The Prince and the Pauper – Chapter Seventeen – Historical Tidbit

Chapter 17’s Historical Tidbit is a fun one! Did you ever make up a code (written or spoken) in order to be able to say whatever you wanted without getting in trouble? Today’s Historical Tidbit is about….


Keep reading or watch the video below to learn about this secret way of speaking!

In Chapter 17, Edward is among John Canty (John Hobbs) and his group of thieves. In order to entertain themselves, they begin singing a song in a sort of code:

“‘Bien Darkman’s then, Bouse Mort and Ken,
The bien Coves bings awast,
On Chates to trine by Rome Coves dine
For his long lib at last.
Bing’d out bien Morts and toure, and toure,
Bing out of the Rome vile bine,
And toure the Cove that cloy’d your duds,
Upon the Chates to trine.‘

Conversation followed; not in the thieves’ dialect of the song, for that was only used in talk when unfriendly ears might be listening.” (p. 104)

Although I am not exactly sure what type of code Mark Twain is using for this part (maybe it is one he made up completely) a more well-known code commonly used by thieves is Cockney Rhyming Slang, which is what we’ll zoom in on today.

What is Cockney Rhyming Slang?

  • A form of slang
  • Prevalent in the UK, Ireland, and Australia
  • Especially used in the criminal underworld
  • Involves replacing a common word with a phrase of two or more words
    • Last word rhymes with the original word
    • Often times, the rhyming word is dropped


  • Army and navy” (gravy) — As gravy was plentiful at mealtimes in both services.
  • “Basin of gravy” (baby) — Suggestive of the softness of the foods on which babies are fed.
  • “Bees and honey” (money) — As bees are the epitome of work, work produces money, the possession of which is sweet.

More Examples

  • Bread = bread and honey = money
  • Daisies = daisy roots = boots
  • Mutton = Mutt and Jeff = deaf = named after Mutt and Jeff , two early 20th century comic strip characters
  • Rosie = Rosie Lee = tea e.g. “Have a cup of Rosie” 
  • Sky = sky rocket = pocket

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