1943 Film Explains Cockney Rhyming Slang

Arika Okrent

Cockney rhyming slang is a coded way of speaking where a word or phrase is substituted for another through rhyme. As explained in this 1943 British Pathé film, plates o’ meat stands for feet, and daisy roots stands for boots. Sometimes the rhyme inspiration is only implied, as in tit fer (from tit for tat) for hat.

This illustrated guide is a strange little window into the wartime state of rhyming slang. It seems the producers got an authentic speaker to demonstrate (he certainly doesn’t seem like an actor in any case), and there are some interesting historical fossils, like Jem Mace for face. Mace was a famous boxer—these days (according to current sources) term for face is Chevy Chase or Ricky Gervais. I had no idea what the final example, twarp, was supposed to be (“a twerp in the A.R.P”?), but in 1943 the most common use of A.R.P. would have been for the Air Raid Precautions brigade, volunteers charged with keeping London prepared in case of bombardments. There must have been enough twerps in there making clumsy mistakes to warrant their own slang term.

Go on an' 'ave a butcher’s then ...