Cockney

Origin of: Cockney

Cockney

The ‘Cockney’ dialect and accent is a style of English that is identified with the city London. YouGov (a prominent British market research company) conducted a survey in 2015 and listed Cockney as the 4th worst accent as perceived by Britons, behind Mancunian (3rd worst), Liverpudlian ‘Scouse’ (2nd worst), while the Birmingham ‘Brummie’ accent was rated worst of all. The same survey estimates the UK has over 50 different, discernible accents – a vast number for a relatively small nation. According to the OED, the first known usage of the word ‘cockney’, (variously spelt ‘cokeney’ or ‘cokenay’) dates from 1362, and is first recorded in William Langland’s Piers Plowman where it meant a small, misshapen egg or a ‘cock’s egg’. Cocks, of course, do not lay eggs, so it was originally a derogatory word for a defective egg. An alternative meaning, however, soon developed and this was used by Chaucer in The Reeve’s Tale, where a ‘cokenay’ meant a ‘weakling’. This derogatory meaning came to be associated with all town or city people by the 1500s. It was not until the year 1600 that the phrase a ‘Bow-bell Cockney’ was first used in a derogatory way to describe working-class Londoners born within the sound of the bells of St Mary-le-Bow at Cheapside. The OED maintains that a study carried out in the year 2000, estimated that bells of St Mary-Le-Bow would have been audible six miles to the east, five to the north, three to the south, and four to the west, an area that covers Bethnal Green, Whitechapel, Spitalfields, Stepney, Wapping, Limehouse, Poplar, Millwall, Hackney, Hoxton, Shoreditch, Mile End, and Bermondsey, south of the River Thames. ‘Cockney’ remained a derogatory term for certain types of Londoner well into the 19th century, as this quote from Pierce Egan’s Life in London, published in 1821, proves, “Everyone knew Cockney to mean ‘an uneducated native of London ... truly ignorant.’” Today, however, Cockneys are proud of being true Cockneys i.e. born within the foregoing districts of London and, of course, are no longer working class and far from ignorant.