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Cockney is the name of an English Regiolekt in London , which partly works with specific rhyme forms . The term came from a nickname for the citizens of London. In a narrower sense, however, cockneys only refer to those people who were born within earshot of the bells of the church of St Mary-le-Bow in the City of London .


The following pronunciation phenomena are characteristic of this regiolect:

  • "H-dropping": omission of / h /: harm sounds like poor
  • "Th-fronting": replacement of / θ / and / ð / by / f / and / v /
  • “T-glottalization”: Replacement of / t / by / ʔ / in some positions
  • Centralization of the vowels of the so-called English " Received Pronunciation ".
  • l-vocalization: "Millwall" [ˈmɪowɔː]
  • Pronunciation of vowels / diphthongs:
    • / iː / → [əi], "beet" [bəiʔ]
    • / eɪ / → [æɪ ~ aɪ], "bait" [bæɪʔ]
    • / uː / → [əʉ] or [ʉː], "soon" [səʉn]
    • / aɪ / → [ɑɪ] or [ɒɪ], "bite" [bɑɪʔ]
    • / ɔː / → [oː], "law" [loː]

A typical word would be B. guv (this is how a man is mainly addressed by taxi drivers).

Word origin

The word Cockney can first be found in 1362 and comes from the Middle English cokeney from cocken + ey (English cock + egg ), a rooster egg, i.e. a piece of cock droppings. Geoffrey Chaucer uses the term "cokenay" (around 1386) in his story 'The Reeve's Tale' and means: "a child tenderly brought up, an effeminate fellow, a milksop". In 1521 the term pejorative denotes an effeminate city dweller. Samuel Rowlands uses the term to refer to someone who was born within earshot of the Church of St Mary-le-Bow . After Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar language (engl. A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue ) of the English lexicographer Francis Grose (* 1730/31 in Greenford , Middlesex , † June 12, 1791 in Dublin ) in 1785 of the term comes from the following story:

A Londoner heard a horse neigh while out in the country and exclaimed, “Lord! What the horse laughs! ”A person standing next explained to him that the horse's sound was called“ Neigh ”. When the rooster crowed the next morning, the Londoner wanted to show that he had not forgotten what he had learned and exclaimed: “Do you hear how the cock neighs?”?

Cockney rhyming slang

A specialty of the Cockney speakers is the Cockney Rhyming Slang : The word that you want to express is replaced by a multi-part expression that rhymes with this word. In most cases (but not always) only the first part of the rhyme term is used, which means that the uninitiated can hardly guess the meaning.


  • instead of cancel - rhymes with Nigel Mansell (British Formula I driver) - you say I had to nigel my holidays
  • instead of head - rhymes with loaf of bread (a loaf of bread) - one says loaf , e.g. B. Use yer loaf!
  • instead of look - rhymes with butcher's hook - one says butcher's , e.g. B. Have a butcher's!
  • instead of money - rhymes with bread and honey - they say bread
  • instead of wife (wife) - rhymes with trouble and strife (sorrow and strife) - one says trouble
  • instead of road - rhymes with frog and toad (frog and toad) - one says frog
  • instead of stairs (stairs) - rhymes with apples and pears (apples and pears) - they say apples
  • instead of lies (lies) - rhymes with pork pies (pork pie) - you say Don't tell porkies! (Meant: don't spin around! )
  • instead of years (in the sense of long, long time) - rhymes with donkey ears - you say I haven't seen you for donkeys. (meaning: I haven't seen you in ages. )
  • instead of tramp (in the sense of " bum ") - rhymes with paraffin lamp (kerosene lamp) - you say Look at that old paraffin! (meaning: look at the bum! )
  • instead of hair (in the sense of hair) - rhymes with Barnet Fair (annual market in Barnet ) - they say Wot a Barnet! (meant: Oh, what beautiful hair! )
  • instead of feet - rhymes with plates of meat - they say My plates hurt. (Meaning: my feet hurt. )
  • instead of pocket (bag) - rhymes with sky rocket ( sky rocket ) - you say it's in my sky rocket (meaning: it's in my pocket)
  • instead of go (to go) - rhymes with Scapa Flow (was a naval base in the bay of the same name in the southern Orkney Islands) - one says to scarper (meaning: to run away)
  • instead of telly (TV) - rhymes with Liza Minnelli - you say I'm watching the lisa (meaning: I'm watching TV )
  • instead of phone - rhymes with dog and bone - you say I'm on the dog. (meaning: I'm on the phone )

Rhyming slang used to be a real secret language or even a rogue language, nowadays it is a popular play on words that has spread throughout the English-speaking world. In Australian, one often says dead horse instead of tom sauce (tomato ketchup). Rhyming slang is not subject to any normative regulation by dictionaries such as the Oxford English Dictionary , which is considered to be the benchmark for the standard English language. Rhyming slang is designed and kept alive by its users. Terms that seem plausible to speakers at any given time are used and others are dropped. Examples of such time-bound terms are:

  • instead of tenner (£ 10 note) you rhyme Ayrton , which means racing driver Ayrton Senna.
  • instead of teeth , Hampsteads is now rhymed, which is derived from Hampstead Heath. In 1859 this was attributed to Hounslow Heath.

Research has also shown that the traditional Cockney is on the retreat from London and is being replaced by a new multicultural slang.

Examples of famous cockneys

Well-known Cockney speakers or singers

Well-known Cockney films


  • Frank Erik Pointner: Cockney Glottalling. A Study on the Phonetics of Contemporary London Speech. The Blue Owl, Essen 1996, ISBN 3-89206-730-9 . ( Language and theory in the Blue Owl. 11), (Simultaneously: Mannheim, Univ., Diss., 1994).
  • A. Cruttenden: Gimson 's Pronunciation of English. 6th ed. London 2001.
  • Arthur Hughes, Peter Trudgill: English Accents and Dialects: An Introduction to Social and Regional Varieties of British English. Baltimore 1989.
  • William Matthews: Cockney, Past and Present: a Short History of the Dialect of London. Detroit 1938. (Reprint: Routledge & Paul, London et al. 1972, ISBN 0-7100-7303-8 ).
  • Eva Sivertsen: Cockney Phonology. Oslo 1960.
  • JC Wells: Accents of English 1: An Introduction. Cambridge 1982.
  • JC Wells: Accents of English 2: The British Isles. Cambridge 1982.
  • Peter Wright: Cockney Dialect and Slang. London 1981.

Web links

Wiktionary: Cockney  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations


  1. John Timbs: Bow Bells. In: The Illustrated London News. December 21, 1850.
  2. Cockney. In: Oxford English Dictionary.
  3. ^ Born within the sound of Bow Bells. Explanation by: The Phrase Finder. Samuel Rowland's short story "The Letting of Humors Blood in the Head-Vaine". This meaning became established in the 17th century. See: John Timbs, Bow Bells
  4. lists examples of rhyming slang and compares them to John Camden Hotten: The Vulgar Tongue. A Glossary of Slang, Cant, and Flash Phrases, used in London from 1839 to 1859. London 1859.
  5. ^ Cockney to disappear from London within 30 years. on: BBC News. July 1, 2010.
  6. »Berliner Zeitung« of February 26, 2014, page 25