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INTERMEDIATE Vydáno dne 03.04.2007

Any Eastern Londoner born within the sound radius of the famous bell of Bow Church can be called Cockney. A true „cockney sparra“ will have a strong accent and their vocabulary will contain „rhyming slang“.


Cockney is not just a kind of English. It's the whole culture and a specific type of person, too.

Cockney region

St. Mary-le-Bow Church, London
St. Mary-le-Bow Church

The area where Cockneys reside has been changing. To be a Cockney, one must be born within the reach of the Bow Bells. The Church of St. Mary-le-Bow was destroyed during the Great Fire of London in 1666 and consequently rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren. The bells were destroyed again in the World War II (1941) and weren't replaced until 1961. It means there was a period of 20 years when no true Cockneys could be born according to the definition.

Literally, the definition produces other problems such as traffic noise and lack of maternity hospitals within the sound radius of the Bow Bells. That also severely limits the number of "true" Cockneys to be born. A research carried out by the city in 2000 showed that the Bow Bells, by estimation, can be heard six miles eastwards, five miles northwards, three miles southwards and four miles westwards.

Cockney English

Cockney English is characterized by its own special vocabulary and usage, known as "rhyming slang".

How it works?

Take a pair of associated words where the second word rhymes with the word you intend to say and use only the first word of the pair to indicate the word you originally wanted to say. A good example is "apples and pears" for "stairs"; "Where's your husband gone?" "Oh, he's just gone up the apples."

Some slang words are developed regarding to the changing culture: ears = Britney Spears.
Among other features of the Cockney language we can find: dropped "h" at the beginning of the words: house = ['ouse]
replacing "-th-" (then, bath) by f and v: thin = [fin]; brother = [braver]
vowel lowering: dinner = [dinna]
omission of "t": [wa'er]
my = me: She's me old Dutch. (Dutchess of Fife = wife)
The above listed examples are not the complete summary of the Cockney language "grammar".

The story in the background

The term "Cockney" has been in use since as early as 1600 and there are many different stories to explain its origin. A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1785) by Francis Grose tells the following story:

A citizen of London heard a horse neigh when he was staying in the country. He exclaimed: "Lord, how that horse laughs!" A countryman explained him that the noise was called "neighing" and the next morning, when the cock crowed, the Londoner who wanted to show he had not forgotten what was told him, cried out: "Do you hear how the Cock neighs?"

Cockney nowadays

Recently, usage of Cockney has been fading away because East London is recently largely populated by foreigners. It's been replaced with Jamaican Creole accent which has gained popularity among young Londoners, especially those of Afro-Caribbean descent.

Nevertheless, some celebrities like to use Cockney in order to look more cheerful and down-to-earth. This fake Cockney accent is called Mockney.

Cockney in movies

The notorious legend of Jack the Ripper is situated in the heart of Cockney territory. A movie picturing the legend called "From Hell" is full of Cockney English and Johnny Depp is said to have done a very good Cockney accent.

Cockney examples

look --> butcher's hook

Let's 'ave a butcher's at it.

Mate --> China plate

'e's me best China.

Water --> Fisherman's daughter

Gimme a drink of fisherman's.

Road --> frog and toad

I'm going up the frog.

Hands --> German bands

Me Germans are cold.

Army --> Kate Karney

I'm joining the Kate.

(Written by Petra Benova in pleasant partnership with Jeff Gibbs. Examples taken from "The Original Rhyming Cockney Slang", Jack Jones, England 2003.)

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