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A Caribbean Dictionary

By: Sarah Woods

October 2, 2014

Using a smattering of local patois can help you converse like a Caribbean islander in a region where Creole patter rolls around the tongue with a word-rich rat-tat-tat rhythm. Take a look at our Caribbean dictionary and learn to speak like a local.

 

A Caribbean Dictionary | English Harbour, Antigua

Take in the view of English Harbour from Shirley Heights, Antigua © merrilyanne/Thinkstock/iStock

 

The lilting languages of the Caribbean have a rhythm all of their own: a lyrical sing-song patois characterised by a syncopated cadence and beat. This distinctive dialect – with its regional variations – combines phrases of the old colonial masters with earthy local slang and the spoken words of Africa. Applying few of the rules of English grammar and pronunciation, the Creole dialect of the Caribbean Islands is a unifying force: with common expressions and familiar speech patterns uttered across the region, from the clipped light lingo of Antigua and the smooth, rich Barbados roll to the melodic social courtesies of St. Lucia and Jamaica’s pitter-patter slow-crawl drawl.

 

A Caribbean Dictionary | St Lucia

Discover gorgeous St Lucia locations like the Pitons © ridgers/Thinkstock/iStock

 

The use of patois throughout the Caribbean region has become more common in the last 40 years since the individual islands, one-by-one, secured their independence. Part of establishing their own identities was to develop a language style quite different to that of the Colonial eras. Speech has become relaxed, with the old ways of speaking now adapted to the character and people of the islands. And while it may sound similar across the region, each language is unique in its style of native Patois, sometimes known as Creole (or Kweyol). Though it is derived from English, Patois is a spicy linguistic stew lightly peppered with words influenced by French, Spanish and Portuguese – and seasoned by proverbs of Africa. Then there are the Caribbean words, syntax and phrases – each 100 per cent endemic to the region. There are diverse and distinct terms, and colourful, often indecipherable tongue-in-cheek slang that varies from island-to-island (and sometimes, confusingly, from village-to-village). Few of them are written, and those that are have no standardized spelling. Different inflections, tempo, pitch, accent and tone all add to the  linguistic mix. In fact, Caribbean lingo has been shaped by almost every nationality that has ever ruled, visited or lived on its islands. Eccentric, light-hearted and idiosyncratic: Caribbean natives also pluralize words, cut them short and meld them into one. Without being aware of it, many sing their words using a rounded, rhyming ring.

 

A Caribbean Dictionary | Pigeon Point, Tobago

“Papa Yo!” Pigeon Point, Tobago © neiljs/Flickr

 

Keen to speak like a local? Then listen carefully for the sounds and pronunciation of commonly used words. In St Lucia, for example, French tradition comes through in phrases like, “Sa ca fete?” when being ultra-polite. But to wow the locals, greet the islanders you meet – in a shop, bus or office building – with “bozu” (good morning) or “boswé” (good evening). Other great words to remember are “su pl锝 (please), “mési” (thank you) and “padon” (excuse me). In all the Caribbean islands, it is common to bid everyone you meet “good day” – if you’ve met before you may also shake hands with direct eye contact, and a warm smile, followed by a gentle pat on the shoulders or upper back.

 

A Caribbean Dictionary | Montego Bay sunset

-Kiss me neck!” – a stunning Montego Bay sunset © mcclouds/Flickr

In Jamaica, to be more “local” remember not to gasp a “wow” when you witness a gorgeous Mo Bay (Montego Bay)  sunset – instead, shriek -Kiss me neck!” Jamaican style. In Barbados, they’ll exclaim “Cheese on bread!” at such a sight. In St Lucia some folk might cry out “mesye!”, in Trinidad and Tobago it’s the irrepressible “Papa Yo!” and in Grenada “bon je!” is the exclamation most often used at moments like this.

