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Re: Why Cockney - with apologies transatlantically

Posted by The Fallen on February 11, 2002

In Reply to: Re: Why Cockney? posted by Word Camel on February 11, 2002

: : : : The last post got me to thinking... How did Cockney Londoners above all other Londoners come to be so poetic? There's the ryhyming slang or course and terms like clock and peculiar things like calling everyone "Jon", "Alright Jon?"

: : : : I'm sure there must be historical reasons. I'm currently reading An Autobiography of London by Peter Ackroyd. My only surmise is that the fact that the East End is a very old part of London - but is there anything more to it than that?

: : : I was under the impression that rhyming slang arose, as with many other types of argot, as a deliberate means of communicating with one's fellow locals, whilst excluding outsiders who might be present at the same time, presumably to gain some kind of advantage. So, effectively a type of "thieves' cant" - not that I'm suggesting that inhabitants of the East End of London are uniformly vliiainous. I'm sure that somewhere there must be a few saintly souls... :)

: : The poetry and linguistic invention may arise from poverty. It's true that in many cultures, the underclass puts energy into language change. The conservative, rich and comfortable feel no need to innovate. Remember the quote (and if anybody knows the source, please remind me) about how the Florentines endured conflict and civil war and violence for centuries, and produced Michaelangelo, Da Vinci, Raphael, etc., while the Swiss lived in civil peace for that whole time and only managed to invent the cuckoo clock.

: It's from The Third Man, 1949

: Harry Lime: In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.

: Well observed, alhough... women couldn't vote until the 1971. So much for 500 years of democracy.

Since we are on matters Cockney, garnished with Harry Lime (aka Michael Caine, a celebrated Cockney) and with a touch of added xenophobia, I just have to add the simply superb quotation made by Harold (Bob Hoskins, another famous Cockney) in the impeccably excellent British gangster movie "The Long Good Friday". Harold is at the time furious with a couple of high-ranking US Mafia members for pulling out of a London property deal with him, and so rants a little about the differences between the UK and the USA.

"We're lookin' for people who can contribute to wot England has given the world: culture, genius, sophistication. Bit more than a bleedin' 'ot dog, know what I mean?"

Catch the movie if you can - it's a sheer gem.