Cracking the code for cripple in cockney rhyming slang


We'd eventually found an Auckland car park, right next to a "disabled only" slot. And then an ageing Honda Civic shot into this space right next to us. It was hot and I guess my silent indignation showed.

The passenger smiled at me, probably reading my disapproval and said through her open window, "raspberry ripple", as if that explained everything.

Fortunately I had a passenger who understood the vagaries of cockney slang; she quietly translated for me, "cripple!" Their park was legitimate and I wouldn't need to call the Sweeney Todd (the Flying Squad).

As a young man I spent some of my seagoing days berthed in the London East End docks; mostly Royal Albert, Shed 33. By the way, it is now a short runway airport. The big-hearted cockneys, who worked the ships discharging New Zealand lamb, cheese and butter, used their rhyming slang as part of their everyday speech. "Oiy, Doris Day [gay] what you doin' tonight?" they'd call to one of the gay stewards walking down the gangway. Never lost for words the response would be in the wharfie's own language. "See you later up at the rub a dub darlin', you can shout me a baby giraffe (See you at the pub and you can buy me half a pint)."

Some of this slang has found its way into our everyday usage. "Mother's ruin" for gin, "chew the fat" for a chat, "plates of meat" for one's feet and "apple and pears" for stairs as examples.

Much of this slang language is very descriptive. "Twist and twirl" for a girl, "fat boy slim" for a gym and "one time looker" for a hooker, are more than just rhyming slang, they give a picture of the noun. I once heard a very large customer at Dirty Dicks, a pub in East End, Plaistow, explain to his doubtful girlfriend that, "corse I luvs ya, buys ya fish and chips don I?" I'm sure she was flattered and convinced.

And the list goes on; some of the rhyming words I enjoy the most are:

Food - In the nude

Engineer - ginger beer

Haemorrhoids - Emma Freuds

Greek - bubble and squeak

Jock [Scotsman] - sweaty sock

Fish - Lillian Gish

And finally the Judge - inky smudge.

Rhyming slang incorporated words and phrases that are often relevant to the location. In London for example, "Peckham Rye" means "necktie". Another is "Hampstead Heath" used for "teeth" and when shortened to "Hampsteads" it would have little relevance or meaning to the non-Londoner.

In the mid- 20th century individual names were being incorporated into the rhyming slang lexicon. The name of the pop singer of my youth, one Ruby Murray, was used to describe curry, now a national English dish. "Alans" became the slang used for knickers; it's not rhyming until you associate it with the then well-known TV commentator Alan Whicker. .

Even the politicians were roped into the language with "flares", as in trousers, becoming known as "Tony Blairs".

So I want to say to the "raspberry ripple" I glared at somewhere in Northcote, Auckland, thank you for leading me back to my earlier brief encounter with rhyming slang. It made me have a "butchers" at its history. Now "butchers" doesn't seem to rhyme with anything to do with history until you add the word "hook" to it. "Butcher hook"; have a look. "No Barney" I say, as in Barney Rubble; no trouble!

Before I send my "opinions" to the editor I always run them past "her indoors", with a right of veto. Now there's no rhyming with her title, and some would see it as perhaps sexist. But it is a cockney phrase for one's wife and as Katherine says, "It keeps my name out of your bleedin' columns".