Nowadays, my Friday afternoons are often spent with a good old friend, and invariably (thanks to Google) any dubious statements made have to be fact-checked and verified, right there, on the spot. Yesterday was no different.
We started off with the old saying, "Spectacles, Testicles, Wallet and Watch" a reference to all you need to go on an adventure but also a mimic of the Christian practice of motioning the Sign of the Cross. The average speed of an African Swift was another. The origins of Poop Deck, Toe Rag were some more.
Once they were cleared up, "Ping Pong Tiddly down the Nuclear Sub" was the next subject and focus on Google and fact-checking. "You remember that line from "Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels?" he asked me. Of course, I knew the film, it had been a while since I had seen it, and my memory lapsed, "What's that all about again?" He went on to explain that it meant a strong drink down the pub. "OK?" He went on:
"Ping pong tiddly" means "strong drink." "Ping pong" rhymes with "strong," and "tiddly wink" rhymes with "drink." "Nuclear sub" means "pub."
We were now conversing full-on in Cockney Rhyming Slang, a code-like vernacular invented in 19th-century London, apparently originating from the actors in the West End who started speaking in code so that the fans after the show couldn't decipher their conversations - another claim worthy of a Google fact-check.
Regardless of its heavily debated origins, It's almost impossible to interpret until you understand its structure. But once you know its rules, it all makes sense. Sort of.
Here's a little mini dictionary of some of the more common phrases for your next visit to London:
Apples & Pears, (Stairs)
Plates of Meat, (Feet)
Duck & Dive, (Hide)
Trouble & Strife, (Wife)
Dustbin Lids, (Kids)
Fisherman's Daughter, (Water)
Near & Far, (Bar)
Army & Navy, (Gravy)
Dog & Bone, (Phone)
And the list goes on, including Bees & Honey that stands for money, Box of Toys, noise, and back to the trials and tribulations in London during the second world war, Helter-Skelter referring to the ubiquitous air-raid shelter of those times.
Then, as I was busy fact-checking on my iPhone, I came across an unrelated quote from the late Anthony Bourdain serving as another reminder of the poignancy of words:
"Eat at a local restaurant tonight. Get the cream sauce. Have a cold pint at 4 o’clock in a mostly empty bar. Go somewhere you’ve never been. Listen to someone you think may have nothing in common with you. Order the steak rare. Eat an oyster. Have a Negroni. Have two. Be open to a world where you may not understand or agree with the person next to you, but have a drink with them anyways. Eat slowly. Tip your server. Check-in on your friends. Check-in on yourself. Enjoy the ride."
Both of us agreed with the sentiment - after all, it was 4.30 in the afternoon, he and I were enjoying a cold pint, in a mostly empty bar - just how we liked it. We often didn't understand or agree with each other, we would have a drink anyways, we would always check in with our friends, leave a tip for the server, check-in with ourselves, and we had both enjoyed the ride so far, with many tales between the two of us.
He was flying to London the next day, and that brought us back to the Cockney Rhyming Slang.
Overhearing our conversation, Perry, the Tottenham Hotspurs supporting barman observed, "Take a butchers at that," he pointed to a rather attractive lady who we had both quietly and politely noticed walking into the bar, "As fit as a butchers dog." he added, now in full Cockney character. The first reference being to a Butcher's Hook, "Look", and the second reference to the trade, how the butcher's dog would chase the butcher on his delivery bicycle and the basket full of freshly cut meat, hence the expression, as fit as a butchers dog!
Then there's the whole slang around money - a Monkey being £500, apparently referring to a monkey on your back, mortgage. A Pony, £25, the most likely origin referring to the traditional date of the month, the 25th to settle debts, pay rents, or otherwise known, to Pony Up. Then there's the Nicker, which means £1, thought to be connected to the American nickel, and Wonga that refers to an unspecified amount of dough (earn ones bread), thought to come from the Gipsy word for coal.
But then, Cockney Rhyming Slang has evolved over the centuries, right up to the modern-day.
"I haven't a Scooby" referring to Scooby-Doo, (I haven't a clue.)
"It's all gone a bit Pete Tong" referring to the Radio 1 DJ, (It's all gone a bit wrong.)
Britney Spears, (Beers)
Nelson Mandela, (Stella Artois)
Ronson Lighter, (all-nighter) - referring to a night on the town through to daylight
Gary Player, (all-dayer) - a drinking session throughout the day
Posh & Becks, referring to the famous footballer and his wife, (Sex)
And then the perhaps a little less than complimentary, references to a Berkshire Hunt, or a Brad Pitt that I will leave to your own imagination.
I have always been fascinated by the origin of words and phrases (See the Anatomy of Naval Slang article). I also value my weekly sessions with my good friend, that although I am sure to most sounds like we just talk bollocks (which we do). But it's sessions like last night that continue to inspire me and help me in my own writing as I come across these sometimes quirky but always interesting factoids.
I hope you find them as interesting as I do.
So now, I'm off for a Ping Pong Tiddly down the Nuclear Sub!
Willy Mitchell is an indie author, writer, and storyteller.
Mitchell's first title was Operation ARGUS, and then the sequel Bikini BRAVO where a group of former Special Air Service operatives enter the dark and murky world of maskirovka and discover the lengths that some people will go to for power and greed.
Cold COURAGE tells the epic tale of Shackleton's 1914 Trans-Antarctic Expedition and all that was happening in those extraordinary times.
Book four, Northern ECHO tells the story of two boys growing up during the punk rock revolution in the north of England, and how a dark secret keeps them apart until the end.
Gipsy MOTH is about his Aunt Nikki, her friend, and fellow Aviatrix, Amy Johnson, and Amelia Earhart on the other side of the pond during the golden age of aviation.
SS INDIGO is due to be released by the end of 2021 and tells the story of a group of eclectic guests invited by a mysterious billionaire to a luxury cruise on the Caribbean, they all have one thing in common.
All of Mitchell's books so far are novels, works of fiction, blended with real events. For further information or how to buy his books, visit his author website: