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Chapter 8: The Echoes of an English Voice (293-336)

The Echoes

of an




The Story of English

By Don L. F. Nilsen

Based on The Story of English

By Robert McCrum, Robert MacNeil

and William Cran (Penguin, 2003)


The Raj:The sun never sets on the British Empire.

  • English East-end convicts (Cockney speakers) were sent to New South Wales, Australia.

  • British loyalists ended up in New Zealand.

  • British subjects also colonized Rhodesia (Cape Colony) in Southern Africa, Singapore, Hong Kong, parts of China, parts of Canada, India, Pakistan, Burma, Afghanistan, Thailand, Tanzania, the Falkland Islands and America.

  • (McCrum 293-294)


English Raj (McCrum 274/297)



  • The word Cockney refers to a cocks egg, and is considered of little value.

  • In the 16th century, Cockney was the language of all Londoners who were not part of the Court.

  • During the industrial revolution, the destitute farmers in Essex, Suffolk, Kent, and Middlesex moved to Londons East End. This is where Cockney developed.

  • (McCrum 295)


Cockney English (Londons West End) (McCrum 278/302)


Cockney in Culture & Literature

  • Cockney is the language of the girls murdered by Jack the Ripper.

  • Cockney is the language of Sam Weller in Charles Dickenss Pickwick Papers.

  • Cockney is the language of George Bernard Shaws Eliza Doolittle

  • Cockney is the language of Sweeney Todd.

  • Cockney is the language of Michael Cain in Alphie

  • Cockney is the language of Charles Dickens Oliver Twist.


  • Cockney speakers say yearoles and chimbley for ear holes and chimney.

  • They say bruvver for brother.

  • In butter, bottle and rotten they have a glottal stop.

  • They drop the final g in eatin and drinkin.

  • They often use the tag, isnt it.

  • They have an intrusive r in gone, off and cough so they become gorn, orf and corf.

  • You becomes yer; tomato and potato become tomater and potater

  • God help us, and God blind me become Gawdelpus and Gorblimey.

  • (McCrum 300-301)


Cockney Rhyming Slang

  • In Cockney rhyming slang row and table become bull and cow and Cain and Abel.

  • Suit whistle and flute; hat tit-for-tat; gloves turtle-doves; boots daisyroots; nude in the rude; breast Bristol City; wife trouble and strife; liar holy friar; money bees and honey; and talk rabbit and pork


  • In Cockney Rhyming Slang, the word for teeth is Edward Heath, because this was one of the prominent features of the premiers smile. And John Selwyn became the word for Bummer because his last name was Gummer.

  • Because Cockney Rhyming Slang is an Argot, the speakers try to make the expressions cryptic, therefore the expressions above get reduced to: whistle, titfer, turtles, daisies, Bristols, trouble, holy, bees, and rabbit.

  • The word for backside is Khyber. This is because of the British soldiers who had been stationed in the Khyber Pass.

  • (McCrum 303-305)


Foreign Influences on Cockney

  • The Cockney word pal for friend is the Romany word for brother. Dukes is the Romany word for hands, as in the expression, Put up your Dukes.

  • The Cockney words schlemiel (idiot), schmutter (clothing), gelt (money), and nosh (food) come from Yiddish.

  • Cockney parlyvoo (chat), San fairy ann (it doesnt matter), and ally toot sweet (hurry up) come from French.

  • And Cockney bullshit (rubbish) comes from American English.(McCrum 306)


Back Slang

  • Another secret language that developed during the 19th Century was back slang.

  • Instead of saying the numbers one, four, five and six they would say eno, rouf, efiv and xis.

  • In back slang, fat and boy become taf and yob.(McCrum 303)


Market Language

  • When greengrocers trade wholesale in fruits and vegetables, they are sometimes talking to two or three customers at the same time. The greengrocer might say,

  • Right, George, you can be a rouf there. and he knows that he has bought at four pounds, and the other person, who might be buying the same thing for five pounds, doesnt know.


