15 English Words Jamaicans Just Can’t Seem to Get Right!

In our first patois lesson, I shared that Jamaicans often confuse fellow Anglophones, because there are dozens of English words that mean something completely different in Jamaican Patois. And much as we try, we often end up intending the patois-meaning, when we say it in English.

But, if I’m being honest, the confusion doesn’t stop there. Why? Because there are dozens more English words that Jamaicans can never seem to pronounce the way everyone else does. As usual, I got my fellow Jamaicans involved on both Facebook and Twitter to illustrate my point:

Below are the fifteen best examples from the many that were submitted. Don’t worry. I’ll start you off easy, and work our way up to the ones that will leave you scratching your head forever.

1. Caribbean


When it comes to a person’s country or region, I believe we should have the final say on how the word is pronounced. In America, Caribbean is pronounced with an emphasis on the be, but in Jamaica, we place the emphasis on the rib. Thus, we say Caribbean, whereas Americans say Caribbean.

Every time a foreigner tries to correct me on this one, I remind them which one of us is the native, and which one is the outsider now guilty of ethnocentrism. Case dismissed! ✌️

2. European


But… if we’re being honest, we are guilty of our own bit of ethnocentrism when it’s the foreigners’ turn. As you can probably start to see by now, the Jamaican accent generally puts the emphasis on the second syllable in words of three syllables or more, so we say European, whereas most anybody else says European.

3. Character


This is yet another three-syllable word that has caused me endless strife in America. Even funnier is that the first time I realised it was pronounced differently, I was fourteen and trying to explain to my cousin, what the characters were like in my book.

She was born in Jamaica to Jamaican parents, and migrated with them to the US as a child, but she could not understand what I meant. Not even after I repeated the word ten times. Finally, I started to explain what a character was, at which point, she burst out laughing, and said, “Oh! You mean characters!” 😑

4. Bowl


I generally avoid saying this word in the company of Americans. While Jamaicans do tend to swallow up a few syllables in patois, we do not waste letters in English. So if there is a W, we won’t miss it. As a result, Jamaicans pronounce bowl exactly as it looks, whereas Americans tend to make the W silent, and say bowl.

5. Violence


While we don’t waste letters in English, we do sometimes forget what order they fall in. Many Jamaicans, for some odd reason the rest of us will never understand, pronounce the word violence as voi-lence.

What is perhaps even funnier is that this is often done by people who don’t speak English on a regular basis, but want to sound exceptionally proper on that particular day.

6. Film


Another instance where we conveniently forget the order of letters in a word is when Jamaicans say flim, instead of film. We don’t all do this, but the less educated and the more rural the Jamaican, the more likely you are to hear that pronunciation. The rest of us either get annoyed by it, or enjoy a good laugh at their expense. 😅

7. Certificate

While we’re in the habit of switching up letters in a word, some Jamaicans have the magical skill of interchanging whole syllables! Many Jamaicans say cerfiticate, instead of certificate. Why? We have no idea. But once again, the less educated and the more rural the Jamaican, the more likely you are to hear it.

8. Chew

For most Jamaicans, if we see the word chew on paper, there’s about an 80 percent chance, we’ll saw chew, like any other sane English speaker. But… if we happen to be pulling the word out of our head during conversation, you might hear chaw instead.

Don’t be alarmed! It usually means exactly the same thing! On a few occasions, it can also imply that the person is chewing their food loudly, with their mouth open, or in some other disgusting way.

9. Fritters



Photo Credit: Jamaicans.Com

The final example of us pulling the old switcheroo is with the word fritters. I know this isn’t a common word in America, or a common part of the diet, so I’ll explain. Fritters is usually a breakfast item that is made from frying up a tasty homemade batter.

We have so many different kinds — banana fritters, sardine fritters, egg fritters, just to name a few! My mouth is watering, just thinking about it! 🤤 But… for some reason, a lot of rural Jamaicans will not say fritters. They say flitters, which means exactly the same thing.

10. Icing


I would venture to say all Jamaicans have mispronounced this word at one point or other in their lives, until they knew better. I know I have! Apparently, while we switch letters and syllables around, we also add a few in the process.

Icening is likely the most popular pronunciation you will hear for the word icing, in Jamaica. Think of the pronunciation as the difference in how you would say lightning, instead of lighting.

11. Plantain

I never order plantains around Americans. I just point. This is one of those rare instances in English, where we decide a letter doesn’t count, but the Americans decide to use all of them.

Jamaicans say plauntin, while Americans say the word exactly as it looks. I can never make it sound the way Americans do, so I save my plauntin orders for when I drop by the Jamaican restaurants! 😂

12. Penguin


Considering that we don’t have penguins in Jamaica, I think I can make an easy excuse for us on this one, but many Jamaicans call them pingwings or pingwins! While certainly not accurate, I would say this is one of those mispronunciations that a lot of foreigners don’t pick up on at first, and still understand. Not bad at all, considering what’s up next. 🤔

13. Tangerine


In late January, I shared 50 Awesome Jamaican Words & Phrases that Could Put Shakespeare to Shame. Through that article, many of you learned how colourful and inventive Jamaican Patois really is. But, did you know, we are also in the habit of renaming fruits?

The first of two examples on this list is stangerine, which is how many Jamaicans refer to the sweet peelable citrus, known as a tangerine by just about everyone else.

14. Maggots


Is there anything more disgusting than these little creatures? Especially when they take to attacking food, livestock, and even our pets! While their beneficial contribution to nature cannot be disputed, they do tend to be a bit of a nuisance.

Apparently, so much so, that Jamaicans gave them a whole new name. You will rarely hear a Jamaican say maggot. Our word of choice, especially for a large gathering of these creatures, is maggage.

