Trinidad Talk: The local vernacular, considered as a variety of dialect of English or as an English-related creole language. A hybrid of languages from all corners of the globe but with a definitive French influence.
At the centre of any Trini lime, you will find food and blag. Post-colonization Trinidadians carry forward the oral storytelling traditions of their West African ancestors to the ensuing generation at every lime.
The charm and sing-song tone of the Trinidadian articulation is easily distinguished from the other Caribbean countries. It wasn’t until I migrated to the United States that I found a genuine admiration for the history, complexity and uniqueness of the spoken word in Trinidad.
Here is an inadequate sampling of sayings from Trini:
- Angostura (bitters) (n): A reddish-brown, slightly bitter, aromatic, alcohol-based liquid used to flavour drinks. Originally developed as an aid t digestion by Dr J.G.B Siegert, in the town of Angostura – no Ciudad Bolivar – in Venezuela. The Siegert family moved to Trinidad in 1875, where the company is still the sole manufacturer.
- The House of Angostura, Internationally Famous since 1824. Bolivar appointed Dr Siegert Surgeon-General of the Military Hospital of Guiana, situated in the town of Angostura [Venezuela]. Her Dr Diegert lived and continued to practice medicine until 1850, when he resigned to devote his full time to the commercial development of his Angostura Bitters. Owing to the unsettled political situation in Venezuela, the sons of Dr Siegert, Carlos and Alfredo, decided to leave the country. They came to Trinidad in 1875, where they were joined later by their youngest brother, Luis. here they started their factory of ANGOSTURA aromatic bitters in rented premises at the corner of Charlotte Street and Marine Square. In 1909 Alfredo Cornelio formed a public company in London, under the new name of Angostura Bitters (Dr. J.G.B Siegert & Sons) Ltd. In 1949 a subsidiary company Trinidad Distillers Ltd., was formed for the production of rum, alcohol and dried yeast. In 1958 the Trinidad Government bought out the controlling interest in the company and resold it to a private company called Siegert Holdings Ltd. on terms which ensured the manufacture of Angostura aromatic bitters would remain permanently in Trinidad. (Mavrogordato 1977:103-5)
- Back a jackass in ah horse race (phrase): Back or bet on a loser one that should have been obvious had no chance to succeed.
- Bad John (noun): A man willing to use violence and who likes being known as a dangerous person; a ruffian. John Archer, nicknamed Bad John, a notorious habitual violent criminal during the early years of the 20th century.
- It seems like everybody is turning badjohn these days.
- You playin’ bad-john! Take care I bust a lash in your ass and make you coil up like a old snake here tonight (Khan 1964:131)
- Bokee: A penalty in children’s games, usualy marbles, in which the winner snaps a finger or pitchess a marbles hard against the loser’s fingers or knuckles.
- Break Dew: Remain outside for a long time at night; stay outside all night until the morning DEW comes.
- You break so much dew you catch cold (Ottley 1971:10)
- Bring Belly: Become pregnant while living in the parental home. You playing big woman, knocking all about at night, don’t bring any belly here.
- Broko foot: Having one leg shorter than the other, limping.
- Brulejol / buljol / bhuljol / bull-jowl / brulejol / bulljoll, buljug: A dish made from salt cod, oil, onions, tomatoes, peppers usually eaten for breakfast. French origin brÛle ‘burn’ + geule ‘throat’.
- Catty-Catty (adj): Said of a man who likes sex with many women.
- She lend one brush to Lord Shorty, the catty catty one from South.
- Cax for bokee: In marble PITCH, a game in which players place their marbles at random, each player then tries to hit another’s marble, and the player whose marble is hit gets a BOKEE penalty.
- Cax: The sound of a solid hit in marbles
- I hit him caxs!
- Cobo, Cobeau, Corbeau n Coragyps atratus (Black Vulture), a large bird. A very common resident in Tridindada, not found in Tobago. Corbeau is French for Raven.
- Cockroach before fowl (phrase): Temptation; something impossible to resist.
- Doh put that cake out – you put cockroach before fowl.
- Cocktax: Court-ordered child support payments.
- Dance top in mud (phr): Try something without chance of success; be frustrated by trying to do something in too difficult a situation. (From impossibility of making a top spin in mud) => spin top in mud.
- You people want to build a little India of your own in Trinidad. You are trying to dance top in mud. It can not be done. The difficulty lies in the fact that you are too muh of a majority to assimilate, too much of a minority to dominate (Naipaul 1976:92)
- Dhansirya: A woman who wastes money. I sorry fuh he, that wife ah he one is ah dhansirya.
