Kingston Slang

Kingston Slang

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Though the official language of Jamaica is English, when dealing with Kingston slang you'll find you need much more than a well-worn Webster's dictionary to follow most conversations. Jamaican English is a mix of British influence, Rastafarian vocabulary and Patois – a dialect shaped by West African idioms mixed with English, which is spoken by a majority of the people. Mix in Kingston slang terms that are particular to the region, and you can understand why tourists are often perplexed. Brush up on some of this local language before you embark on your travels and you might find yourself getting "reespek" from the "Yardis" in no time.

1. The Rock and Yaad

If you'd like to participate in the local lingo of Kingston, you can begin as soon as your plane lands. Don't think for one moment that you have touched down in Jamaica. In Kingston slang, Jamaica is referred to as "The Rock" or "Yaad." Yaad can also refer to someone's home and can be used as a noun. For instance, a local from Kingston is a "Kingston Yardi."

2. Respect

No matter how short of a time you spend in Kingston, you will undoubtedly encounter a local resident who "gives you a pound" (a fist bump) and offers a greeting of "Respect" (pronounced "reespek"). Don't let it go to your head. It doesn't mean you have commandeered an enormous amount of reverence from the entire population of Kingston. This is actually the most common of greetings and is used as a courteous way of saying goodbye.

3. Town and Country

If you happen to be chatting with a local in Kingston and they tell you that they are going to the "country," you may imagine that they are headed to some far off destination, or perhaps a rural section of Jamaica. But much like city-folk all over the world, Kingston residents regard anything outside of their city – even other Jamaican cities – as country. On the other hand, Jamaicans living outside of Kingston refer to the city as "town," so when someone on the outskirts says they are going to "town" it doesn't mean a charming small municipality. It means you're likely to run into them on the city streets.

4. Rice and Peas

If you are a first-time traveler to Kingston, you may be confused upon ordering a plate of rice and peas, to find that you do not, in fact, receive a steaming hot plate of white rice dotted with shiny green peas. Jamaicans refer to all beans as "peas," and the traditional dish is usually made with seasoned red kidney beans (much tastier than some plain ole' green peas, indisputably).

5. Wha Mek?

Directly translated from Patois English "Wha Mek" means "why," as in "Wha mek you do that?" In Kingston slang it is used as a popular greeting much like "What's up?" is used in American slang. "Wha gwaan?" is another version of this greeting that you might encounter.

6. Babylon

Upon hearing that the Babylon is coming, you might envision a biblical city of much opulence and grandeur has suddenly arrived to invade Kingston. In actuality, it means something far less interesting. The cops have probably arrived to break up a party. "Babylon" is one of the common slang phrases for police officers. The term has roots in the Rastafarian movement, as a way to describe the whole corrupt and oppressive system of the establishment.

7. Passa Passa

If you are asking around about authentic nightlife in Kingston, it is likely the term "Passa Passa" will come up most often. This is local lingo for a huge Wednesday night dancehall party that takes place outdoors in the streets of Tivoli Gardens. Vendors hawk street food, DJs spin all of the most popular tracks and dancers, who range from semi-famous professionals to extremely talented amateurs, party in the streets from dusk until dawn.

8. Popdown

If you attend Passa Passa all night you will most likely feel "popdown" the next day. This is Kingston slang for feeling fatigued and is often used as a way to describe a hangover.

9. I graspin'

If you have decided to incorporate some of these slang terms into your conversations with Kingston residents and they respond with "I graspin'," consider it a good sign that you are catching on quickly. This means "I get you" or "I understand what you are saying."
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