Magister Ludi (1): Rhyming Slang

By: Patrick Cates
March 15, 2010

Most Anglophiles know that Cockneys have historically enjoyed walking up a flight of apples and pears (stairs), strolling down the frog and toad (road) and chatting on the dog and bone (phone). But nobody seems to have a didgeridoo (clue) about how Cockney rhyming slang first emerged. Most theories and stories propose that it evolved at some point in the 19th century and that, like many cants and vernaculars, it acted as a device for concealment; criminals discussing business without raising any eyebrows down at the rub-a-dub-dub (pub); market traders colluding on prices under a customer’s I suppose (nose); prisoners talking about contraband in front of screws without getting in tom tit (shit).

Rhyming slang has been part of British English ever since, propagated by each new generation of Londoners and Elsewherers who fall for the attractive mix of humour and exclusion that it brings to their speech. And with each round of propagation, old rhymes that no longer have cultural resonance disappear from the lexicon and new rhymes that capture the mood of the moment appear in their place. If you find yourself a little short of money in Whitechapel and ask a friendly young rhymester if you can borrow a Lady (Godiva = fiver), you’ll probably get a baffled look. But if you ask him whether he can spare you an Ayrton (Senna = tenner) instead, you’ll at least be understood, even though the response to your cheeky request might be a kick up the Gary (Glitter = shitter).

In my limited experience of discussing rhyming slang with Americans, it has been regarded, with a mixture of confusion and fascination, as yet another example of quaint British pointlessness, to be filed alongside real ale, hot tea and the National Health Service. But I would like this to change. More than that, I would like Americans to start including a quasi-Cockney comedic cryptolect in their everyday conversations. I believe American English would become a richer brew for it. And this is the nub of the inaugural Magister Ludi challenge: invent a piece of rhyming slang that is compelling enough to warrant its adoption into everyday American usage.

Before I officially launch the challenge, perhaps I can tickle your creative neurons into compliance by presenting some of my favorite examples of rhyming slang, ancient and modern.


Nelson Mandela = Stella (Stella Artois, a strong lager found in just about every British pub)

e.g. “It’s my round. Nelsons for everyone?”



Jacob’s Crackers = knackers (Jacob’s is the leading brand of British cracker; “knackers” is slang for “testicles”)

e.g. “Oof. That hit me right in the Jacobs!”



Hank Marvin = starving (Hank Marvin was the lead guitarist for The Shadows)

Ruby Murray = curry (Ruby Murray was a popular Irish singer in the 1950s)

e.g. “I’m Hank Marvin. Fancy a Ruby?”



Pony and trap = crap

Frank Boff = off (Frank Bough used to be a TV presenter in the UK; “doing the off” means “leaving”)

e.g. “I’ve had enough of this pony. I’m doing the Frank.”



Barry McGuigan = big ‘un (Barry McGuigan was a British boxer; “giving it the big ‘un” is slang for “throwing your weight around”)

Bobby Moore = score (Bobby Moore was the captain of the English team that won the World Cup in 1966; “score” is slang for “situation”)

e.g. “Don’t give it the Barry if you don’t know the Bobby.”



So, on to the challenge:

1) Come up with a piece of new rhyming slang that you could imagine Americans using in conversation.

2) Indicate whether it should be said in full (like Hank Marvin) or in part (like Ruby).

3) Provide at least one sentence that illustrates its usage.

4) If you’re feeling extroverted, upload an audio recording of you demonstrating your slang exemplar (using Audioboo or similar) and supply a link to it.

5) Explain why you think your creation should win the the challenge.

6) Add your complete entry as a comment to the end of this post.

The HiLobrow reader who posts the winning entry (judged as such by virtue of its ingenuity, semantic multi-layering and/or all-round chuckleworthiness), will win a HiLobrow t-shirt. The challenge will close at 9pm EST on Sunday 21 March and the winner will be announced and publicly lauded shortly thereafter.


Codebreaking, Haw-Haw

What do you think?

  1. Excellent idea, Matthew. I’ll add something to the challenge description and upload some of my own audio as an icebreaker.

  2. Kibbles ‘n’ bits = shits

    “How was your dinner at Maison de la Casa House last night?”

    “It seemed great at the time, but all today I’ve had the kibbles.”

  3. ogden nash = cash

    “Come to Buenos Aires with me!”

    “I’d love to, but right now I haven’t got the ogden.”

  4. (Buffy) the Vampire Slayer = player

    “Oh. My. God. He is SUCH a buffy. He slept with my sister last week.”

  5. Luc, I’m going to start using that one immediately! I mean, not that I have an immediate need to use it, but as soon as the opportunity arises, I plan to.

  6. Lyndon (LaRouche = douche)

    Me: “Hey, lend me an Ayrton?”
    Him: “Huh?”
    Me: “A tenner?”
    Him: “The fuck are you talking about?”
    Me: “You know, ten dollars. Or at least a Lady. Gimme a Lady?”
    Him: “Are you high? Are you high right now?”
    Me: “I just need to borrow some money.”
    Him: “Well just ask then. You sound like a Lyndon.”

