7 Words And Phrases Used Incorrectly in Jamaica
by Sheree-Anita Shearer | Associate Writer
Photo: National Flag
Like many other cultures in the world, Jamaica has their own dialect, Patois (patwah) which is highly popular all over the world. As soon as tourists land they anticipate their first “Wa gwan”
on the island.
Hearing Jamaicans speaking Patois might be a very confusing experience for some. You might hear familiar words but it still doesn’t make any sense to you. That could be because of the accent or because Jamaicans are notorious for using words out of context. Even after we know the correct meaning of the words, we still will use them in colloquial terms when speaking Patois; perhaps because we are convinced that it is the best way we can get the point across to a fellow Jamaican.
- I am an ignorant person - Yes, I would say this is the most popularly incorrectly used phrase. Just looking at it you might think, “What’s wrong with this phrase?” I will have you know that “ignorant”, in this case, does not mean “lack of knowledge” instead it means “quick-tempered”. So if you hear the phrase "Mi ignorant" or "mi ignorant fi you" choose your next words carefully. They might cause a fight.
- Feeling Boring - While you might use boring to describe how you feel about a movie or book or event, Jamaicans use boring as a verb. I’m boring might sound you are telling "someone that you are a boring person", but it just means I’m bored. So, when you say I am bored, the Jamaican equivalent would be "mi boring".
- This thing is allergic to me - You might believe that you are allergic to something, but a Jamaican with the same allergy will never say that. The thing, whatever it is, is allergic to them. I’m not sure I can blame Patois for this one though. Admitting fault is not something a Jamaican will do frequently, so there has to be something wrong with the strawberry, not them. Right?
- Swarthy - This one I learnt about only recently. The word swarthy actually means darkskinned and is not a commonly used word anymore. In Jamaica though, swarthy has a completely different meaning. It means fat. Being called swarthy is not something you look forward to ever. Especially if the person adds "big an’ swarthy" that makes it even worse.
- Craven - This one I’m pretty sure will come as a shock to many Jamaicans. I had a hard time believing it myself! Craven in colloquial terms is used to describe someone who eats a lot. Oxford Dictionary disagrees. Craven actually means someone who lacks courage. There isn’t even the slightest similarity between the meanings of the word. I actually think our meaning is way better but that may be because I’ve heard it all my life.
- Compulsory - When my grandmother says to me that something is compulsory, she does not mean something is required or obligatory. She actually means it doesn’t happen quite often. I found it strange that my teacher at school used it to describe the subjects we had to do when my grandmother used it for the complete opposite until I searched for the meaning and realized that she was using it incorrectly. So if a Jamaican says to you "a compulsory mi see him", it means I don’t see him often.
- Grieve - The loss of a loved one can be devastating and you usually use this word when you are mourning their loss. In Patois though, the word grieve means upset. “Nuh grieve me” means don’t make me upset.
I hope this helped to clear up some confusion you might have had! While I think there are a few of these words and phrases we might consider giving up, there are some that I think the meaning is way better in Jamaica and I think the rest of the world should join us in using our meanings (just kidding).
Are there any others that you can think of? Be sure to share them below. I would certainly love to know!
I also recommend you read, Some Fun Jamaican Words Disvover the meanings & origins
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