- Dingolay (v): Twists; turn; gyrate. (Kongo dyengula ‘agitate the waist in dancing’and possibly
- De sweet music make everybody want to dingolay (Baptiste 1992)
- Donkey years, donkeys years (phr): A very long time. (donkey’s years ‘ a very long time>).
- “Les, when last….” “Years man.” “Is ah long time, oui.” “A long, long time, donkey years.” (Jones 1973:86)
- Dotish: Stupid; slow-thinking;incompetent.
- Dotish men like you deserve what you get. If you can’t work things out with your own woman, then stop complaining. Sorf -soft- men like you should simply do as you are told.
- Douen, Duende, Douaine, Doune, Dwen, Duegne (n): A Folklore character, the spirit of a child who died before baptism. Douens wear large hats, have backwards-pointing feet, utter a soft hooting cry, and often lead children to wander off. duende ‘goblin’>
- Nex’ ting you know douens hauntin’ TTT, an’ we seein’ all dem programmes runnin’ backwards instead of upside-down as dey does run sometimes. (Keens-Douglas 1984:3)
- Eat and wipe mouth like fowl (phr): Do something wrong, but quickly cover up the evidence. (French a fowl’s habit of wiping food of its beak). Do all your naughty things, but cover up your tracks. (Haynes 1987:64)
- Feel how (phr): Feel peculiar, not normal, especially uncomfortable, ill at ease, upset over something.
- “Doh feel no how, ah go fix up yuh bicycle for you.” (Baptiste 1993:57)
- Ganga Channa: A magical practice to make a lover remain faithful; a woman squats over a bowl of hot CHANA, lets her sweat drip into it, and gives it to the man to eat. See also SWEAT RICE. Ganga ‘Ganges river; water + chana). The correct term [is] sweat rice, but channa (chick peas [garbanzo] beans) are substituted for rice and Ganga refers to water, of whatever dubious origin. This meal is served by a woman to the man that she wishes to cast a spell over. (Skettel.com 25 April 2001).
- Get On: Carry on loudly; talk in an angry or excited way.
- Any time you get ah real American in an aggravating situation, the first thing he do is let his voice be heard in objection; in other words, he does get on. (Lovelace, 1987:20)
- Gouti Look Back: A position for sexual intercourse in which the man is behind the woman who is usually on her hands and knees.
- Gownay: Elope; run away to get married. They gone to gownay.
- Guts like Cobo (phr): With have, describing someone who can eat anything also someone who doesn’t react badly to being insulted or getting pressure.
- He doesn’t get on, he have guts like cobo (1990)
- Half-Pick Duck, Harpic Duck (phr): Not the whole story, explanation. (French taking only half the feathers of a duck.) = duck story.
- “Ah, dat is more like it. When yuh ah gimme ah drink, gimme ah man’s drink, no damm half pick duck” (Rollock 1975:18)
- Have cocoa in de sun (phrase): Trinidadian phrase used as a warning that something is vulnerable, and needs to be protected; often used for situations in which people have something to hide.
- When yuh have cocoa in de sun, look out for rain!
- Horn (v): Cuckold; commit adultery; have a sexual realtionship outside of an offical one.
- Platform work demands at least the minding of one deputy, in case your wife is horning you while your’re out there , drilling.
- Huff (v): Steal especially take before anyone else can take it.
- She wanted to “huff” the little money her ex-husband had and take it back to the USA with her. (Bomb 9 Nov 1990:25)
- If crab walk (phr): A proverbial expression indicating that if you do not take some risks, you will not gain anything, but if you take too many risks, you may end up in trouble.
- If crab don’ walk, he no get fat, but if he walk too much he go de pot no?
- Kakanade: Gossip; idle talk, shit talk.
- Kakalaylay (n): Sexually suggestive dancing. /kakalele/ (<kaka + lele dance>)
- Kaka-nay (n): Dirty nose; snotty nose. /kakane/ (kaka ‘feces; waste’ + nay ‘nose’ < French nez )
- We call him Mr. Ka Ka Nez because he alway digging he nose (Baptiste 1993:96-7)
- Kick Pan: A children’s game in which a metal container is placed in the centre of the playing area; a catcher searches, while players to sneak in and kick if over before being caught.
