The Cockney accent is undoubtedly one of the most distinctive and fascinating British accents: used not just by woman of the moment Adele, but also by actors including Sir Michael Caine, Jason Statham, and the late Barbara Windsor. Here’s everything you need to know about this charming and sometimes slightly confusing way of speaking.
1. A Cockney is a particular type of Londoner.
Tradition has it that anyone born within earshot of Bow Bells – the bells of St. Mary-le-Bow church in the City of London – could claim to be a genuine Cockney. However, over the decades the term has become especially synonymous with people from London's East End. To hear an array of authentic Cockney accents, just check out a clip of BBC soap opera EastEnders.
2. Don't try too hard to do a Cockney accent… or you might get called a "Mockney".
This pejorative term is sometimes leveled at British politicians who put on a fake Cockney accent to make themselves sound more down-to-earth.
3. Back in the day, the Cockney accent was perceived as downmarket and even as a barrier to social progress.
Late Bond actress Honor Blackman, who was born in east London and always regarded herself as a Cockney, often spoke of having elocution lessons as a teenager to make herself sound posher and more employable. Thankfully, any lingering snobbery surrounding the Cockney accent has definitely diminished in recent decades.
4. Cockney rhyme slang is a dialect based on coded language that originated in London's East End around 200 years.
The formula is pretty simple: it involves replacing a word with two or three words, the last of which rhymes with the original word. Then, you omit the rhyming word to create a kind of code. So, "china plate" is Cockney rhyming slang for "mate," but you might hear someone refer to their "china" when they're talking about a good friend. Equally, "barnet" is Cockney rhyming slang for hair because the original word rhymes with "Barnet Fair," a famous horse fair in northeast London.
Anglophenia's Kate Arnell explains the whole thing very well in the video below.
5. Certain dishes are traditionally associated with Cockneys,
These include jellied eels – which is literally eels served in a spiced jelly, and can be eaten either hot or cold – and pie and mash. In old-fashioned East End eateries, pie and mash is served with "liquor," which isn't anything alcoholic, but simply a parsley sauce made using the water that jellied eels stewed in. Gordon Ramsay delves into the history of jellied eels in the video below.
Do you sometimes get confused by Cockney rhyming slang?