Trinbagonian Words And Phrases For the Expert Tourist

Some of you may have seen this clip of John Oliver calling out Jack Warner over the FIFA bribery scandal:

Needless to say, it did not necessarily go over well with all the citizens of my country. Many of us are embarrassed by the whole Warner thing, and some people felt Oliver was using our own language to mock us. Although I respect that view, I was more amused by his use of our slang. It had clearly been fact-checked by a Trinibagonian. That was, as I remarked on Twitter, advanced level Trini slang. Not the sort of thing you can grasp if you search Google for inspiration, or spend a week here.

However, I’m sure most people had no idea what he was saying. So this fun post was born, in which I break down the words and phrases used here, as well as throw in a few others for emergencies.

  • “Family, watch meh for ah minute nah.”  –  Family is a general greeting for strangers. Yes, I know, but that’s what it means. You would never refer to your real family by that word as a greeting. In fact, most people consider it slightly insulting if used–as it usually is–by men to draw the attention of a woman they find attractive (“Family, yuh looking nice”), but can also be used as a unisex word. When Trinis say ‘watch meh’ they mean, ‘pay attention’. We also like to say ‘listen nah’ for the same reason. ‘Ah minute’ is our standard phrase for a short time, and ‘nah’ is a general addendum that is just for emphasis (like, ‘you hear’ might be for an American Southerner). However, in other cases, it means no.
  • “Whas the scene?” – How are you? How are you doing? What’s going on with you? What’s going on here? What’s happened with you since I saw you last?
  • “I know yuh getting tabanca right now.” – Tabanca is a word to describe love-sickness, or the general malaise of someone who has lost their love and is deep in despair. It has come to mean anyone who’s in a deep depression over an issue, usually–but not limited to–affairs of the heart. Here, the tabanca is over the whole Warner / FIFA issue, of course. You can say someone ‘has tabanca’, but we also say they’re ‘getting’ it.
  • “Real dotish, ent?” – Really stupid. ‘Ent’ is another way to say, ‘right’, but with an emphasis on the word as though you are asking a question instead of stating a fact.
  • “Buh aye aye…” – Here, the last too words should be pronounced as though saying the first letter of the alphabet twice, only drawn out slightly. It’s a general phrase for ‘what the hell?’ or ‘what is this?’
  • “Doh hut yuh head.” – Don’t worry about it. Don’t worry over it. Don’t think about it.

And for extra credit:

  • “One time” – Immediately. As in, ‘I leave one time.’ This is also usually used in conjunction with ‘buss out’, which means to leave somewhere in a hurry. A common phrase is, ‘When I hear dat, I buss out one time.’
  • “Doux-doux” – Pronounced ‘do-do’, it means sweetheart, or honey and is derived from French patois. This one is less commonly used now than in years past. Your grandmother, or great aunt, is more likely to call you it than your significant other.
  • “Macajuel Syndrome” – The macajuel (ma-ca-WELL) is a large snake that lives in Trinidad and Tobago’s forests. Like all snakes, when it eats a particularly large meal, it will lie in one spot for hours or days, unable to move, in a type of lethargy until the meal is digested. When Trinbagonians say this, they are referring to sleepiness, particularly the sleepiness that comes over people after a large meal, or just after noon. We will say, ‘How yuh looking sleepy so? Like yuh have Macajuel Syndrome?’
  • “Lime” – Although we do have the citrus fruit, this is also a verb here, meaning to hang out or party. Someone will say, ‘Ah going an lime by my cousin in Couva. Coming back later.’
  • “Badjohn” – Someone you don’t want to mess with. A criminal or bully, or just someone who thinks they’re tough. Pronounced by running ‘bad’ and ‘john’ together quickly as one word, with the emphasis on ‘bad’.

And that’s it for now! I might do this again if people like it. Heaven knows we have enough slang to fill many, many posts 😉

In the meantime, enjoy a little bit of Trini music to ‘lighten the scene’ (make things fun):

Stay thirsty, my friends!

2 comments

  1. I love it when you post on this topic. I know literally nothing about Trinidad and Tobago, so it’s always interesting to read about it here. Also, I love local slang. Everyone knows a few Australian slang words that get overused in the media, but the actual slang here of course varies across the country and between subcultures etc. To give back some love, here is a popular local slang word for Darwin and the top end – budju. It originates from one of the local Aboriginal languages (Gurundji) and is used here in place of ‘babe’ but which literally means, in polite G-rated language, lady parts. And here is a music video made as a homage to Darwin slang: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iZSBPMJP_00

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