  • The slang numbers that are used in Londons East End are meant to be confusing.

  • Cows calf is half, nicker is one, bottle is two, carpet is three, rouf is four, jacks is five, Tom Nicks is six, neves is seven, garden gate is eight, and cock and hen or cockle is ten. One greengrocer remarks,

  • Theres no rules. The other day this bloke said, Do they come to an Alan Whicker then? Meaning nicker, which is a pound.

  • (McCrum 304-305)


  • In My Fair Lady, Eliza Doolittle is Professor Pickerings Project.

  • She doesnt pronounce /h/ sounds and she adds /t/ to words like orphant and sermont.

  • She pronounces thrust, farthing and feather as frust, farding and fever.(McCrum 295)


  • Instead of flowers and Go on and A B C she says flars, and Garn and Ay-ee, Ba-yee, Sa-yee.

  • She doesnt pronounce her /h/ sound and has to learn In Hartford, Hereford and Hampshire, hurricanes hardly every happen.

  • She pronounces chain, strange and obtain as chyne, straynge, and obtayn, and has to learn The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain.

  • (McCrum 295)


Cockney Friendship

  • Cockney English has many different terms to indicate the closeness of a relationship, ranging from

  • Duck

  • Love

  • Dear

  • Cock

  • (My old) chum

  • Guvnor and

  • Mate

  • The people that a Cockney speaker mixes with socially are known as the mates.(McCrum 307)


Australian English (McCrum 286/311)


Australian English

  • Billabong: Water hole

  • Billy: Coffee

  • Boomerang: Throwing stick

  • Coolibah: An Australian tree

  • Gday

  • Illywhacker (con man)


More Australian English

  • Jumbuck: Sheep

  • Kangaroo, Dingo, Jooey, Koalla, Kookaburra, Wallabee, and Wombat: Australian animals

  • Outback

  • Swagman: Hobo, tramp

  • Tucker-Bag: Bag for holding tucker

  • Walkabout: Mindless meandering

  • Waltzing Matilda: A song


Waltzing Matilda

  • Once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong.

  • Under the shade of a coolibah tree,

  • And he sang as he watched and waited till his billy boiled,

  • Wholl come a waltzing Matilda with me?

  • Waltzing Matilda,

  • Waltzing Matilda,

  • Wholl come a waltzing Matilda with me?

  • And he sang as he watched and waited till his billy boiled,

  • Wholl come a waltzing Matilda with me?


  • Down came a jumbuck to drink at the billabong:

  • Up jumped the swagman and grabbed him with glee.

  • And he sang as he shoved that jumbuck in his tucker-bag,

  • Youll come a-waltzing Matilda with me.

  • Waltzing Matilda,

  • Waltzing Matilda,

  • Youll come a-waltzing Matilda with me.

  • And he sang as he shoved that jumbuck in his tucker-bag.

  • Youll come a-waltzing Matilda with me.

  • (McCrum 314)


Is Australian English like British or American English?

  • Australians (like Paul Hogan, a.k.a. Crocodile Dundee) are independent.

  • Unlike Cockney speakers, there is no glottal stop in Australian English, and they dont drop their /h/.(McCrum 319)

  • Australians say both biscuit and cookie, both nappy and diaper, both lorry and truck.

  • They ride in both elevators and lifts.


  • Australians get their water from faucets not taps, and their cars run on petrol not gas, and drive on freeways, not motorways.

  • Americans borrowed kangaroo from Australia, and the Australians borrowed it back in the expression kangaroo court. (McCrum 315, 327)


Let Stalk Strine

  • Afferbeck Lauder entitled his book, Let Stalk Strine. He shows how

  • How much is it? Emma chisit?

  • They ought to. Aorta.

