Learning Jamaican English: Jamaican Accents and Slang Words

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Jamaican English was originally closer to British English than American English, such as in the spelling of words. However, due to globalization and the spread of American media, Jamaicans are using more Americanized English. This is more common among the younger generation. For instance, they will say “I don’t have” instead of British-esque “I haven’t got.” Older vocabulary is similar to British English, and newer vocabulary is similar to American. For instance, Jamaicans say “trunk” (American) instead of “boot.” Yet they say “rubbers” instead of “erasers,” and “holidays” instead of “vacations.”

The accent of Jamaican English is inspired by Irish English, but is overall more Caribbean. Their language is also inspired by African words. If you move to Jamaica as an English speaker, you’ll probably have to do some adjusting to their unique pronunciations!

Here is a glossary of many spoken Jamaican terms and slang:

A door: Outdoors

Babylon: Referring to the “system,” or a corrupted establishment (Jamaicans are often distrustful of authority)

Bafan: Clumsy

Balm: refers to an herbal or natural medicinal system

Bammy: a type of Jamaican food, which is deep-friend cassava bread in pancake shape; often served with fish

Bandulu: Some type of fraud

Bankra: Big basket

Bashment: Party

Beast: Policeman

Bissy: Cola nut, often used as medicine

Braata: A little extra of something

Bud: Bird

Cepes: A beard

Chimmy: A chamber pot

Cho cho: A root, similar to potato, often eaten in Jamaica

Coil: Money

Craven: Greedy

Darkers: Sunglasses

Dally: Riding from side to side (zig-zag) while biking or riding a motor scooter

Downpressor: An oppressor

Doti: Earth

Duppy: Evil spirit; ghost

Fassy: Skin sores

Fi: Possessive

First Light: Tomorrow

Gansey: Shirt

Gates: Home, front or back yard

Gi: Give

Hail: A greeting

Hard ears: Stubborn

I-Ney: A greeting

Inna: In the

Irie: Cool; sweet

Ital: Organic; pure; no preservatives

Ja, Jam-Down: Jamaica

Janga: Cray Fish

Jelly: Meat in a young coconut

John Crow: A scavenger bird species found throughout Jamaica

Kinpuppalick: A somersault

Ku Ya!: Look here!

Labrish: Gossip

Maca: Thorns

Maga Dog: Mongrel

Mampi: Overweight

More Time: See you later

Mento: The original folk music that went on to inspire calypso and reggae

Nyam: To eat

Pappy show: Anything that looks ridiculous

Pinda: Peanut

Rat-bat: Bat

Ryal: Royal

Saltfish: Cod

Sanfi: Someone is is manipulative or dishonest

Screw: To scowl or be angry

Sheg-Up: Ruined

Su-su: Gossip

Topanoris: An upper class snobby person

Uptown: Upper class

Wa Mek?: Why?

Zion: Ethiopia, which is considered the holy land in Rastafarianism

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2 Responses to “Learning Jamaican English: Jamaican Accents and Slang Words”

  1. Joan Greenwood
    March 6, 2012 at 1:14 pm #

    This is good but you spell SAMFI as SANFI. You may correct that. I do not know what I-ney is. Never heard of it or the cepes. Congratulations, it is a good list of translation.

  2. janet
    April 23, 2012 at 1:51 am #

    Hi thanks for doing that. I”m from jamaica, left there 30 years ago at pre-teen age. A lot of what you said is really not so unless new words were invented since I left. I also visit every few years and still haven’t heard some of them. Remember, Jamaicans speak English, that is just street slang just like us here in The United States, they don’t all speak proper English. Jamaicans don’t write “patwa” they write proper English, it is indeed the official language there. The teachers in shool, the news report on tv all the ‘important’ people like Government and well educated people speak english.Please let that be known. When i lived there , my parents taught us proper english. Good looking out though…planning on moving back soon too btw.

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