 

A Caribbean Dictionary | Barbados Beach

Practice the local lingo in beautiful Barbados © raularosa/Thinkstock/iStock

 

The island lingo on both Antigua and Trinidad is chilled and mellow, “cool out” they say to everyone they meet, meaning “take life easy”. In Barbados, words are dropped and fused together in a rich linguistic roll. “How-you?” the locals will ask and if the answer is “confused” a Bajan response is “cafuffled”, a Trini response “bazodee”, a Grenadian “basodi”, while a Jamaican will answer “mouthamassy”. And if you can find an opportunity to use the wonderful St Lucian saying “L bab kamawed ou pwi difé, wozé sa ou” – meaning when your friend’s beard is on fire, sprinkle your own – we salute you!

 

A Caribbean Dictionary: The Essential Phrase Book

 

Caribbean Dictionary | Grenada

Take the chance to learn some Grenadan patois © Robert Lerich/Hemera/Thinkstock

 Grenada

 

  • Back Back – To change one’s mind
  • Chuck – Push
  • Coki-eye – Cross-eyed
  • Call Dat George – The end of the matter
  • Catspraddle – An undignified fall
  • Wh’appening – How’s it going?

 

Barbados

 

  • All de talk – In any case
  • Birdspeed – Move very fast
  • Buy-ice and fry it – A waste of money
  • Cheese-on-bread! – Goodness!
  • Funny-up – Weird looking
  • Onliest – The only one
  • Too-nuff – Very much
  • Unnit’do – To undo
  • W’happening? – How are things?

Caribbean Dictionary | Jamaica

In Jamaican patois, “It tek!” means “It’s fabulous!” © Yuan Zhang/iStock/Thinkstock

 Jamaica

 

  • A who you man? – What are you up to?
  • Bill Chill – Take it easy
  • Cheddar – Money
  • Dat a shot – That’s fantastic
  • Do road – Go on an outing
  • Inna di morrows – See you tomorrow
  • Maad – Awesome
  • Seh one – Great, Wonderful
  • It tek! – It’s fabulous!

 

Antigua and Barbuda

 

  • Mawga – Skinny
  • Force ripe – Acting all grown up
  • Time longer than rope – You can never beat time
  • Plantain sucker follow the root – Children follow parents’ example
  • Smaddy – Somebody
  • Back back – Reverse
  • Foo me sudden – Mine
  • Monkey see monkey do – Copy cat
  • Skin teeth – Smile

Caribbean Dictionary | Trinidad & Tobago

“Wha happenin dey?” is a great way to greet people in Trindad & Tobago © Benjamin Howell/iStock/Thinkstock

 

Trinidad & Tobago

 

  • Allyuh – All of you people
  • Ax – Ask, to ask a question
  • Baigo – Tobago
  • Bon – Burnt
  • Buh wait nah – Wait, hold on
  • Chupid – Foolish
  • Free up – Relax
  • Liming – Hanging out with friends
  • Ning ning – Tired eyes
  • One set ah – A lot, plenty
  • Pesh – Money
  • Wha happenin dey? – What’s happening?

 

Trinidad

 

  • Wuz de scene? – What’s up?
  • Ah did had was to – I had to
  • Family, watch me for a minute nah – Can I please talk to you for a second?
  • Moo nah boy – Leave me alone
  • Wha yuh for? – What do you want to do?
  • Das meh real horse – That’s my good friend
  • Doh hot yuh head – Don’t worry about it
  • Ent? – Right? Don’t you agree?

 

Virgin Atlantic operates flights to the Caribbean from London Gatwick. Book your flight today.

 

What are your favourite Caribbean phrases? Have we left any out of our Caribbean Dictionary? Let us know in the comments section below.

Sarah Woods

Award-winning travel writer, author & broadcaster Sarah Woods has lived, worked and travelled in The Caribbean since 1995. She has visited resort towns, villages and lesser-known islands where she has learned to cook run-down, sampled bush rum, traded coconuts, studied traditional medicine, climbed volcanoes and ridden horses in the sea. Sarah is currently working on a travel documentary about the history of Caribbean cruises.

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