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Uncommon Knowledge: When do you climb apples?

Apple Tree To Be Kit | UncommonGoodsYou climb apples when they’re the stairs. And that answer isn’t just arbitrary—it’s the translation of an iconic piece of Cockney rhyming slang. The practice began in London’s East End around 160 years ago, and involves a linguistic process called hemiteleia, where one word is substituted for another. For example: for the Cockney slang-slinger, the word “stairs” might evoke the rhyming phrase “apples and pears.” That phrase would be shortened to just “apples,” which would then be used in place of the original word. Sounds needlessly complicated? That may have been the point: the system may have developed as a game, or a code for peddlers or criminals to use. Whatever the case, Cockney rhyming slang can still be found in American English today. When we refer to money as “bread,” it’s because “money” rhymes with “bread and honey.” You “put up your dukes” to fight because “Duke of York” rhymes with “fork” (an antique slang word for a fist). And if you blow someone a raspberry, it’s because “raspberry tart” rhymes with the name for that unfortunate biological emanation that the sound is imitating.

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Written by Nathan

Nathan is a copywriter, who helps create our product descriptions as well as our weekly emails. He is also a nationally award-winning musical theater writer, whose work includes an adaptation of Lois Lowry’s novel The Giver. Nathan has also been a classical violinist, tutored Kazakhstani jewelers in entrepreneurship, created large-scale games played across entire city blocks, served as a missionary in South Korea, conducted experiments in sonoluminescence, co-founded an exotic fruit-growing business, was a theater critic for Tucson Weekly, and as a teenager composed a women’s jazz quartet that is currently performed around the world.

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