Most British people can’t hear cockney rhyming slang without smiling. We imagine a ‘geezer’ like Del Boy or Danny Dyer with a mouthful of jellied eels, double entendres and offers you can’t refuse. It has become an important part of the romantic myth that surrounds the development of one of the greatest cities on Earth.
You may have read rhyming slang in a ‘fishhook’ or seen it on the ‘custard and jelly’ but chances are it probably made you ‘Sandy Lyle’! (You may have read rhyming slang in a book or seen it on television but chances are it probably made you smile).
But why do we have jargon? Why does it exist? Why do certain sections of society develop their own dialect or vocabulary when we have a perfectly good one in the trusted English language?
It seems that there are two main reasons.
Firstly many social groups create a special language to make communication shortcuts. Musicians, for example, do not wish to waste valuable seconds using an expression with two words, 18 letters and 6 syllables to describe a particular guitar, so ‘Fender Stratocaster’ becomes ‘strat’ – one word, five letters, 1 syllable. Thus, ‘computer applications’ become ‘apps’, ‘telephonic communications appliance’ becomes a ‘phone’ and ‘Bovine spongiform encephalopathy’ becomes ‘B.S.E’ or ‘mad cow disease’.
A main driving force in the creation of technical jargon is the acute need for precision when talking about something specific. Sometimes accuracy is everything. A side effect of this is that fewer people will understand what is said (a higher threshold for comprehensibility) but that can be good or bad as sometimes it’s used as a means of social exclusion, which brings us on to the second reason.
Jargon clearly delineates who is a member of a certain social group, profession or culture and who is not. Members understand the lingo and learn to speak it fluently while those trying to gatecrash flounder around the perimeter and are left looking a bit ‘Uncle Willy’ (silly)!
Most professions use some form of jargon that makes it hard for the rest of us to know what is being said. Lawyers may talk about ‘escrow’ – money that is held by a neutral third party but agreed between two parties. Doctors might diagnose you with ‘Rhinorrhea’ but we would call it a ‘runny nose’. We all say ‘WiFi’ now but it stands for wireless fidelity – a way to connect to a network wirelessly.
Get ‘one over the peelers’
Cockney rhyming slang is said to have originated in the mid-19th century in the East End of London. Many think it was developed as a ‘delineater’, a deliberate creation of market stallholders to talk amongst themselves without customers or the police knowing what they were saying. Cockney is the most famous rhyming slang but it’s also found in Glasgow, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand.
At PEA we ‘use our loaves’ (‘bread’ = ‘head’) and we believe in complete clarity. If we are to look after a client’s bees ( ‘honey’ = ‘money’) we have to recognise that many will come from different commercial and cultural backgrounds and require appropriate vocabulary and terminology.
It is vital for us to communicate clearly with our clients. No one has the time or patience to wade through long sentences, legalese, small print or tortured English. People want to be able to absorb information quickly, easily and at first reading.
So, we keep it simple.
Just the way we both like it.
James Orrick holds a Masters in Corporate Governance from Bournemouth University, a BSc (Hons) in Accounting and Finance from the University of Essex, is a Fellow of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants and the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators.