13 Essential Barbados Phrases You Need to Know

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Knowing that ‘Barbadian’ is rendered locally as ‘Bajan’ is a vital first step when seeking to understand the language of this Caribbean island. So, the local creole is known as Bajan and the people are Bajans. The quickly spoken Bajan dialect is more heavily influenced by English than many other Caribbean creoles, but can nevertheless be difficult to understand. Here are a few essential phrases to know.

Wa gine on

Meaning: ‘What is going on?’ or ‘what are you up to?’. A general question often asked when greeting someone. The phrase is even used by local newspapers when enquiring about a particular matter.

Yuh gawh be kiddin

Meaning: ‘You must be joking.’ General expression of disbelief, and title of a local newspaper’s regular blog column discussing local issues.

Cheese on bread

Meaning: ‘Wow!’ It’s an exclamation of amazement uttered with great enthusiasm and emphasis. Sometimes this is followed by reference to the thing that prompted the exclamation: ‘Cheese on bread, she lookin’ fine’. It’s even possible to buy slogan t-shirts printed with this common phrase.

Bread and Cheese

Wuh part you is

Meaning: ‘Where are you?’ The words ‘wuh part’ are used in a number of contexts to mean ‘where’. This is a very commonly used phrase.

Trouble don’t set up like rain

Meaning: ‘Bad luck or misfortune rarely gives a warning before striking’; can be used as wise council to ‘be prepared’, but more often uttered after some unforeseen unfortunate event.

De higher de monkey climb de more he does show he tail

Meaning: ‘The more someone shows off, the more visible their faults are.’ This is a local proverb warning against hubris and lack of humility.

Monkey in Tree

He en hay pompasettin

Meaning: ‘He is showing off.’ It’s an interesting variation of the word pompous meaning to be full of grandeur. This phrase is usually used critically, as in English, and often followed with a chuckle.

To flam

Meaning: ‘To flirt.’ Can be used to say ‘he/she flam’ as in they are a flirt or are flirting.

Girl, yuh like liquor bile over

Meaning: ‘A girl is so beautiful she looks like sugar-cane liquor which has boiled over the rim of the container.’ This is a wonderfully local expression from an island originally built on the sugar industry.

Sugar cane field

Day is more than one dogname bob

Meaning: This is a way of saying the person being spoken about isn’t the only one who has done whatever is under discussion. It’s usually used when discussing someone who has done something wrong to say ‘he isn’t the only one’.

Skin out de bag.

Meaning: ‘Empty the bag.’

Yuh can’t be poor and show poor.

Meaning: ‘Poverty is no excuse for shabbiness.’

Duh is more in de mortar dan de pestle.

Meaning: ‘There is more to this than meets the eye.’ Most cultures have a variation of these wise words.

Pestle and mortar

Finally, if that seems like a lot to learn, there are some basic rules that will help in understanding Bajan dialect. Grasp these and it will all start to make sense:

Lack of the verb ‘to be’: e.g. ‘She tall’ rather than ‘she is tall’.

No past tense: e.g. ‘I see he yesterday’ rather than ‘I saw him yesterday’.

No ‘th’ sound: e.g. ‘dat’ for ‘that; and ‘dem’ for ‘them’; and ‘youfe’ for ‘youth’ etc.

Persistent use of subject pronouns: e.g. ‘we car’ for ‘our car’; and ‘call he’ for ‘call him’.

Dropping of ‘ed’ at the end of words. e.g. ‘grill fish’ for ‘grilled fish’.

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