Last week sometime a friend commented on a post about camels. I’d used the words ‘argy-bargy’ which made perfect sense to me but not, it seems, to this delightful lady from the genteel NE coast of the US. Was it, she wondered, Cockney Rhyming Slang?
Before I answer that, there’re a few things you should know; I’m no Cockney, Sparrah (Sparrow), or otherwise; Cockney Rhyming Slang is a living and constantly changing language and has no connection with Dick Van Dyke whatsoever other than to say ‘(Get) on yer bike!’ It evolved from the need of the criminal underworld to communicate in a way that excluded the public in general and the police in particular. In truth I learned what little I know from the periods of time I spent in Boom ‘n’ mizzen (prison). As staff, people; as staff!
As you can see, rhyming slang is exactly that – a series of syllables or words that roll nicely off the tongue with the end bit rhyming with the substituted word. Here are a couple of examples: Abergavenny = penny. Ferret ‘n’ stoat = frowt (throat). The slang is made more difficult for the uninitiated to understand in some instances by excluding the rhyming bit as in ‘I need to get sumfink for me ferret, it’s really sore.’ It can also get extremely obtuse and decidedly un-rhyming, as is the case with the very topical Germolene = anti-American. As in ‘I ain’t Germolene, but that Obama gives me the ravin’ ‘ump!’ The connection here is that Germolene is an anti-septic . . you can work the rest out.
If you fancy pretending to be a Cockney I suggest you learn to say the following correctly – ‘Furty fowsan fevvers on a frushes frowt!’ Dick Van Dyke didn’t and he made a lousy Cockney!
So, is ‘argy-bargy’ rhyming slang? Well, it could be in some places, but not within the sound of Bow Bells (bells of the church of St Mary-le-Bow, Cheapside, East London).
Writing this got me to thinking about some of the roll-off-the-tongue words that I like here in Turkey. How about ‘Pırıl Pırıl’, (gleaming; spick and span), or ‘Falan falan!’ (Blah-blah-blah!). I love this one, ‘Şöyle Böyle’ sounds like ‘Shirley Burly’ (So-so). Turks being Turks they never fail to do the polite thing and ask how you are. ‘Bomba gibi!’ (Like a bomb!) is my usual response which brings on plenty of smiles; my absolute favourite, however is this: ‘Hiç güve sindir hallice!’ (Hich gooveh sinden halijuh), which translates, locally anyway, to ‘Better than the man who has to live with his in-laws!’ This has them rolling in the aisles, although the ‘Istanbul Turkish’ usually start scratching their heads.
Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü
ps for those interested there is a great website for Cockney Rhyming Slang here, and an enjoyable educational video for those with some ‘Arry Lime on their ‘ands.