    (Note: This vignette should not be read as a shot at the proprietor and progenitor of this contest. I love me some rhyming slang.)

  7. Audio for the five examples is now up. Thank you again, Matthew, for the idea. And thank you, Tom, for being the pragmatic pioneer.

  8. Dan, that one’s great because it works both ways. Like, you can say douche and mean Lyndon!

    Barack (Obamas) = pajamas?

    When I get old I wanna be just like Hugh Heffner: walking around in my Baracks all day with a set of twins on each arm.

  9. Ooo I can’t wait to use Luc’s creation so that my two year old doesn’t copy my colourful language! As in “that really gives me the kibbles!” Go Luc!

  10. I like that, Mimi! e.g.:

    Me: “So who’s your favorite post-assassination president?”
    Him: “I’d have to say Johnson.”
    Me: “Who, Andrew?”
    Him: “Nah, that guy was a hack. I prefer douche.” (=LaRouche = Lyndon)

  11. Patrick, those snippets are great! Thanks for putting them up. Ditto to everyone who’s had the jacobs to give the challenge a try. Nelsons on me! (Lend me an Ayrton, willya?)

  12. I’m not getting the audio on those – is it some itunes conspiracy?

    Eddie Vedder=Cheddar

    I’d dearly love to help out, but I’m afraid all my Eddie is tied up in distressed commercial real estate.


    What are those? Another pair of fluevogs? You must have mad Eddie.

  13. uncle = uncle sam = ham
    bridge = bridge over the river kwai = rye

    “I’d like an uncle and eddie on a bridge, please.”

  14. Sugar Smacks = Estate Tax.

    “The Democrats are mobilizing to retroactively reinstate the sugar on multimillion-dollar estates that George W. Bush did away with.”

    PS: I realize this isn’t as good as “uncle and eddie on a bridge” — that’s sheer poetry!

  15. Huckleberry Finn (HBF) = For The Win (FTW)


    James Parker’s novel-in-progress “Cocky the Fox” HBF!

  16. Humphrey Bogart = yogurt

    Day off today, slept in. Now I’m sitting around in my Baracks, looking like a Lyndon. I’d love me some Humphrey; too bad it gives me the kibbles.

  17. Day off today, slept in. Now I’m sitting around in my Baracks, looking like a Lyndon. I’d love me some Humphrey; too bad it gives me the kibbles.

    Multiple usage HBF!

  18. w00t = wellington boot

    We just passed the $500 mark fundraising for James’ novel on Kickstarter. Wellington!

  19. With Saintly Intensity (WSI) = Magnetic Flux Density (MFD)

    The struggling novelist onanized MFD.

  20. Dan asked me yesterday if there were any examples of two-level rhyming slang. The classic one that’s often quoted is Aris:

    “Stop being silly or I’ll give you a kick up the Aris”
    Aris-totle -> bottle, bottle and glass -> arse


    “I’ve forgotten what it’s like to write with a Hilo. I do everything on my Superior these days.”

    Hilobrow -> now, now and then -> pen
    Superior court -> short, short stack -> Mac

  21. Tom, you are some awesome buffy!

    (Shameless plug for mine, way up-thread. Have a butcher’s.)

  22. (tomato) sauce = boss

    (Walt) Whitman = hitman

    “Be careful, dan. I hear the tomato dropped a big chunk of ogden to bring in a top walt from Chicago.”

    “What? Jesus Christ, now I’ve got the kibbles, you fucking lyndon!”

  23. Dan oh dan this is getting complicated. Because as you know, Mark:

    Chicago = Chicago Fire = That Show The Wire

    Are you telling me that Tom is sending Omar to kill me? I guess it’s time to animate my Lindsay — I have no intention of paying the sugar just yet.

  24. Really? Cuz I always thought the *slang meaning of Chicago was (Chicago) Cubs = scrubs, i.e., those blue chicagos Mimi sometimes wears for lounging, instead of baracks.

    Just kidding! You the dan!

  25. Continuing on the cat food theme (why? I don’t have a cat):

    Fancy Feast = deceased

    “So which walt are you calling in? Clams Casino?”

    “No, I’m afraid Clams is fancy.”

  26. Now hang on there just a minute. It’s well known that Clams Casino = former pro football buffy Dan Marino, and he is definitely not fancy. In fact, some say he’s the finest 21 (= blackjack = quarterback) ever to play in the Southern Belle (= NFL).

    Tom, please put a stop to this.

  27. From where I sit, the finest 21 is weighty—you know, Tom, only not our Tom (who’s not our tom, who isn’t our Tom either). I’m talking about the dan who’s married to knickers (Bundchen, as in my Baracks are bunchin’). I’d go see him play in the Skillet (= Gilette), but I don’t have the cheddar for it.

    PTD (= pet the duck = WTF)

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