- The children playing kick the can down the road
- Kunumunu, coonoomoonoo,cunumunu (n): A fool; simpleton; someone easily deceived or taken advantage of. /kunumunu/ (possibly Yoruba kunun, kunu ‘shy; no self-confident’; possibly Hindi and/or Bhojpuri cunuh munuh ‘little baby’.
- From the day you give the callaloo, You had me just like your kunumunu. (Growler “I Don’t want no Calaloo” 1939)
- Kuyoh (n): Fool; someone easily decived; under someone’s power. /kuyo/ Spanish cuna or French couillon ‘fool; imbecile’.
- His wife horning him, she have him so kuyoh, he only washing wares
- Lajablesse, La Jabless, La Diablesse (n): A folklore character, a beautiful woman in a long dress who has one foot like a cow’s; she entices men astray at night in the forest or on lonely roads. < French la ‘the’ + diablesse ‘female devil’>
- [The] diabless…is a she-devil, one of whose foot end in a cloven hoof, who frequents cemeteries and crossroads….she is particularly fond of attending belle air dances, and after the festivities, young males would make advanced to her and she would encourage her victim to follow her home….then as she leads him to a precipice she would suddenly transform herself into a huge hog…If however, the young swain knows the ropes he would pick two sticks and make a cross at which time she would also disappear.
- Lick Out: Devastate; destroy; damaged; take away; wear out; use up; spend money without restraints, recklessly
- The school fees lick out my money.
- Light Candle (phr): Perform an OBEAH ritual involving the lighting of a candle, in order to do harm to someone = put light.
- If I cannot get justice from the law of this land, I will even light candle.
- Lime: Participate in an informal gathering of two or more people, characterised by semi-ritualised talking and socialising, drinking and eating. In the day when you miss me, Ah liming by some old lady.
- Loup Garou, Lugahu (n): In folklore, a human who takes the form of an animal, generally, at night. loup garou ‘werewolf’>.
- The man who stole the chickens and was acquitted is really ah loup garou.
- Mama Glo, Mama Dlo, Mama D’Leau (n): A folklore character in the form of a beautiful woman, sometimes snake-like, with long hair and a fish-like tail who lives in rivers. mama dlo/glo <French maman ‘mother’ + de l’eau ‘of the water’>
- Then there were….mama d’leau… – mother of the waters who is the great snake character of rivers. (Ahye 1938:45)
- Massa Day Done: An expression used to reproach someone to remind them that colonial days are finished and old privileges and oppression are no longer acceptable. (Public lecture by Eric Williams, 22 March 1961)
- Matta Fix: Settled; arranged; ready to go.
- A good brulejol must never boil, Once it’s well mixed, is matta fixed.
- Mauvay Langue, mauvaise langue (n): Critical, slanderous talk. (French mauvaise ‘bad’ + langue ‘tongue’). A person who says malicious, gossipy or slanderous things.
- I find both appalling and disgusting..the pettiness that sees a sinister plot behind every move the brand new government makes. The mauvais langue, vicious and calculated to damage reputation and character.
- Never-see-come-see (n): Of a person, unsophisticated and therefore excited about something ordinary. (French just now coming to see something new.)
- Yuh like a never see come see in yuh new car with alarm and stereo. (Baptiste 1993:116)
- Obzocky, obsockie, obzokee, obsukky, obzoky, obzockie, upzuckie (adj): Unbalanced; awkward-looking; of ungraceful line or shape; of a batsman, not flowing or smooth. (Possibly Kikonngo zakazaka ‘shaking’).
- “Allyu only eatin’ ah set ah junk food like dem social bakes dey does call Pizza, an’ allyu still want to find out why allyu gettin’ fat an’ obsozky.” (Keens-Douglas 1984:87)
- Pail Closet: An outside latrine; an enclosed toilet consisting of a pail (bucket) underneath a seat with an opening in it.
- Papa Bois (n): A folklore character, usually depicted as having a man’s head, chest and arms, with goat-horns on the head, and the lower body of a goat or similar animal. He is the protector of animals in the forests and can change himself into animal forms to lead hunters away. Papa ‘father’ + French Bois ‘woods; forest’>
- The African legend of Papa Bois mixing with the European tales of werewolves – our lou’ gahou’ the Anansi stories of the Ashanti people of the Gold Coast.
- Pasray, pasare (v) : Spread; stretch, e.g. a sheet; sprawl, sit in a vulgar, exposed way, usually said of a woman. /pasre, pasare/ (Hindi and/or Bhojpuri pasarna ‘spread out; stretch out)
- Look how she pasreyin sheself dey. She pasare like ah mad oman
- Pull hand: In SUSU, to collect the entire amount of all members contributions in your turn
- Ram Goat Can’t Pee: Phrase indicating that you do not believe someone’s story. He cleaned up the whole house? That ram goat can’t pee!
