My Take on Jamaican Patois
I wrote this a long time ago and recently found it again. It still makes me laugh fondly at the country I’m in love with. There may be some inconsistencies in it so if you’re Jamaican and I’m wrong…..GO EASY ON ME.
Patois is not the first language of Jamaica. English is. Actually Patois IS English. Although Jamaica is part of the British Commonwealth it amazes me how many people have asked me, “What’s that language they’re speaking? It’s Spanish right?” I suspect people ask that question because Patois is spoken with such speed and fluidity that it actually does sound like a foreign language and it’s beautiful.
In my opinion Jamaican Patois is one of the prettiest dialects I’ve ever heard. It’s made up of mostly English words laced with a lot of slang and other words and phrases unique to the island. The dialect is somewhat broken and not put together the same way we would speak. Sometimes I think their way of putting things is so much more efficient. For example, instead of saying “the back of my neck” they would say “neckback”. Duh. No wonder Jamaicans run faster than the rest of the world…they aren’t wasting their energy using excessive words. Although, that may not be true either because instead of using just the word “jeans”, they would say “jeans pants”. No wonder I don’t speak the language yet, even though I understand it. There are no rules to follow for learning it!
In Patois, your hair and sleeves aren’t long; they’re tall. Your whole leg is your foot and the back of your foot is a footback. You don’t watch someone, you pree them. And you must say things twice in a row to get your point across effectively; chat you a chat – you don’t just chat. When a Jamaican is excited or in disbelief is when it gets really comedic. Who would ever think that when someone tells you to kiss their neckback or footback that they’re excited? And who would ever know someone’s upset with you when they yell, “Blouse and skirt!” See what I mean when I say Patois IS in fact English but putting it together is a whole other ballgame.
Skinning your teeth is actually smiling but to me it sounds like a form of torture, however kissing your teeth is something you would do if you’re upset, in disbelief or just plain don’t agree with someone. I can’t write on paper what kissing your teeth sounds like but there’s a definite noise it makes and not every foreigner gets it right when attempting it.
When people travel to different countries it seems that they always want to know the bad words first. I can understand why. It’s so that when you go back home you have a whole heap of different ways to curse your boss or your mother-in-law out without them actually knowing it. It’s so satisfying.
There’s a colorful array of offensive words and phrases unique to Jamaica that would sound absolutely ridiculous if you use them anywhere else. That’s one of the awesome things about Jamaica, nothing is very literal there and you can call someone you don’t like a p***yhole without them immediately thinking of a vagina. Instead they’ll tell you to go suck something (but not what you’re probably thinking). Entire fights go down with no physical action. Just a vibrant spray of creative, non-literal bad words that still sound pretty because of the dialect and accent.
Bloodclot is like the original sin in Jamaican bad language. It came first and a whole dictionary of derivative words came after it. The true meaning of the word Bloodclot (when used in Jamaica) came from blood cloth, only when Jamaicans say cloth it comes out as clot. A blood cloth is a feminine hygiene product. So, in essence when the word is used in anger towards someone you’re basically calling them a tampon. Now, call me crazy but when I’m pissed off enough to start name-calling, the last thing I’m going to call someone is a tampon.
From bloodclot came rassclot (usually spelled rassclaat, but still said as clot). As far as I know rass can be used like ass like when some people shout, “Kiss mi rass” it means kiss their ass. So I’m not exactly sure what an ass cloth is if we need to break this one down literally.
Also from bloodclot came bumboclaat (or clot), which also means ass cloth since bumbo is slang for butt. Sometimes I wish I had the assistance of a Jamaican while writing but I’m sure we’d just be drinking rum and this would turn out worse than it already is. I’ve already lost myself!
It’s hard to determine a hierarchy of all the bad words and which ones are the most offensive because how and when they’re used determines the outcome. It’s like our F-bomb, we don’t always use it when we’re angry. Sometimes it seems to be part of a well-balanced diet. It’s the same as Blood/bumbo/rass clot can be used in any instance. Sometimes they use a combination of it such as bumborassclaat. I believe that may be in the Jamaican dictionary because it’s sure in a lot of their songs.
Recently while I was driving on the island and had a Jamaican in my passenger seat, someone on the road cut me off and I yelled out, “Douchebag!” The person in my passenger seat had no idea what I was talking about so this was the perfect opportunity to explain to them what I find so funny about their own language. I proceeded to tell them what the literal meaning of a douche bag is and we laughed. In my opinion it’s just as bad as calling someone a blood cloth. The two are equals on the totem pole of stupid things we call people.
My own footnote: The best word out of the entire Jamaican dialect is “Fuckery”. It just so versatile.