Cockney rhyming slang: What it is, plus 11 famous phrases

Cockney rhyming slang: What it is, plus 11 famous phrases

by Andrea Byaruhanga

Updated June 28, 2022

What would you think if someone told you they were watching the custard

You might assume they were making sure their dessert was cooking properly, but you’d be way off. Here, custard actually means “television”—in Cockney rhyming slang, that is!

Cockney rhyming slang is a form of British slang in which a pair of words is used to replace a similar-sounding word. Often, it’s the non-rhyming word in the pair that’s used (you’ll see what we mean).

This type of slang was originally used among friends and peers in London’s working-class borough of Hackney so they could disguise their conversations

Here are 11 of the most famous Cockney phrases, many of which are still used today. 

  1. Adam and Eve
  2. Apples and pears
  3. Bees and honey
  4. Butcher’s hook
  5. Custard and jelly
  6. Dog and bone
  7. Jack Jones
  8. Kettle and hob
  9. Loaf of bread
  10. Mince pies
  11. Porky pie

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1. Adam and Eve

In Cockney rhyming slang, Adam and Eve means “believe.” As you can see, Eve rhymes with “believe.”

How it’s used: “They’ve only been dating for three weeks and they’re getting married! Can you Adam and Eve it?” 

2. Apples and pears

This is probably one of the most common Cockney rhyming slang expressions you’ll find. Apples and pears translates to “stairs.”

How it’s used: “To get to the second floor, just turn right and go up the apples and pears.

3. Bees and honey

If someone asks you if you have any bees and honey, they’re not talking about insects or a sweetener for their tea. In London Cockney rhyming slang, bees and honey means “money.”

How it’s used: “I’d love to go to Spain with you but I don’t have any bees and honey right now.” 

4. Butcher’s hook

The Cockney slang butcher’s hook means “look.” Remember when we mentioned that it’s the non-rhyming word in a pair that’s often used? This is one of those cases—even though hook is the rhyming word here, it’s typically dropped, and butcher’s is used as a stand-in for “look.” 

How it’s used: “We should go out for lunch soon. I’ll just have a butcher’s at my schedule and let you know when I’m free.”

5. Custard and jelly

You might have been confused earlier when we said that custard meant “television.” Where’s the rhyme? Here’s how it works: Custard and jelly rhymes with “telly,” an abbreviation for television. And, as this is another one of those situations where the rhyming word (jelly, in this case) is dropped, we’re left with custard. Simple, right?

How it’s used: “Turn on the custard! My grandson is singing the national anthem at the football game!”

6. Dog and bone

We’re sure you’re catching on: The phrase dog and bone isn’t at all canine-related. This expression simply means “telephone.” 

How it’s used: “I really hate talking on the dog and bone. I’d much prefer just to meet up in person.”

7. Jack Jones

Have you ever felt like being Jack Jones? You probably have, as Jack Jones means “alone” or “on one’s own.” 

How it’s used: “My roommate is going out of town this weekend, so I’ll be Jack Jones.” 

8. Kettle and hob

Kettle and hob refers to a watch. Back in the old days, “fob” was the word for a pocket watch. Hob (which is a stove), rhymes with “fob.” It’s common to refer to a watch as simply a kettle.

How it’s used: “My girlfriend got me a nice kettle for my birthday.” 

9. Loaf of bread

Any guesses about this one? If you guessed that loaf of bread means “head,” you’re really getting the hang of this! Loaf is usually used on its own as the replacement word.

How it’s used: “You can’t leave your car unlocked in this dangerous neighborhood. Use your loaf!”

10. Mince pies

If anyone ever says you have beautiful mince pies, you can take that as a compliment, because your mince pies are your eyes. 

How it’s used: “I can’t see traffic signs very well anymore; I think I should get my minces checked.”

11. Porky pies

Even the most honest person has probably told a couple of small porkies at some point. Have you figured this one out? That’s right: Porky pies means “lies”! 

How it’s used: “I used to get in trouble at school for telling porkies to the other kids.”  


Have some fun with Cockney rhyming slang 

If you think Cockney rhyming slang is complicated, you’re not Jack Jones! You really have to use your loaf to understand what’s being said. But Adam and Eve us: Once you get the hang of some of these English expressions, you’ll have a great time using them!  

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Andrea is a Canadian freelance writer and editor specializing in English, e-learning, EdTech, and SaaS. She has a background as an ESL teacher in beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia. In her free time, Andrea loves hanging out with her husband and children, creating recipes in the kitchen, and reading fiction. She also loves camping and jumping into lakes whenever possible. Learn more about Andrea on LinkedIn or check out her website.

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