What if I reminded you that Britney’s surname is Spears (which rhymes with beers), and told you that Ruby is Ruby Murray, another popular female singer, but one whose heyday was in the 50s? And Murray rhymes with curry … there, you’ve got it.
This is an example of rhyming slang, that strange form of wordplay popular with Cockneys, or those who wish to appear to be Cockney. Typically in rhyming slang a phrase is chosen whose second element rhymes with the word in question (stairs/apples and pears) and the second rhyming element is generally dropped (so apples = stairs). Another example is head/loaf of bread, so use your loaf = use your head. As time went on the names of places, events and people tended to be used more (Barnet Fair = hair; Tony Blairs = flares).
It’s unclear whether the original purpose of rhyming slang was to confuse outsiders or whether it is simply the result of linguistic exuberance. The origins of rhyming slang are thought to lie way back in the mid 19th century, but as the examples of Ruby and Britney (and Andy) show, this form of linguistic playfulness is alive and well and still developing. Britney shot to fame right at the end of the 20th century and as early as 2000 her name was being used as rhyming slang for Britain’s favourite alcoholic drink.
So where does Andy come in? Ruby Murray was very popular in her day but most people these days won’t have heard of her, so it seems the Scottish tennis hero may be taking her place.
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