Australian rhyming slang

Dame Edna pictured with Australian singer Barry Crocker, after whom the expression 'a Barry Crocker' rhyming slang for 'a shocker' (a bad or disappointing person or thing) is named.

Rhyming slang is so commonly associated with London’s East End that it is usually referred to as Cockney rhyming slang. However it’s almost as prevalent in some circles of Australian society, and Australian English has many words deriving from rhyming slang.

It’s been proposed that the original purpose of rhyming slang in mid-nineteenth century London was so one could get away with saying something rude in polite company: perhaps why words like Thomas (as in, ‘Thomas the tank (engine)’ meaning ‘wank’) and berk (as in ‘the Berkley Hunt’ meaning ‘c***’) have had such success in England. However, the most frequently cited of the more G-rated examples of Cockney rhyming slang are at best obscure. While referring to one’s wife as ‘the trouble’ (trouble-and-strife: ‘wife’) makes some sense, expressions like going up the apples (apples-and-pears: ‘stairs’) or giving someone a ring on the dog (dog-and-bone = phone) prove a little harder to follow. In addition, Cockney phrases frequently rely on particularly British place names or celebrities to make sense.

Fortunately common Australian examples are either much more subtle or so widely adopted that their rhyming slang origins are forgotten. Often the resulting words have taken on new meanings of their own. And you may be surprised how many you use yourself:

  • Chunder: The Australian cartoon character Chunder Loo gave his name to this incivility: ‘spew’.
  • He’s always rabbiting on about something. (rabbit-and-pork: ‘talk’)
  • When all is going well life’s a breeze. (breezy: ‘easy’)
  • Stop taking the mickey! (Comes from an unknown character Mickey Bliss:  ‘piss’).
  • You’ll get yourself into trouble if you keep telling porkies. (porky-pies: ‘lies’)
  • Blowing a raspberry may be child’s play, but it came from a word you might prefer not to say in front of your children. (raspberry tart: ‘fart’)
  • To have a Captain Cook: uniquely Australian rhyming slang for ‘look’.

Not all of these are confined to Australia, nor did they necessarily originate in Australia, but our records show that they certainly have currency in Australian sources.

Despite the popular belief that ‘pom’ is an acronym for ‘Prisoner of Mother (England)’, it is generally agreed by scholars that even this common word has its origins in earlier rhyming slang: jimmy grant for ‘immigrant’ appears in sources from 1857 and Pummy Grant or pommygrant (variants of pomegranate), from which pom and pommy derive, appear in 1912.

There are many more to be found, and new rhymes are being invented all the time.  More recent Aussie inventions include Barry Crocker for ‘shocker’, Stuart Diver for ‘survivor’, and Jatz crackers for ‘knackers’. We’d love to hear what rhyming slang you use and any new creations!

4 thoughts on “Australian rhyming slang

  1. I’m surprised by this etymology of breeze in this sense. Can you share some of the evidence? The OED2 just says U.S. slang, which is undeniable, but the U.S. isn’t particularly known for rhyming slang.

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  3. Chunder comes from shipboard life when people on the upper deck spewed over the side. A warning was given “watch under”.

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