The internationally famous Australian jockey Edgar Britt, who died in 2017 aged 103, was occasionally asked his reaction to the popularity of his name in Australian rhyming slang. For those not familiar “going for an Edgar” meant going for a shit and was in common usage for about half a century. Rather than be offended, the sharp witted Britt was happy to acknowledge the association and enjoy the humorous side of the phrase. These days most millennials would have no idea of what you were saying if you announced you were “going for an Edgar”. It seems traditional Australian rhyming slang has no place in the quasi-illiterate world of texting, social media chit chat and day to day banter.
Modern day rhyming slang is generally agreed to have started in London in the first part of the 19th century, popularised by Cockney street vendors looking for a secret language to disguise what was being said from passers-by. Whilst its stronghold is still in the East End of London and other working class areas, it has quickly infiltrated the broad British lexicon, although still associated with a certain uncouth underclass. The Queen would never use it!
There’s currently a dictionary of hundreds, if not thousands of words that range from Khyber Pass (i.e. ‘arse’), to Britney Spears (i.e. ‘beers’) and Apple Tart (well that one’s fairly obvious). Whilst constantly updated, much of the old school slang remains, kept alive and passed down from generation to generation. However its popularity is generally seen to be waning, as a new style of hip hop influenced, non rhyming (and generally boring) street jargon takes over.
Just when rhyming slang arrived in Australia is open to question and there’s strong evidence that the early convicts used it as a kind of coded language to deceive their captors. The Cockney variety certainly peaked in the post WWII period, popularised by radio broadcasters, sporting commentators and the thriving pub culture. Whilst any word can be used to rhyme it’s the names of well known personalities that stand out, like Barry Crocker (i.e. ‘having a shocker’), Reg Grundy (i.e. ‘your undies’) and Bob Hope (i.e. ‘soap’).
Every now and then, some of the gems of distinctly Australian rhyming slang are highlighted in the media or elsewhere. Back in 2013 the Fraser Coast Regional Council in Queensland announced a series of informal chats with the mayor and members of the community, which would be called, “Jatz and Crackers with the Mayor”. Needless to say this generated considerable mirth as ‘Jatz Crackers’ in rhyming slang translate as ‘knacker’s’ or to put in bluntly, the male genitalia.
Given the paucity of vocabulary currently employed by much of today’s youth and the homogenisation of language that the internet has brought, it’s definitely time to reinvent the idiom and bring back a contemporary form of rhyming slang. Here are just a few suggestions:
Miley Cyrus – ‘The Virus’ (i.e. COVID-19) and Annabel Crabb – ‘The Jab’. As in, she didn’t want to get the Miley so she went in for her Annabel.
Craig Kelly – ‘A belly’ or better still ‘a belly laugh’. As in, I stumbled on Craig Kelly’s Facebook page and got a big Craig Kelly out of the QAnon garbage he had just posted.
Fred Nile – ‘A mobile phone’ – There are many who would never want to acknowledge his name, but hey, what else rhymes with ‘mobile’.
Donald Trump: ‘A dump’. Time to let Edgar rest in peace and next time you are going to the toilet, you are there to ‘take a Trump’.
Miranda Devine: ‘A whine’. She was upset with the Left again and was having a real Miranda about it.
Al Pacino: ‘A cappuccino’. She opted for a latte but he preferred an Al Pacino.
Or to put the whole lot it into context: I was just enjoying an Al Pacino when I had a call from Pete Evans on my Fred Nile. Pete was raving on about the Miley and why he was going to avoid the Annabel. He was having a real Miranda and all I got out of it was a big Craig Kelly. The whole episode made me want to take a Trump!