A load of cobblers

“That’s a load of cobblers.” I’m not sure where I heard this expression recently, but it’s common and I thought that it probably was rhyming slang (slang in which a word is replaced by a phrase which rhymes with it). I checked it in my Cassell’s rhyming slang, by Jonathon Green:

cobbler’s (also cobblers, cobblers’ awls, cobbler’s stalls)

[1930s+] 1 the testicles. 2 rubbish, nonsense, esp. as an exclamation cobblers! [cobbler’s awls = balls]

An awl is a pointed tool for making holes, as in wood or leather, and is an essential tool for a shoemaker (or cobbler). According to cockneyrhymingslang.co.uk, balls can also be Niagara Falls (I got booted in the Niagaras).
On the same page, I spotted a couple of expressions linked to Brighton, my home town. So, here is a little challenge for the weekend: what do Brighton pier and Brighton rock mean in rhyming slang? Suggestions in the comments box, the first person to find the answers will win my undying admiration.


By | 2016-10-18T15:51:30+00:00 January 14th, 2005|Idioms|16 Comments

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About the Author:

I am Céline Graciet, a freelance English to French translator. Since 2003 I’ve been writing on all sorts of areas linked to translation and the life of a translator.


  1. Neij January 14, 2005 at 1:48 pm

    Brighton rock is c*ck (male organ). Brighton pier is queer (homosexual).
    Another interesting article, Céline. Any chance you could write something explaining “le verlan”? I’ve never come across it in real life, only read about it, and descriptions of it seem as improbable as rhyming slang must do when first encountered by non-English speakers!

  2. céline January 14, 2005 at 2:38 pm

    Neij, you beat Claude on the French side by 6 minutes, so half-congratulations as you only get one out of two! Although they’re probably both right, to be honest, but my book gives me another word for “Brighton rock”… Fancy having another go?
    About verlan, your wish is my command, and it’s an interesting one so I’ll get working on it asap.

  3. Neij January 14, 2005 at 2:54 pm

    Thanks, Céline!
    C*ck was the most obvious one, given the general tenor of a lot of rhyming slang. Presumably in some cases that is the point of rhyming slang? Or at least a reason for its occasional more widespread usage outside the sound of Bow Bells? e.g. many people would happily use “berk” who wouldn’t dream of using the word it’s popularly supposed to be rhyming slang for.
    So what is it? The only ones that spring to mind are lock, knock or sock, but none of these seem as convincing to me as my (and Claude’s) original suggestion 🙂
    J’attends avec impatience ton article au sujet du verlan!

  4. céline January 14, 2005 at 3:13 pm

    I can’t just give it away!! Here is a bit of context to help you out: “It was busy down the Brighton rock this morning.”
    Rhyming slang does tend to be used for rude words, although the one that I hear most often would probably be “barnet” (for “Barnet fair” > hair).

  5. Neij January 14, 2005 at 3:18 pm


  6. céline January 14, 2005 at 3:57 pm

    No, but getting closer…

  7. Nassira January 15, 2005 at 6:59 am


  8. Nassira January 15, 2005 at 7:22 am

    Oups, j’aurais dû lire la v.f. avant de deviner. Mais j’avais raison, au moins. ;c)
    I’m curious – from whom do you hear “barnet”? I’d been under the impression that the use of rhyming slang was distinctly marked, not the kind of thing you’d hear in professional circles.

  9. céline January 15, 2005 at 10:13 am

    Bravo Nassira ! The one person I can think of who has used “barnet” regulary over the years is my lovely friend Lis, who used to be an engineer and is now training to be a teacher. I’m sure other people I know use it, and none of them are actually from the East End.
    I do think some rhyming slang has permeated all levels of society and are not an indication of a person’s social standing any more. They’re just accepted expressions whose origin is not necessarily known. People from all social extraction blow raspberries on children’s tummies. Do they know that it comes from rhyming slang (“raspberry tart” = fart)?

  10. language hat January 15, 2005 at 4:24 pm

    There’s a bit of information on verlan at http://www.languagehat.com/archives/000504.php ; unfortunately, the NY Times article linked is now in the paid archives.

  11. Peter January 17, 2005 at 1:08 am

    I’ve also heard “Orson” used for fart – as in “Who’s Orsoned?” Not only rhyming slang, but a corruption, too. Orson cart = horse and cart = fart.

  12. céline January 17, 2005 at 8:53 am

    Language Hat: I agree with your post, it is ridiculous to suggest that verlan is primarily used and developed by immigrants.
    Peter: Thanks, I didn’t know that one. It also involves a clipping (Orson cart > Orson). What about this one?
    Ala = buttocks. It comes from Ala, an abbreviation for alabaster = plaster, which clips Plaster of Paris = arris, which abbreviates Aristotle = bottle, which clips bottle and glass = slang arse (bottocks)…

  13. julien January 19, 2005 at 10:55 pm

    That is so interesting. We don’t have rhyming slang in French. the closest thing I can think of is the “charade à tiroir” that follows the same principle. (That and the rhyme “Marabou, bout d’ficelle, selle de ch’val…)
    Some other sites are much more comprehensive on the subject, but I really like “Pondichery”.
    Of course, “livoni” should be Livonie (Livonia) and “Di tire une bique” should be “Di tire en bique” to make things more understandable.
    By the way, is “Forgive my French” only an American expression, or is it British too ? I just love the phrase.

  14. céline January 20, 2005 at 3:18 pm

    The Brits definitely use the expression “Forgive my French”, and when I’m around, they use an apologizing tone of voice while looking at me, as if I was particularly prone to be offended because of that expression!

  15. Orla January 27, 2005 at 11:32 am

    A slight digression, but also on the subject of idioms: maybe some of you French experts can help me out with something that’s been bothering me. Someone I know who is regarded as a professional translator was giving a presentation recently in which she used the phrase ‘elle sais se metre en valeur’ (sorry if spelling is not correct). She proceeded to translate this for us as ‘she knows how to evaluate herself’. Even with my high-school French, I wondered about this translation. I have the feeling that it means more ‘she knows how to make herself valuable / valued’ or something similar. Maybe the person just used the English ‘evaluate’ incorrectly. I’d be interested to hear what people think.

  16. céline January 27, 2005 at 4:39 pm

    Orla, you’re right, “she knows how to evaluate herself” isn’t a good translation for “elle sait se mettre en valeur”. I think I’d go for “she knows how to make the most of herself”, but I’m not entirely certain this is the best option.

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