Cockney rhyming slang: it’s real

“It’s parky,” J. said while our dogs sniffed each other in the middle of the empty road.

I must’ve looked as blank as I was.

“You don’t know what I’m talking about, do you?” he asked.

I hadn’t even thought to say so. That’s how blank I was.

“Haven’t a clue.”

“Parky in the mold. Cold. “

Not J.'s dog. I'm cheating. Photo by Sellys, on Wikimedia.

Not J.’s dog. I’m cheating. Photo by Sellys, on Wikimedia.

I managed to say, “Oh.” Then I managed to say “I need a translator.” I didn’t manage to ask what parky was, or what it had to do with a mold. I understand just enough about rhyming slang to know that the phrases aren’t nonsense sounds—they mean something—so it would’ve made sense to ask.

If you haven’t heard of rhyming slang, here’s the five-second summary: It started in the mid-nineteenth century, in east London. One theory claims it was used by thieves as a more or less secret language and another says it started as a game. A third says it was a way of reinforcing neighborhood solidarity. Whatever the origin, it works like this: You take a word and find a phrase that rhymes with it: stairs with apples and pears. Then you drop the word that actually rhymes and say, “I’m going up the apples.” And you leave your clueless friend standing in the middle of the road with her jaw hanging open while the dogs sniff each other.

J. and I said goodbye and he promised to clue me in to a few phrases so I can respond to them and make people think, Ooh, she knows what it’s about.

Although clearly I don’t.

33 thoughts on “Cockney rhyming slang: it’s real

  1. I’m slightly sceptical about “parky” being Cockney rhyming slang – thought it was a northern, maybe Yorkshire, expression – and I don’t think they’re well know for adopting t’Cockney slang.

    Google is, for once, vague on the subject. “parky in the mold” shows zero results – hey, you’ll be a googlebomb!

    I’ve also read various, dubious, theories … from it being a derivative of ‘perky’ to a reference to Parkinson’s and Parka coats.

    Just thought I’d add to the confusion…


    • I’ve never seen a little confusion I didn’t want to murk up a bit myself. Google might be kinder if you used “mould” instead of “mold,” but maybe it’s holding out for something even more obscure.


      • Nope, nothing for that either. I assumed ‘mold’ to be some sort of landscape feature for some reason. A little hill. No idea why because it isn’t.


  2. When we moved to Virginia, my husband worked for an Englishman. At dinner one evening, he regaled us with Cockney rhyme which was my introduction to it. His explanation was your version three – a form of solidarity. Fascinating, isn’t it?


  3. And you lost me at mold ( as opposed to mould of course;)

    Unfortunately you’ve been lied to. I’m a bit curious about language and know this expression but the origin didn’t work for me do I looked it up. Don’t hate me. It’s not rhyming slang. Apparently that would be ‘taters’ from ‘taters in the mould.’ However ‘parky’ is from the birth of England. Thanks for the inspiration. I’m now looking at this further. Promise to report back.


  4. J. emailed me to say “I knew ‘parky’ meant cold but not where it came from. Apparently not Cockney at all, but saying the weather is “taters” is to do with mouldy potatoes and is Cockney rhyming slang. No one seems to know where ‘parky’ came from, but general opinion says it is a north of England expression!” To which I could only reply, “Whaaat?” She reminded me that “mould” (and also “mold”) rhymes with “cold” (and would also rhyme with “could” if English made the least bit of sense, but I’m asking too much there), hence, with the skip-hopping logic of rhyming slang, it leads to “potatoes,” and from there to “taters.”

    Which is all perfectly obvious, right?


  5. Rhyming slang is still being created and used today. A friend told me it had all gone “Pete Tong” which is rhyming slang for wrong and (I am old so I didn’t know) Pete Tong is a Radio 1 DJ who plays noises I would never call music. Now I need to lie down in a dark room and discover just when I turned in to my Mother!


  6. Ah yes, the old rhyming slang. It’s great isn’t it? This is what convinces me that there can be very few truly bi-lingual people in the world, no matter how they may protest otherwise.
    Do you know what “bins” are by any chance?


    • I hadn’t heard that one, but in case I do I can now do my best to look like I know what I’m hearing. Thanks for sending me out into the world ready for–well, not anything but at least one more thing.


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