4 English Words That Mean Something Totally Different in Jamaican (Patois)
If you’re an English speaker, chances are, catching on to Jamaican wasn’t extraordinarily difficult. You’ve got your “Waa gwaan” and your “Yeah man” under your belt.
You know what we mean when we say “Jah know” and “Up like seven”.
You probably even have a few “-cloths” in your repertoire.
Many Jamaican words may be easily recognizable to English speakers because of how close to English the sounds are. But there are a few crazies to watch out for.
I mean, they’re not crazy obviously; it’s just that these words have meanings that are nowhere close to the English words they sound like. But don’t worry; we’ve got you covered with a quick crash course that just might save you a few seconds (or hours) of confusion.
- What you probably think it means: be quiet
- What it actually means: I’m really sorry and I offer you my sympathy
This is one of those words that it took me many years to realize it meant something entirely different in English, simply because the Jamaican usage is so common and widespread. Actually, it was a non-Jamaican who told me how they thought at first that Jamaicans were extremely rude and uncaring because we said “Hush” to a person who was sad or upset.
Let’s say you’re coming out of a taxi and you slam your finger in the car door. Tears sting your eyes and you try to keep in that pitiful cry, but it just barely escapes your lips. I don’t wish this upon a soul, but this actually happened to me and I go this exact response: you might hear everyone around you saying, “Hush” or “Hush yaa”.
It might sound that way, but it doesn’t mean “Be quiet and stop complaining ya little baby.”
“Hush” in Jamaican is actually a way to give someone sympathy. Even if it’s said in the most hurried way, it’s still meant with good will, and so it should be taken in that way. It might shock you the first time you hear it, but try to remember not to take offence. It means “I’m sorry”.
We’re not telling you to shut up. Trust me.
- What you probably think it means: “fast”: quick, speedy, rapid
- What it actually means: overly inquisitive to the point of being presumptuous
To the uninitiated, “faas” almost sounds like it could be a compliment.
Think of someone who’s really quick to find out things that don’t involve them…that person is “faas”.
But if someone calls you “faas”, you generally don’t need to stress out over it. It’s not exactly a compliment, but it’s not taken too seriously either. And if you feel as if someone is getting close to crossing a line, saying they’re “too faas” is a good-natured way to both ignore what’s being asked, and let the whole thing slide.
- What you probably think it means: a fun combination of songs that could potentially get you millions of views on Youtube
- What it actually means: destroy, decimate, demolish (sometimes in a positive way)
This one is pretty well-known thanks to popular music but it’s still funny interesting to me because of the big difference in what the average English speaker might think it means, vs. what it actually means in Jamaican.
Needless to say, if you ask in Jamaican for a “mashup” you will be greeted with funny stares and puzzled looks. Someone might even offer to punch you in the face since, you know, you asked.
- What you probably think it means: bend/ maybe a shortened version of the first name Benjamin
- What it actually means: very, very upset
That’s right…not a verb, not a noun. But an adjective.
People will sometimes say “mi ben” or “mi ben up” which means they’re not just angry, but well and truly irked, irate, irritated.
I have know idea where this word came from, but I like to imagine that it originated because, you know how when you’re really angry it feels like the your insides are sort of bending up with annoyance and disgust????
Is that just me?
Well, anyway, that’s what comes to mind when I hear and use the word “ben”. Not…well…funny comedians. Or ice-cream.
So there you have it. Some Jamaican words that will mean something entirely different to other English speakers. Did you recognize any of these meanings? Have you used these words – in either way – before?
A final word on Jamaican: It is not “broken English” any more than English is ‘broken Anglo-Saxon’, or Spanish is ‘broken Latin’. It’s a (relatively) young one, but a language it absolutely is – and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!