Have you heard a friend from London, England, talk about “going up the apples and pears”? It’s only normal to be confused about this local slang expression, which simply means “stairs.”
Keep reading to learn why Londoners call stairs apples and pears and how to use this slang term in a sentence.
The Cockney rhyming slang expression “apples and pears” means stairs.
“Apples and pears” is one of many examples of this London-specific slang, in which Londoners combine two words to form a phrase that rhymes with the original word. Apples and pears became “stairs” simply because “apples” rhymes with stairs.
People considering adding this slang expression to their vocabulary need to know that “apples and pears” is an informal phrase used among working-class Londoners.
Middle- and upper-class Londoners may be familiar with the term, as might English people from other parts of the country, but Americans and other English speakers won’t know what you’re talking about.
Are you curious how the slang term “apples and pears” is used in practice? Take a look at these example sentences:
- “I can’t go out tonight, sorry. My aunt took a tumble down the old apples and pears, and I have to stay home to look after her.”
- “Poor Jim doesn’t have a lift in his building and has to drag himself up the apples and pears every time. Can’t be easy; he’s getting on a bit now.”
- “It’s way past your bedtime, dears! Now get off the telly and get yourselves up the apples to brush your teeth!”
The last example drops the final part of the phrase “apples and pears” so only “apples” remain. This is common in Cockney rhyming slang.
Before we delve into the origins of the phrase “apples and pears,” it is important to understand what “Cockney” means.
Cockney can refer to East London natives, typically with a working-class background. It also describes the dialect and accent East London natives use. The term Cockney dates back to the 14th century, along with the dialect.
Cockney rhyming slang is a huge part of the dialect. This linguistic phenomenon combines two words to create a phrase that rhymes with the word it describes in standard English. Cockney rhyming slang emerged during the 1840s and continues to thrive today.
Street sellers and criminals may have used some rhyming slang to talk about illegal activities freely, but other terms, like “apples and pears,” are simply part of the culture.
Phrases Similar to Apples & Pears
The British middle-class version of “apples and pears,” meaning “stairs,” is “up the wooden hill to Bedfordshire.”
There are no other slang terms for “stairs,” but we can offer plenty of fascinating examples of other Cockney rhyming slang terms:
- Dog and bone — phone.
- Slabs of meat — feet.
- Porky pies — lies.
- Bangers and mash — cash. (“Bangers” means “sausages.”)
Keep in mind that Londoners commonly drop the second word in rhyming slang phrases. As such, feet become “slabs,” and lies become “porkies.” Only people part of the culture could decipher these phrases in the past, but Cockney slang is more accessible than ever, thanks to the internet.
Phrases Opposite to Apples & Pears
There are no antonyms for this phrase.
However, you should know that “apples and pears” has nothing to do with “apples and oranges.” That phrase means that two things are very different, and you shouldn’t compare them.
What Is the Correct Saying?
The correct saying is “apples and pears.” This London rhyming slang means “stairs.”
Ways People May Say Apples & Pears Incorrectly
English learners and people from the United States may be tempted to use “apples and pears” to impress their British friends. Please don’t. You will just look silly.
Acceptable Ways to Phrase Apples & Pears
You could incorporate the slang term “apples and pears” into a story set in London or mention it while discussing linguistic curiosities.
Beyond that, there’s no acceptable way to phrase this Cockney term unless you’re from London yourself. In that case, you would already be familiar with this slang.