In Cider with Rosie, by Laurie Lee, one man says to another: ‘Hey, Bert! ‘Ow’s Bert? ‘Ow you doin’, ole sparrer?’ This is presumably a form of ‘sparrow’, as it is when a London Cockney greets a friend as ‘me old cocksparrer’.
   The Oxford English Dictionary cites cocksparrow in this sense in Farquhar’s Love and a Bottle (1698): ‘Would you debauch my maid, you little cock-sparrow?’ However, the full form is normal, not ‘sparrow’ used on its own, and the Laurie Lee example is ambiguous. It could be ‘sparrer’, one who spars in a boxing ring, and therefore mean ‘sparring-partner’.
   A Kind of Loving, by Stan Barstow, is set in Yorkshire, and has the following exchange between two young men: ‘Howdo, Willy.’ ‘Ah, Vic, me old cock sparrer.’ The novel also has several examples of ‘cock’ and ‘old cock’ used as friendly vocatives between men.

A dictionary of epithets and terms of address . . 2015.

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