London, not quite my hometown, but a city I know very well, has its own peculiar culture called Cockney, which is evident as an accent, in traditional clothing, and in the idiosyncratic ‘Cockney rhyming slang’.
The Cockney accent and mannerisms were famously mis-represented by the actor Dick van Dyke in the Mary Poppins movie, and has also been butchered by Johnny Depp as the pirate Jack Sparrow. But forget all that nonesense, and instead revel in the true wilful and playful spirit of Cockney culture that is ‘rhyming slang’: a sort of localised word-game where a word or phrase is supplemented by a cheeky rhyming expression.
Thus, a phone is a “dog and bone”; a “butcher’s hook” is a look; “Adam and Eve” is believe; “china”, as in a china plate, is a mate; and “Brahms”, as in “Brahms and Listz” means ‘pissed’. Yep, it wasn’t created for its brevity. So, if your friend got very drunk last night, you could say, “Me old china was Brahms last night”. Lovely.
As for the cartoony image at the top of this post: “mince pies” means eyes; “thrupenny bits” (three-penny bits) means tits.
So, in that spirit of playfulness, I present to you a dozen examples of my newly-created Chinese-Cockney rhyming slang. It requires three layers of meaning, so it’s not elegantly simple, but it gives all the insider clout of the best slang along with a healthy dose of subversiveness. How about these…
old man = lǎobǎn (老板) = boss
The old man is off on business in Shenzhen.
nice try = èrnǎi (二奶) = mistress
I’ve heard the old man is having a nice try.
knocker = bókè (博客) = blog
I use Google Reader to look at some knockers.
Barack = Barack Obama = the Dalai Lama
Only the return of Barack to Tibet will please its people.
Mr. Wang = fàláng (发廊) = red-light ‘hairdresser’
I’ll be home late, darling, I need to pay a visit to Mr. Wang.
chicken wing = fènqīng (愤青) = indignant/angry youth
All the chicken wings are getting in a flap over Japan again.
Jay = Jay Chow = gāocháo (高潮) = orgasm
-Remember that chick I picked up at Dairy Queen yesterday?
-I made her Jay three times.
Willy Wonka’s tie = shānzhài (山寨) = fake
-Do you like my new iPod?
-Gaaaaaahhh, it’s Willy Wonka’s tie.
swing = swing low = jiāyóu (加油) = Come on!
-Swing, Jing Jing!
-Wow, she sure knows how to jump into water.
diamond ring = lìn bìng (淋病) = gonorrhea
-I need to call that girl I picked up at the Dairy Queen last week.
-I think I might’ve given her a diamond ring.
stone = stone’s throw = péngyou (朋友) = friend/mate
Hello, me old stone.
fat cow = miànbāo (面包) = a loaf of bread
I’d like a donut and a fat cow, please.
Hmmm. If you can come up with anymore, unleash them in the comments.