  • Nothing but a Numb Butter

  • Aussies also love metaphors like as scarce as rocking horse manure and as bald as a bandicoot. And they might describe teenage bliss as feed, a frostie, and a feature meaning food, beer and sex.(McCrum 326)


  • Although Australia is the size of Europe, Australians live in a one-class society, united in a mixture of hostility and nostalgia towards Mother England,

  • United especially in the isolation and rigour of Australian life.

  • The rising inflection has to do with Australian insecurity.

  • Aussies, who have a twang in their speech, feel that the English use Lah di dah talk.

  • They see English attitudes as uppity.

  • Boys who use proper speech are often considered to be regarded as sissies, or even worse, poofters.(McCrum 320, 323)


Australian Social & Gender Dialects

  • Even though there are no regional dialects in Australia, there are three social dialects:

  • Broad Australian

  • General Australian

  • Cultivated Australian.

  • Women and girls tend towards General or Cultivated Australian, andmen and boys, expressing mateship and machismo, tend towards General or Broad Australian.(McCrum 322)


What is a Pommy?

  • An Aussie will call an Englishman a Pommy.

  • This is short for pomegranate because Englishmen are often ruddy-cheeked.

  • In Cockney Rhyming Slang an Englishman is called Jimmy. This is short for Jimmy Grant which slant-rhymes with pomegranate, and which alludes to a prototypical Englishman.

  • (McCrum 315-316)


Barry Humphries

  • On stage, Australian Barry Humphries becomes Dame Edna Everage.

  • One of her favorite targets is the Wowser, which is a prudish teetotalling Englishman.

  • Barry Humphries himself invented the word Wowser. It came into the language when he referred to Alderman Waterhouse as a white, wolly, weary, watery, word-wasting wowser from Waverly.(McCrum 316)


Dame Nellie Melba

  • Dame Nellie Melba lamented the way Australians use oi for I, and ahee for ay (in may or say), and spoke caustically of Australias twisted vowels, distortions and flatness of speech which, seriously prejudice other people against us.

  • (McCrum 324)

  • By the way, Dame Nellie Melba liked to eat a special kind of toast.

  • This later became Melba Toast.


New Zealand English (McCrum 302/331)


New Zealand English

  • Samuel Butler was probably thinking of New Zealand when he wrote his satire, Erewhon (which is Nowhere backwards).

  • About New Zealand speech, Butler wrote, The all-engrossing topics seem to be sheep, horses, dogs, cattle, English grasses, paddocks, bush and so forth.

  • New Zealanders, like Australians, have three social dialects: Cultivated, General, and Broad.

  • (McCrum 329)


New Zealand & Britain

  • There are a lot of Scottish settlements in the South Island, and there they roll their /r/. This is known as the Southland burr.

  • If there is a choice between British and American English usage, the New Zealander will tend towards the British where the Aussie may prefer the American.(McCrum 330, 333)


!South African English & Afrikans (McCrum 303/332)


!English vs. Afrikaans in South Africa

  • In June of 1976, the South African government decreed that Afrikaans was to be encouraged and English discouraged.

  • The Afrikaaner authorities had introduced a regulation that forced schoolchildren to learn some of their subjects through the medium of Afrikaans instead of English.

  • (McCrum 334)


!!Afrikaaner words in English

  • Trek, veldt and apartheid are Afrikaaner words.

  • Eskia Mphahlele at the University of Witwatersrand said,

  • English istied up with the Black mans efforts to liberate himself.

  • Afrikaans, by contrast, has become the language of the oppressor. (McCrum 335)


!!!Accompanying DVD

My Fair Lady by Lerner and Lowe (originally from George Bernard Shaws Pygmalion)


!!!Works Cited

  • McCrum, Robert, William Cran, and Robert MacNeil. The Story of English. New York, NY: Penguin, 1986. (source of map citations)

  • McCrum, Robert, William Cran, and Robert MacNeil. The Story of English: Third Revised Edition. New York, NY: Penguin, 2003. (source of text citations)


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