Around this time of year newspapers and the radio repeat stories such as the urban myth about changing the name Christmas to Winterval. Also you see references to Xmas and Seasons Greetings rather than Christmas and Merry Christmas.
The computer age has also created new words such as Twitter, Cloud, Snapchat, etc. And now a cookie is more commonly known as a small piece of computer data rather than something you eat.
I was born in the ‘Baby Boomer’ age – an invented word for the period after the Second World War when the birth rate increased dramatically. A large part of my family originated from the south east of London and as a child I didn’t realise that some of my everyday language was a mixture of cockney rhyming slang and old sayings.
When someone was flabbergasted they would say ‘Well I’ll go to the foot of our stairs’ – which made no sense. When it was time for bed you went up the wooden hill – up the stairs. And when it was cold you put the wood in the hole – closed the door. I accepted that if I came home dirty after a hard day playing in the street I was as ‘black as old noogits’. It was many years later that I discovered this meant I was as black as the large black knocker on the door of the old Newgate prison.
To confuse things even more a lot of the cockney rhyming slang would be shortened to one word making it even more difficult to understand. For example ‘tom’ was short for ‘tom foolery’ which meant jewellery. And the ‘currant’ was the ‘currant bun’ which meant the sun. Some rhyming slang was in part descriptive too, such as ‘trouble and strife’ for wife. This could be rather apt for a lazy or hen-pecked husband referring to his nagging wife.
Some rhyming slang was created to keep up with modern trends, for example when flared trousers became fashionable they were known as ‘Lionel Blairs’. But now I often hear references or quiz questions about rhyming slang created by over-imaginative people who have no idea about original rhyming slang. Someone recently decided a nose would be a ‘fireman’s hose’ just because it rhymed, but the original rhyme was in fact an ‘I suppose’. I’ve even heard Santa’s Grotto referred to as Blotto just because it rhymes, but every true Londoner will know that being blotto means being drunk!
Every part of the body was included in rhyming slang, from ‘plates of meat’ for feet to ‘Barnet fair’ for hair. Some were slightly risqué such as ‘Bristol City’ and ‘bottle and glass’ which I will leave for you to interpret.
So this Christmas if you are going out for a knees up put on your whistle, titfer and daisies. Put your greens in your sky and go down the frog to the ruba. Have a few tiddlies but don’t get Brahms.
In other words this Christmas if you are going out to celebrate put on your suit, hat and boots. Put your wages in your pocket and go down the road to the pub. Have a few drinks but don’t get drunk.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
*Would you believe it?