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Most Googled: why are Londoners called ‘cockneys’?

James FitzGerald

Supposedly, a cockney is anyone born within earshot of the bells of St Mary-le-Bow church in the City. These days it’s more of a general term for working-class Londoners (especially East Enders). But according to linguist Dr Susan Fox, ‘cockney’ started as an insult.

‘One of the earliest uses is in Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales”,’ she tells us. ‘He uses the word “cokenay” to mean “a child tenderly brought up, an effeminate fellow”.’ The word may have come from a term for a weird-looking egg, and it was first used by country folk to tar city-dwellers in general as soppy weaklings.

By the early 1600s it had come to refer almost exclusively to Londoners – who have reclaimed it over the centuries as a badge of pride. Still, the original meaning stuck around for ages: ‘an 1806 dictionary links the term “cockney” with a “feeble” way of speaking,’ Dr Fox adds. Try telling that to Danny Dyer.

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