The Jamaican (un) — Dictionary

Colleen Hall
4 min readSep 11, 2020


Jamaica is truly a special place. The island is popular for many things, but especially for its dialect, Patois (Patwa or Patwah), which is an English-based creole language. Patois, for the most part, is a spoken language, but its written phonetic elements have piqued interest over the years. Personally, I try not to be in the habit of writing in dialect because in some parts of my life, I’m still learning English. My second year in college I took English as a second language as an elective to better unlearn patterns of the dialect that would spill over into my everyday life. Our spoken dialect is unique to Jamaicans as we tend to use some English words to mean something entirely different from their original meaning to suit our own intent and purposes. Get that? Here are some of my favorites….

“Warm” is hot
“Hot” is spicy
“Long” is tall
“Hard” is strong
“Must” is asking or is a request
“Thing” is Ting (a beverage brand)
“Ting” is thing
“Hush” is sorry or I’m sorry (“I’m sorry” doesn’t exist)
“Hush no” or “Hush now” is I’m so sorry, stop already
“Sorry” means excuse me
“Hello” and “dear” or “ Hello dear” means many things, none of which is pleasant and you’re about to be handled
“Bex” is properly vexed/upset
“Lick” is hit
“Bun” is infidelity/cheating (means burnt) (pic)
“Goodnight” is a greeting after 7pm
“Tree” + “tree” = 6 (Sidenote: up until Basic school, “Kindergarten,” I thought “tree” was meant to be used when outside and three to be used inside because teachers would explain the difference by saying, “tree is what’s outside.” Confuse a kid why don’t you?)
“Duppy” is a ghost
“Macka” is a thorn and is also a cactus
“Johncrow” are vultures
“Pickney” is a child or children, because a plural form was simply asking for too much

Body Parts

The foot begins at the toe and ends at the hip. Arms are “hands” and “legs” are feet.
“Wood” is not from the tree and “buddy” is not your friend (Mom’s voice)
“Han miggle” is the palm of your hand
“Foot bottam” is the sole of your foot
“Nose hole” are nostrils
“Ear hole” is the eardrum
One foot is called “foot” and feet are referred to as “foot dem.”


Source Jamoji App LLC

“Creps” are sneakers
“Slippers” are sandals
“Spike heels” are high heels
“Chaparrita” is a bracelet
“Chain” is a necklace
“A clip” is a hair tie
“Cutex” is nail polish (taken from the brand)
“Bath suit” or “Bathing suit” is a swim suit
“Nightie” are pajamas
“Baggy” are panties (rude and awfully prudish)
“Dustah” is a house dress or robe
“Rag” is a wash cloth
“Marina” is an undershirt (I don’t know why)
“Scandal bag” is a (traditionally black) plastic shopping bag (pic)
“Blouse and skirt” is said when someone is startled (pic)
“Gleaner” is every newspaper
“Current” is electricity
“Exercise book” or “hardcover book” is a notebook
“Breakfront” is a credenza or cabinet
“Sinkle bible” is aloe vera (I’ll bet there are still Jamaicans around the world learning this for the first time today) Sister?


In Jamaica we like to keep things simple, from Jamoji we covered avocado, which is called “pear” for its shape and “tea” is any hot beverage. Well, all the different types of cereal are referred to as “cornflakes.” Corn Beef is not what you think it is and is called “bully beef.”

Ground vegetables are “food”
Food is “bickle”
“Papaw” is papaya
“Red beans” are peas
“Swims” is shrimp
A tomato is “salad”
“Sweetie” is candy
“Ahman” and “Panganot” are sadly two I learned not too long ago, which are actually almond and pomegranate. My least favorite for many reasons is a tin of mackerel, which is called, “dutty gal” because it is fish in red sauce. (pic)

Then there is the special character of Jamaicans and our language where an “h” is placed before vowels and for words that actually begin with “h”, the “h” is removed. For example, oil and aisle are pronounced the same, “hile.” “Hallway’’ is “allway.” Also, the term “soon come” means ANYTHING but that and “just around the corner” is a lie.

Whether you like it or not, everyone gets a nickname. A person’s nickname can be their occupation or a physical attribute or a once in a lifetime incident/action/event that had occurred. My nickname growing up was “farrid.” I hadn’t grown into my forehead as yet. My older sister even put it on my 10th birthday cake. I know, mean, right. The joke is on them because forehead means leadership and forward thinking. Lastly, any country other than Jamaica is regarded as “farrin” and when a native leaves, they’re a “foreigner.”

And the things I learned the hard way….

Just recently I called the plumber to replace my kitchen “pipe,” I meant faucet. I got teased mercilessly for pronouncing film as “flim.” Which I now solely refer to as a movie or pictures because as luck would have it, a movie is called “a show” in Jamaica. I would religiously say no “cuccumba” when ordering a salad. I now love cucumbers. Any form of body pain is commonly categorized as “gas.” It took me about three or four times publicly announcing that I had gas before I realized that it did not carry the same meaning in the US.

What can I say, Jamaicans, we’re a messy bunch, but, irie.



Colleen Hall

Founder and director of Jamoji App LLC. I write about Jamaica.