition, 1859) at Google Books
- A dictionary of modern slang, cant, and vulgar words by John Camden Hotten (Full title: A dictionary of modern slang, cant, and vulgar words used at the present day in the streets of London, the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, the houses of Parliament, the dens of St. Giles, and the palaces of St. James: preceded by a history of cant and vulgar language: with glossaries of two secret languages, spoken by the wandering tribes of London, the costermongers, and the patterers (Second edition, 1860)
- "ATM Cash Machine Uses Cockney Accent To Deliver Money" The Huffington Post
- "Cockney rhyming at cash machines" BBC
- "Ten facts about the word ‘chocolate’" Oxford Dictionaries, retrieved 23rd September, 2012.