Last updated: 09:00 PM ET, Fri November 27 2015

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  • Rosalind Cummings-Yeates | November 27, 2015 9:00 PM ET

    A Traveler's Guide To Jamaican Patois

    A Traveler's Guide To Jamaican Patois

    PHOTO: The menu at Scotchies draws locals ready to "nyam." (photos by Rosalind Cummings-Yeates)

    If you've ever visited Jamaica, you might have noticed that when locals aren't using recognizable English words, they speak in a lyrical dialect that you can't quite follow. Many Jamaicans speak in Patois, which is a blend of words that borrow from English, African and Spanish languages.

    Reggae and the Rastafarian culture have popularized many patois phrases like Irie and Yeah Mon but the dialect goes much deeper than that. In fact, I don't recommend using either of those words if you don't want to sound like an irritating tourist. If you're interested in connecting with Jamaicans and learning about the culture, or you just want to understand the local dialect, use these key phrases during your travels on the island:

    Wha Gwaan: This is a casual greeting that you'll hear between friends or passersby. It means what's up or what's happening?

    Every Ting Criss: This is the appropriate response to Wha Gwaan? It translates to everything is good.

    Nuttin Nah Gwaan: Another response that just means nothing is happening.

    Y Pree: Another greeting that means what's up?

    Small Up Yuh Self: This term is used when someone is trying to pass by you and you're blocking the way. It means to move over or make room.

    Mi A Go: I'm leaving, used to end a conversation or activity.

    Walk Good: Take care, see you later.

    Bredren, Sistren, Dawta, Yute: These are terms used generally for acquaintances. Bredren translates to man, Sistren, for woman, Dawta for daughter or young woman and Yute is for kids or teens.

    Pickney: A young child or children are generally called Pickney. By the time they are pre-teens, they are usually called Yute.

    Big Up: To give respect or acknowledgment. Someone is given a big up when they have done something impressive.

    Nyam: The general word for eat or eating.

    Ital: A popular Rastafarian terms that means food in its natural state, unprocessed and grown locally.

    A Weh a Yuh Seh?: Used during a conversation, this phrase translates to really? Are you serious?

    Fiyah Bun: A phrase that denounces something or someone as corrupt or wrong.

    Roun Di Cannah: When giving directions, this term always come up, it means around the corner.

    Mash Up Di Place: Usually this phrase refers to a DJ or singer who whips up a crowd with excitement but it can also mean the destruction of something.

    PHOTO: When passing someone on the stairs, you might be asked to "small up yu self."

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Rosalind Cummings-Yeates Far-Sighted Field Notes

Rosalind Cummings-Yeates Rosalind Cummings-Yeates is a journalist, author and blogger who specializes in travel and culture topics. She loves guiding readers through the richness of various cultures and discovering the essence of a destination. Her travel and culture blog, Farsighted Fly Girl, offers travel insights through the music, food, art and history of various countries and cultures. Join her on the journey at www.Rosalindcummingsyeates.
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