Pete Tong and a butcher’s whistle

More rhyming slang came my way this week, and it was interesting for several reasons.
Two different friends used it casually in conversation:
Marie: "I’ll be there on Saturday. It’ll give me a chance to have a butcher’s at the hundreds of photos of Su’s 40th."
Butcher’s = Butcher’s hook = look
Charlotte: "You should wear your whistle."
Whistle = Whistle and toot = suit
The other one is a film poster than I see on my way to work:
It’s all gone Pete Tong
Pete Tong = wrong
The fact that people in their thirties who were born in Dorset and Manchester use so easily this London-born form of slang illustrates how widespread it is. Second, it shows that it is alive and kicking, as the film title above proves: Pete Tong gained fame in the 80s, so it shows that this form of slang is still being enriched. Other examples that rhyming slang continues to evolve to suit its times are:
Big mac = getting the sack (80s)
Shovels and spades = AIDS (80s)
Britneys = beers (90s)
Brad = excrement (90s)
Kryptonite = Website (2000s)
I doubt the main driver for these new terms is still the Bow population; cockney rhyming slang has been so readily adopted by the whole of the UK that, although it is near impossible to trace back the geographical origin of a new term, I wouldn’t be taking too much of a risk by saying that it could be anywhere.

By | 2016-10-18T15:51:07+00:00 May 23rd, 2005|Idioms|8 Comments

About the Author:

Celine
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.

8 Comments

  1. Janet May 23, 2005 at 7:54 pm

    Unless someone puts together a glossary (and keeps it updated), now, this will be a translating nightmare for someone in the future trying to translate from “Brit English” to another language. You obviously “had to be there.” 🙂 Janet in the U.S.

  2. Jean May 24, 2005 at 9:55 am

    True. I’d never heard of any of the above apart from ‘butcher’s’.

  3. céline May 25, 2005 at 9:22 am

    Janet, you’re right, just like I had no idea who Harry Randall (for candle), Wilkie Bards (for cards) or Wee Gorgie Wood (for good) were vintage music-hall stars until I read it in my Cassell’s rhyming slang…

  4. Philip Rush June 6, 2005 at 8:35 pm

    I think it’s “whistle and flute” and – the point being to omit the rhyming word – some of your modern versions don’t count, eg kryptonite.
    Britneys I love.
    Janet from the US thinks they defy translation, but that, of course, is the point: rhyming slang is a code way of keeping strangers out of your conversation. So by default a hard thing to translate!

  5. céline June 7, 2005 at 9:28 am

    Philip, I was going to tell you that you were wrong, that it’s “whistle and toot”, which is what I was told, but after checking, it turns out that you’re right with your flute. “whistle and toot” = loot = money.

  6. Guillaume June 8, 2005 at 5:15 pm

    Are there any good books about Cockney slang?
    Cheers,
    G in the US

  7. céline June 9, 2005 at 1:57 pm

    The book I use as a reference is Cassell’s rhyming slang, by Jonathon Green.

  8. Phil Edwards June 27, 2005 at 10:14 pm

    I’m surprised by ‘whistle’ – I’ve never heard it in the wild.
    I’m not sure how ‘live’ rhyming slang is these days. In its heyday, as I understand it, it was used quite widely as a cant or argot, the aim being to baffle outsiders (the police in particular). We might all know that ‘plates’=’plates of meat’=’feet’ or that ‘apples’=’apples and pears’=’stairs’ (to take two of the most hackneyed examples) but hearing two people, conversing at normal speed, replace every noun with its rhyming slang equivalent would tax the abilities of most eavesdroppers.
    What we’ve got now are, on one hand, a stock of slang terms which were originally rhyming slang (‘butchers’, ‘barnet’, ‘berk’) and, on the other, some scattered coinages which mostly have novelty/in-group value. The inclusion of the rhyme word is significant – you don’t say “it’s all gone Pete Tong” to confuse eavesdroppers, you say it because it sounds funny.

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