- Rings: In PITCH, a small circle, usually about 18 inches in diameter, in which the marbles are placed; the object is to now opponents’ marbles out of this ring with your TAW.
- Rings & Taws (Right Through): In PITCH, shouted before pitching in RINGS, when you intend to roll your marble through the field of play and keep anything you hit out of the ring, including your opponents TAW, and in addition claim points for any opponent’s marbles which have been indirectly hit.
- I going to pitch, rings and taws!
- Rum Jumbie (n) – Habitual drunkard; alcoholic.
- Rum Talk (n) – Saying or promising things when drunk that you would not do if sober.
- Sancoch, sancoche, sancoach, sancocho, san kootch (n) : A thick soup made with meat, GROUND PROVISIONS, and vegetables. (Latin American Spanish sancocho ‘a stew’; Spanish sancochar ‘paraboil’)
- “San Kootch for supper,” she announced grandly. (Pollack 1943:25)
- Say Prunes (Phr): Used often with a negative to describe someone who seems to be quite but turns out to be quite the opposite. – mash ants
- Is my neighbours I talkin’ ’bout. Whole year them people does want to pass you straight like a full maxi. All the time they nose up in the air like they can’t say prunes and jus’ becauses is Christmas, they want to much-up and expect drinks. They mus’ be think I born big! (EX 18 Dec 1994:11)
- SUSU: A cooperative savings systems in which each person contributes the same fixed amount each week, and the whole amount, the HAND is taken by a different member each time.
- Sweat Rice: Rice into which a woman, given to a man to make him remain faithful. Steam rice. “Sweat rice” was supposed to be one of the more potent aphrodisiacs employed to “tie” men. Sweat rice: A meal of rice, which a woman prepares when she wants to trap a man. The woman prepares this by squatting over steaming rice, and allowing her vaginal juices to “sweat into the rice.”
- TAW: A large, lucky, or choice marble used to shoot at other marbles, rarely parted with or betted
- Partner, we doh play with no doggle, Dat is not real marble, Dat is balls-bearing…Yu want to mash up people taw!
- Tobago ice-water (n): A humorous reference to sucking a dinner mint and drinking pipe water afterwards to give a cold water effect when ice is not available. From denigration of living conditions from the view of a less sophisticated Tobago.
- Yuh have to take Tobago ice-water, to wash down that doubles boi.
- Tobago love (n): Said of a relationship characterized by lack of demonstration of affection, or by fighting.
- Is only weetie he sending she by de post – like is Tobago love or what? (Baptiste 1993:157).
- Tonnere, tonnay, tonnier (intj): Exclamation of suprise, vexations, annoyance. (tonnere ‘thunder’, an expression of anger)
- Tonnerre! It have plenty people in this fete. (Baptiste 1993:157)
- Tout Bagai, toot bagai, tout bagaille (pron): Everything; all sorts of things. /tut bagai/ (tout ‘all’ + bagai ‘thing’).
- Turtle Botheration: A preparation of a turtle penis in rum, of which small sips are taken as a male aphrodisiac.
- Washikong, wachekong, washeekong, watchekong, watchi-kong (n): Rubber-soled canvas shoes; sneakers; plimsolls; running shoes. Origin unknown but two widely held theories: caoutchouc ‘rubber’, and Chinese perhaps Mandarin, kong hua xie ‘flower sandal’>
- She haven’t really nothing really to eat, Only knocking bout in washikong bout the street.
- Whey de arse (phr): An expression of disgust, disapproval.
- Bu’ wey de arse is dat? Sinc when you become church defender?
- Wild Meat (n): Game; meat from animals killed by hunting, most commonly DEER, QUENK, MANICOU, TATU,[GOUTI], and LAP.
- I stay home on Christmas for most of the day and I do a lot of cooking – wild meat and plenty of pork. (Express 23 Dec 1990:15)
- Xamboula (n) obs. A type of African dance.
- Xamboula dance is known by only a few persons. It is such an obscene dance that it is only [performed] by moonlings in the bush. It comes from Trinidad. (Uh 1883:252)
Next time in Trinidad learns a couple of phrases of the language.
Source: Dictionary of the English/Creole of Trinidad & Tobago by Lise Winer
Featured Image: The Red, White and Black by JP-Talma