ENGLISCH/839: Questions to Mrs Gobbledygook (160) Use Your Loaf (SB)


160. What does it mean to "use your loaf"?

Dear Mrs Gobbledygook

When I stayed in London for my holidays I heard people quite often say "use your loaf", which means literally "use your bread" in my opinion. This was rather strange for me because it was hardly ever used while having a meal or eating sandwiches and also I had difficulties to find this expression in my idiomatic dictionary, so I gave up. But maybe you can help me with the question, what the expression "to use your loaf" really means in English?

Yours sincerely

Ursula S. (from Bremen, Germany)


Dear Mrs S.

"Would you Adam and Eve it, she doesn't use her loaf?" You just gave me an interesting "dicky bird" for Cockney rhyming slang. But first I have to tell you, that you must be a born Cockney or a true Londoner to understand this kind of language. In Cockney rhyming slang, expressions are often replaced by ones that rhyme with them. "Adam and Eve", for example, is used instead of "believe", "dicky bird" means just "word", "Rosy Lea" stands for "tea" and "trouble and strife" means "wife". It makes the language very colourful, but hard to understand if you're not familiar with it! And sometimes there is a second meaning hidden in it as in "trouble and strife" which is a little old fashioned and could be translated into German as "Zwist und Hader".

Traditionally in Cockney Rhyming slang you always replace two expressions for one, as for example:

"stairs" becomes "apples and pears",
"hat" becomes "tit for tat", and
"feet" becomes "plates of meat".

But after some time, Cockney speakers got tired to using such long terms and as you might know the English are generally quite fond of abbreviations, so they soon began, to shorten these expressions. Instead of "plates of meats" they began to say "plates", and the rhyming component got lost.

If a Cockney person says: "me plates are killing me" it means "my feet hurt"; or if one says: "Where is me tit for" is this the short version of "where is my tit for tat", but what he means is "where is my hat?" (By the way, Cockney speaker never say "my", they say "me" instead").

Similarly one could say "go up the apples" instead "go up the apples and pairs" meaning "go up the stairs".

Some more examples:
"Crust of bread" means "head" and "daisy roots" means "boots" (daisies are small white flowers you find on nearly every patch of grass outside). "Elephants trunk" (the swimming suit of an elephant) stands for "drunk" (a frequently used expression).

So if someone says:

I've put me tit for on me crust and me daisies on me plates and fell down the apples 'cause I was elephants.

That means:

I put my tit for tat (hat) on my crust of bread (head), and my daisy roots (boots) on my plates of meat (feet) and fell down the apples and pears (stairs) because I was elephants trunk (drunk).

These are Cockney expressions which are more or less well known, but there are a lot of informal usages in English which ar based on Cockney rhyming slang and very often speakers of standard English are not even aware of their origin. That leads us to your example, we quite often hear in everydays English: "Use your loaf", your "loaf of bread" meaning your "head". So "loaf" is nearly the same as "crust". But we use "loaf of bread" for head, if we are talking about mental activity. "Use your loaf" means "use your head" ("just try to be intelligent for once")!

And if you remember, I got on the subject of Cockney rhyming slang because of your question, I took my time "to get down to brass tacks" which is commonly used in standard English to mean, to get down to the essentials of a problem.

"To get down to brass tacks" is a frequently used idiom, which makes literally no sense, if you don't take the Cockney origin in consideration: "Brass tacks" is a synonym for "main thing" ("Hauptsache" in German), and means to consider the essential part of the question or problem although you would translate it as "Messing-Heftzwecken" in your language.

If that school is ever to gain a good reputation, the staff will have to get down to brass tacks, and deal with discipline first.

The idiom derives from another idiom "to get down to facts" which means to take a close look at the facts. "Facts" became in the Cockney dialect "brass tacks" which seems to be a rather poor rhyme but as the Cockneys usually swallow the "T" it does make sense after all:

facs = brass tacks

Now, I give you a few more examples and you can guess what the Cockney expressions in the following stand for?

It's pouring with rain outside and I've left me "Auntie Ella" in the "cat and mouse". I'd better send one of the "dustbin lids" back to get it before I go off to the "rub-a-dub-dub" and get "Brahms and Liszt".

Adam and Eve - believe
Auntie Ella - umbrella
cat and mouse - house
dustbin lids - kids
rub-a-dub-dub - pub
Brahms and Liszt - pissed

So mind your dicky birds while you are in East-London. And do you know that Charley Chaplin was a true Cockney, that means he was born within sound of the meanwhile destroyed St. Mary-le-Bow?


Mrs Gobbledygook

26 March 2009