Cockney London

Traditionally, the defining characteristic of all cockney Londoners is that they are 'born within the sound of the Bow bells', the bells of the church of St Mary-le-Bow in the City of London. These days, the term 'cockney' is used in a more general sense to refer to working-class Londoners from the East End.

One of the most famous aspects of cockney London is the language. The Jewish presence in the East End is reflected in Yiddish words such as 'kosher' (meaning legitimate) and 'shtum' (meaning quiet). Other words are thought to have originated in 19th-century coded language used by dock labourers or costermongers.

In the late 19th century, the cockney working-class character was popularised by music hall performers such as Marie Lloyd and Albert Chevalier. They sang songs about their lives such as 'My Old Dutch', and 'The Coster's Serenade' to audiences across London.

The cockneys' distinctive dialect and strong cultural identity have led to their appearance in fiction. Strong-willed hard men such as Bill Sykes (from Dickens' Oliver Twist), and chirpy women such as Eliza Doolittle (George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion), characterise the public image of cockney Londoners.

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