Brummie vs. Cockney: Differences in Dynamic Dialects

If you speak English, you might think Brits sound “posher” than Americans.

Many Americans think so.

There’s a certain air of authority and sophistication in what one might term the “British accent.”

But funnily enough, the umbrella term we use for the “British accent” is basically the Queen’s English.

There are dozens of regional British accents and dialects within the language, all very different from one another.

Last week, we talked about the rhyming slang of the working-class Cockney dialect.

This week, let’s explore its West Midland cousin: Brummie.

Birmingham Brummie

The term, Brummie, comes from the city of Brummagem, which was founded in the UK in 600 AD.

Although the city later became known as Birmingham, the name is commonly shortened to Brum, and locals are known as Brummies.

What’s It Sound Like

If you hear the Brummie accent in Birmingham, you might think, “Oy kwoyt loik it.”

But you might be alone in that.

If you’re trying to conjure up the Brummie accent without audio, possibly the most famous Brummie is Ozzy Osbourne.

Brummies are often portrayed in media as being daft or slow.

While there was a similar stigma for East Enders, there is a certain appeal to the Cockney accent amongst the Brits.

For many, the Brummie dialect does not carry with it that same charm.

James Kenny of Owlcation writes, 

“Of all the accents and dialects spoken around the British Isles, none attract as much scorn as the Brummie accent…Quite why this is, I’m not quite sure, but then again I am a Brummie myself, and therefore to my ears Brummie sounds wonderful.”

How Does Brummie Differ From Cockney & Scouse

While Cockney is known for its rhyming slang, Brummie is better known for its accent in the form of ending sentences in a downbeat.

This is in direct opposition to the Scouse accent of Liverpool, where the intonation rises in pitch.

Another unique aspect of Brummie is its monotonous tone and nonexistent aural variation. 

In comparison, Cockney is more upbeat in tone.

Brummie Slang

Just like any dialect, Brummie also has its own slang.

Some examples:

  • To say yes, you might utter “ar”
  • When complaining, you are “aggin’”
  • If you’re clumsy, you might be “cack-handed”
  • When you’re trying to flee the coppers, you’d be “legging it”
  • If you’re wearing a flat cap of the early 20th century Birmingham gang, you’re wearing a “peaky blinder” (yes, like the show)

These are just some of many terms that make up the Brummie “code.”

Next week, we’ll talk more about stereotypes related to dialects and accents.

Cockney Code: The Rough-and-Fast Rules of a Dialect

From “taking the mickey” to “making Barney Rubble,” the key to understanding dialects is to crack the code.

Some are more difficult to crack than others.

We’ve talked about how dialects formed across the UK, mostly due to its long history and isolation.

So, let’s take a look at how one might decode these complex dialects.

Cockney Rhyming Slang

One of the most commonly known English dialects, Cockney, is spoken by working-class Londoners, most often from the city’s East End – specifically within hearing distance of the church bells of St. Mary-le-Bow in Cheapside.

The dialect of Cockney is born of rhyming slang, a tradition believed to have originated in a criminal code used to fool the police or to keep customers out of the loop in the mid-19th century.

How does this rhyming slang work?

Random nouns are replaced with the odd words of common expressions. The expressions use words that rhyme with the original noun.

Some examples:

  • “Use your head” becomes “use your loaf” (“head” rhymes with “bread,” as in “loaf of bread”)
  • “I’m going upstairs” becomes “I’m going up the apples” (“stairs” rhymes with “pears,” as in “apples and pears”)
  • “Here’s your wife” becomes “Here’s your trouble” (“wife” rhymes with “strife,” as in “trouble and strife”)
  • “Give me some money” becomes “give me some bread” (“money” rhymes with “honey,” as in “bread and honey”)

Outliers in the Code

There is no end to the quirks of the Cockney dialect.

Some phrases don’t omit the rhyming word; instead, the entire phrase is used. For instance, in the case: 

  • “Would you believe it?” becomes “Would you Adam and Eve it?” (“believe” rhymes with “Eve”)

Other rhyming slang can also use obscure expressions, making the code even more difficult to crack. For instance, in the case:

  • “Having an egg” becomes “having a borrow and beg” (an expression that was renewed during WWII food rationing)

“New Cockney” even incorporates pop culture figures into the language, in the case:

  • “Christian Slater” standing in for “later” or “Sweeney Todd” is slang for a London police force unit known as “the Flying Squad.”

As you can see, unless you know the “code,” you’ll find yourself hard put to communicate in Cockney.

And British dialects in the English language split off even further.

Next week, we’ll look at how the dialect differentiates from Brummie and Geordie.