Some Fun Jamaican Words
Disvover the meanings & origins
Jamaican Words by C. Holness
If you have ever been to Jamaica you will
have noticed that although the people here speak English, it has a different
sound to it than that which is spoken in other parts of the world which also
use this language.
The Jamaican people speak in a dialect known as “Patois”,
which has its own unique vocabulary of words.
It may be confusing for someone
who is unfamiliar with this manner of speaking to understand what is being
referred to when Patois words are used, this guide provides a bit of insight as
to the meaning and background of some of the ones which are most commonly used.
Where do Patois words come from?
Many of the words used in modern-day Patois
spoken by Jamaicans, are derived from one of several African languages which
were brought over when the first West Africans arrived on the island during the
Atlantic Slave Trade.
Over the years, the original forms of such words may have
changed slightly, but you can still see how they are related.
Duppy – Ghost, spirit. Comes from the word
“Adopi” in the Akan language.
Anansi – Spider. From the same word in the
Akan and Ewe languages. Anansi the spider is the subject of many African folk
Foo-fool – Stupid or inferior. Comes from
Akan word “fo-fooh”
Obeah – Witchcraft. Originally from the
word “Obayi” in Akan.
Jook – To poke, with a needle etc. From the
Fula word “Jukka”.
Nyam – To eat. Comes from the word “Nyaam” in the Fula language.
Uno – You in plural form. Originates from
Igbo word “Unu”
Rastafarianism is a religious way of life
followed by some Jamaicans, it is based on the teachings of Haile Selassie.
Also referred to as “Iyaric”, it
stems from the language known as Amharic, spoken by Selassie himself.
Rastafarian words typically replace the use of
“me” with “I” to stress the importance of each man's individualism.
fact, many Rasta words start with “I”, which is used to replace the first
syllable of many common words, for example:
I-nity – means the same as unity.
I-tal – means vital, and is used to refer specifically
to the diet of “pure” foods eaten by Rastas
I-ree – a state of peace and happiness
I-ditate – to meditate
I-dren – bredren, fellow Rastafarians
Jamaican Words Used in Different Ways
Some words which have one meaning in
Standard English, are used to mean something altogether else in Jamaican
This can be a bit puzzling for those who are not aware of this fact and
they will be surprised to discover that the person speaking was referring to
something different from what they imagined.
Here are some examples of familiar English words and what they mean when
spoken by Jamaicans:
Dear – expensive or costly
Ends – a particular place
Flex – to do something, plan an activity
Foot – often used to refer to the entire leg
Fresh – not sweet, without flavour
Jacket – an illegitimate child
Pear – an avocado
Peas – beans, especially the red kidney
bean served in “rice and peas”
Pull – to open something
Sciance – to practice witchcraft or Obeah
Hopefully this little lesson will come in
handy some day when you hear someone talk in Jamaica and you realize that you
understand what he or she is talking about.
Even if you never hear these words
again, it's still fun to learn where they came from, how they have changed, and
how the same words can mean different things in other places.
Return to Profile of Jamaica from Jamaican Words
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