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Something you’re quite likely to come across on walking tours in London are lots of funny phrases being bandied about by the locals. Sometimes you’ll be able to work out what they mean, other times you might well struggle… and just what is it all about?

You’ll have just had your first taster of cockney rhyming slang, a form of self-expression that originated in the East End at the start of the 19th century – so it’s been around for a while and is still very much used today. In fact, some phrases that found their origins in the East End have even made their way into the vernacular of people in far-flung cities – like using the word ‘loaf’ to mean ‘head’, which stems from the phrase ‘loaf of bread’.

It’s relatively easy to understand once you know the very simple rules – and you’ll have a lot of fun trying to work out just what people are trying to say. Would you know, for example, what someone meant if they said, “we’re having a butcher’s hook”?

This simply means that they’re having a look, with ‘hook’ rhyming with ‘look’. But you might well find that the actual rhyming part is left out these days, so if someone says they’re having a butcher’s, this also means that they’re having a look! You’ll get the hang of it in no time, we promise.

If you want to find out a bit more about it before your trip to London, why don’t you watch something like Guy Ritchie flick Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (a film that also has the slang translated with subtitles, which could prove helpful!).