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MEC and onestopenglish Assistant, Giulia Merlo, writes:

One of the most curious and unique aspects of London’s linguistic culture is the Cockney Rhyming Slang: not properly a dialect, but more than just a set of fixed expressions, it consists in substituting a word with an expression that rhymes with it – for example, instead of saying “stairs”, you would say “apples and pears”. Sometimes, to make it even harder, the second part of the expression is dropped, so that only those who know the slang can understand.

According to the Cockney Rhyming Slang website, a Cockney is someone “born within the sound of Bow Bells”, that is, in the vicinity of the church of St Mary-le-Bow, in East London.

The church of St. Mary-le-Bow in 1837.

Apart from its East London origins, not much is known about the Cockney Rhyming Slang: did it start as a game, as a series of code-words for criminals, as a community tradition?

Whichever the reason why it was invented, the slang is still used today: so much so, that some rhyming-slang ATM machines have recently been installed in East London!

Using the website, you can play with your students and see whether you can guess the meanings of the various expressions – or even come up with your own.

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