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Home Education The Guardian’s Education section has the definitive guide to Cockney rhymes.

The Guardian’s Education section has the definitive guide to Cockney rhymes.

Photo by Santi Vedrí on Unsplash

To the Cockney, the phrase “steps and stairs” describes the idea of gradation. Every good costermonger has skill in displaying the front of his stall. The selected samples of fruit and vegetables are expertly graded in “steps and stairs”. Apples and pears, when in season, are common on each barrow and, when polished, create an arresting display.

As gravy was plentiful at mealtimes in both services.

Suggestive of the softness of the foods on which babies are fed. 

As bees are the epitome of work, work produces money, the possession of which is sweet.  

A term that enjoyed a fresh lease of life during the second world war and the food-rationing period.  

Policeman. There are a possible pair of inferences: to bottle meaning to enclose and a stopper meaning one who holds another back from a course of action.  

As a box of toys, particularly a new one given as a present at Christmas time, causes a great deal of noise to be made.

Since people sentenced to that 19th century punishment could not keep still for a second.

Influenced by the extreme displays that adolescents are inclined to perform on a bicycle, especially when showing off.

Since both coal and coke used to be supplied in large blocks that had to be broken down before their use.  

Sometimes known as “Doggett’s” as watermen who possessed the Doggett Coat and Badge could charge higher fares than those without.

An effeminate man, suggestive either by their neatness of dress, or by “powder puff”.

To get into serious trouble. Suggested by the effect of a flower pot dropped from a window above on to someone below.

Which was often stolen during packed railway stations in the holiday season.  

Applying only to the wife who is cut off from the parental support and carried (provided for) by her husband.  

Many imported safety matches were of poor quality and often failed to ignite when scratched against the side of the box.

A term often used by people working at nighttime.  

Referring not just to the famous London store, but to “derry” as to “have a derry on” meaning to dislike, referring to “down on”, meaning prejudiced against, from Derry Down in Ireland.  

The drink. Based on the imploring of ladies who, when asked to “have another”, replied that they “didn’t ought”.

Short for the cigarette Woodbines which indirectly played their part in the victory of the first world war.

A duck when diving is hidden beneath the pond’s surface and to duck is to avoid a blow by a quick dropping movement.

Used when children have created a huge amount of mess.  

As flower buyers have to keep very early hours to buy their produce at Covent Garden flower market.

As water is part of the fisherman’s landscape.  

Describing how a social get-together should be.

As no cake can be eaten that has not been given (by a shopkeeper) and taken. Cake also means money, as in “a cake of notes” that also needs to be given and taken.

Referring to the speed required to run to such a refuge and the fact they were often underground.

As in the nose through which people both inhale and exhale.  

Referring to the London County Council’s notice to the effect that a bell was rung and the gates locked at dusk.

Referring to the risk caused in disturbing the father of the household when he was taking his afternoon nap in an armchair “of a Sunday”.

Referring to a late 19th century act of daring where a performer strapped to a wheel whizzed round on a coiled track.

Which to receive sometimes can be very cold comfort.  

In reference to the morning after the night before.

The market stall holders felt that the sooner the boy stopped reading books and gained practical experience the better.

In the sterling sense. Referring to the saying that “money was made round to go round”.

Yiddish words for good luck and good health respectively, referring to the occupation ofdoor-to-door salesman (these are two of his six requirements, the other four being: good looks, temper, voice and manners).

As in the idea of “so near and yet so far” relating to a busy pub with a throng of waiting customers.  

Meaning a cigarette and referring to its soiled state when smokers are employed in a mucky profession. 

Used of temporarily penniless housewives.

A magistrate. In heady days many did see the “beak” once a week as a result of excessive partying on a Saturday night.

A trick of confidence which if successful made for easy money.  

A cynical reference to the bog standard level of menu of the average mess for the “other ranks”.

For which a long indulgence can have a considerable effect upon the skin.

Both a matter of pleasure for gardeners and pain for sufferers from rheumatism.

Riding breeches which were worn in the 19th century by those with either wealth or a title.

The appearance of dice rolling is similar to rodents running.

Suggestive of the busy handling of coins. 

The connection is very apt.

As in that due to a long-serving, retired soldier.  

Suggestive of its smoothness.  

Implying a situation of penury and hence the lack of a bed.  

The appearance of rough white marble resembles a sugar lump and being a soft stone (when newly quarried) it is easy (ie sweet) to work with.  

A horse racing term relating to the “tic tac” signals made by bookmakers.  

The connection is very apt.  

The connection is very apt.  

Used exclusively in reference to a beggar’s tale.  

In the sense both of without cost, implying a part of the good time coming, and without restraint, as in the release from prison.

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