I was standing in line at a bookstore when an American tourist interrupted the cashier that was making change for a customer and asked “Where are the books in your language?” The cashier stopped counting, looked up and said “Pardon?” You know, I want a book in your language”, she said again. Before the cashier could ask what in the world she was talking about, I said “She means a book about the Bajan dialect.” “Oh, oh, oh” said the cashier, pointed toward the books then resumed making change.
The woman was a little rude but maybe she was in hurry or had a plane to catch, then again I don’t recall her saying excuse me. Anyway, she does have a point, to most tourist the bajan dialect does sound like a different language. My own misunderstandings have brought me to write Bajan Dialect Part 2. The first part can be found at the following link Bajan Dialect Part 1 .
A couple of months ago my customs broker Alwin was breaking down the fees for clearing our belongings through Customs. He said “The fee for your household belongings is $9,000 and the motorcycle is free.” A smile broke across my face, “FREE?” “That’s amazing, they don’t give anything away for free in the states”, I said. “You don’t get anything anywhere for free except Barbados!” I was going on and on about how I love Barbados until Alwin interrupted me and said, “I said Tree, Tree.” He saw my puzzled look and said “Tree Tousand.” “Ohhhh” I said as the smile left my face “You mean Three Thousand.” He laughed and said “Yes, Tree you know how we Bajan does talk.” I should have known better, nothing is for free!
I have been married to a Bajan for 34 years and there are some things about the dialect I just don’t get. For instance, I still can’t figure out “above” and “below” as directions. To me, above is the sky and below is the ground or above means on top and below means the bottom. Not so in Barbados, above and below can either mean right and left or east and west. Recently I was told the ice cold mauby was in the “above” fridge at Sandra’s aunt’s house. I had two refrigerators to choose from, one in the kitchen and the other was in the pantry. Of course, I guessed wrong!
Sandra tried to explain it to me. Our neighbor Teddy lives below our house and Carlos the rasta man is above. So I said “Teddy is below (south) and Carlos is above (north),” okay I can deal with that. Then she went on to say that “Don is above (east) of our church and Mr. Pinherio is below (west) of the church. Timeout, I need hard and fast rules is it east and west or north and south? I just gave up! In fact, if anyone mentions above or below to me, I just tell them flat out “I have no idea what above and below means.”
I’m not alone with directional challenges, the kids are confused too. For years the children were taught to look up the road and down the road before crossing the street. Over time, it has become look up and down before crossing. What parents and teachers have learned is that young children would look up in the air then down to the ground before stepping into the street. Finally they have changed the campaign to look left and right before crossing. Thankfully they didn’t change the training to say look above and below before crossing or the kids would still be standing confused at the curb waiting to cross.
Apparently, I am getting a little better at understanding the Bajan dialect. I was talking to some friends along with Tyrone our mason, he was surprised to find out that I am not from Barbados. He said that he thought I was a returning National because I was participating in the conversation and seemed to understand everything they were saying.
Below are 20 Bajan dialect phrases that I have learned over the past 34 years. Of course there are many more, maybe I’ll do a Bajan Dialect Part 3. The actual meanings are listed at the bottom of the page.
- Meken sport has nothing to do with athletics.
- Getting shackled is worse than getting grabbled.
- A collins will not quench your thirst but it can cut yah.
- If you’re lickerish you aint sweet, you’re greedy.
- If you didn’t go, you didn’t went.
- If somebody is going to shout you, they aren’t mad, they’re gonna give you call.
- When you make a call, you don’t call him or her, you call he or you call she.
- If you’re in trouble hollar Murdah (murder)! If you call for help, nobody’s coming.
- If it’s not working, it mash up.
- If you’re searching for something in the dark, you need a searchlight.
- If ya shudda dead ever since, you are lucky to be alive.
- Every homeowner needs a pancart.
- If you get washed with licks, it’ll be from a big man not a dog.
- Whales and porpoises are not the only creatures with a nose hole, humans have two.
- Being too great is not a compliment.
- Being half an idiot is much worse than being an idiot.
- Getting through is not squeezing through a crowd or a narrow space.
- Laff and Leff are two completely different words not opposites.
- A cuff in your pants will make you look good, a cuff in the face will make you look bad.
- If you own muddah (mother) get blue vex an say you ain no use, your goose is prepared for seasoning.
(1) Meken bare sport means you must be joking. (2) Getting shackled is a beat down and grabbled is grabbed. (3) A collins is a cutlass. (8) If you holler help, people may think you want them to help you do something. (10) A searchlight is a flashlight. (11) I’m shocked he’s not dead. (12) A pancart is a wheelbarrow. (13) To get washed with licks is getting beat down. (14) A nose hole is a nostril. (15) Being too great is being conceited. (17) Ya getting through is asking if you need help. (18) To Laff is to laugh and to Leff is to leave as in “Let we leff from here.” (19) To cuff is to hit someone with a closed fist. (20) Blue vex is real mad. Just before your goose is cooked, it’s prepared for seasoning.
Barbados will be celebrating its 51st Anniversary on Thursday November 30th. Happy Independence Day to all Bajans both here in Barbados and abroad!
Please do Bajan Dialect 3!
Another excellent posting. You could also add words like “wonna” and “what you don’t hear, you will feel.” Thanks Calvin
Yes please do part 3! I enjoy reading your blog, brings back memories when I read it. I can see you are really enjoying Barbados. What are you all doing for Indpendence Day. Wish I could have be there. Love you guys.
Another great article. Yuh really catchin on fast boi. Nuh body wud kno you ein frum bout hey. Except fuh wen yuh talk….lol.
Oh my… a wealth of information, but I will have to revisit. I know Sandra was a great support in your Bajan mastery. Great job!
Calvin, this is so funny. You are catching on real real fast. Keep them coming.
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