15. Pomegranate


I guarantee that if none of the others do, this is the one that will leave you scratching your head forever. But first, a story! I first came up with the idea for this article, while walking through the produce section at the store.

Ready to have a good laugh at my parents’ expense, I called my Haitian-American father over and asked him what the fruit was called. Though he speaks fluent French and Haitian Creole, he was born and raised in America, making it all the more likely that he would say pomegranate.

After him, I called my mother, pointed, and asked her if she knew the name of the fruit. The sign was right there, and she did look at it before she answered me. Her reply? “Of course! It’s a pongo-nut!”

My father was confused, and I was laughing. That is just one of those many words, I never dare to pronounce around Americans…

AC Sign 2_0

Find Me On:


61 thoughts on “15 English Words Jamaicans Just Can’t Seem to Get Right!

  1. I love these posts of yours!

    In America, Caribbean is pronounced with an emphasis on the be, but in Jamaica, we place the emphasis on the rib. Thus, we say Caribbean, whereas Americans say Caribbean.

    We Brits are consistent with Caribbean and European, we emphasise the BE in the first and PE in the second. Carri-BEE-un and Euro-PEE-an

    If you ever visit the UK, you’ll be pleased to know we love fritters. Although battered fruit isn’t that common (oddly, I think I’ve only ever come across banana fritters in Chinese restaurants), we are the country of Fish & Chips. We batter many savoury foods though.

    1. Hi Mason! I actually did check with one of my British friends about the European pronunciation. Didn’t know about the Caribbean though.

      I have no doubt that you live your fritters in the UK. We’ve inherited a lot from you guys. We also love our tea! And we also love our fish and chips! You should really try those banana fritters though. They’re my favourite for sure. Do you have a lot of porridge as well? We love that!

      Thanks for reading. Really glad you enjoyed it. 😄

      1. Porridge oh yes 😀 although I’m such a seasonal eater, I will only eat it in winter. I don’t think I’ve tried banana fritter. Sounds lovely though and I love bananas

      2. Why only in the winter? I’ve been having a craving for rice porridge lately. That was always my favourite. Haven’t made it in ages, but I’m rumoured to make the best! Should really make some this coming week.

        For banana fritters, you have to wait until the bananas are overripe to that point where you certainly don’t want to peel them and eat them. Then you mash them out to make the batter.

      3. My body responds quite strongly to the seasons and I find porridge too “heavy” (for want of a better word) any other time of the year. Give it a few weeks when the sun starts shining again and temperatures hit the dizzying heights of 12C – I’ll be craving fish, salad, and fresh bread.

        I usually make banana bread with overripe bananas. Thanks for an alternative use!

      4. Interesting! Winter already makes me sleepy, so I would find it too heavy for the cold months. I would be knocked out in two seconds. 😂

        I am always craving fish and fresh bread. I think I was meant to be born in the Mediterranean, but someone messed up the paperwork and I ended up in a Jamaican womb. How does one file a complaint for these things? Any ideas? 🤔

        And you’re welcome! If you try it, let me know how it turns out.

  2. I always said the emphasis on the rib in Caribbean, but always felt out of place around all those beaners. It is similar to Quebec. Americans say kwe and Canadians k. Curious if you say birfday since you say ax instead of ask. Interestingly, I recently learned that much of what is considered “black English” here is actually closer to Elizabethan, including birfday.

    1. Curious that you emphasise the RIB. I’m proud of you, as always! 😂 I say Quebec. Not sure what other Jamaicans say, actually. Toronto is a far more common Canadian location I would hear them pronounce.

      Ax is usually said by the rural and less educated, as well as kids. I wouldn’t say it’s standard across the board. We say birt’day for birthday, or Rastafarians may say earth day.

      The English in patois is closer to Old English though. I was just talking about that with a fellow Jamaican a few days ago. We still say things like Me-thinks so, for example, which is from the Shakespeare era.

      1. That makes sense. I have always been intrigued by dialects. I used to study maps of usage across the U.S. before there was the homogenization that television brought about.

      2. Interesting. So you’re saying there was more diversity in the English spoken here, not too long ago? I can believe that, considering the variations of patois on an island as small as Jamaica. I will say the English there, is constant though. Any variations are caused by people who, being bilingual, run into the occasional trouble of crossing words, meanings, and pronunciations.

      3. Oh, I guess some parts of America retained the British way of saying things, especially you New Englanders haha. I say sack, and knapsack. I also say sneakers and creps, instead of tennis shoes. And bonnet instead of hood of a car. We do however say trunk, rather than boot of the car.

  3. I’m one of those odd Americans, I suppose. Even though I’m from the Midwest, I’ve always emphasized the “rib” in Carribean. But I am a bibliophile, so maybe that’s the reason.

    Thanks for the article. It’s very cool and informative. 🙂

    1. I have never heard an American pronounce it like that, so kudos to you! I’m glad you enjoyed the article. Feel free to share via the social media buttons. 😊

  4. The Caribbean is named after the original occupants, the Carib people, so it totally makes sense to pronounce it the Ca-RIBB-ean and not Carry-BE-an (commonly heard before the word “cruise”)!

      1. That’s very true! I’ve always wondered if the rest of us pronounce it the same though haha. Thanks for confirming. Glad to know even the Floridian-tropics are in on the authentic pronunciation! 😄

    1. That is an excellent observation! The Caribs were one of many Native Indians we had, actually. Jamaicans had the Arawaks. But the Caribs were the most fearsome, and popular/notorious. They certainly earned their place in history, for good or bad. And yes, deserve to have that RIB emphasised haha

  5. I think “pingwing” and “pingwin” should be considered valid additions to the American vernacular because not only are they a more accurate description of penguins but they’re a lot more fun to say.

      1. If you want to feel better about calling penguins pingwings, just go on YouTube and look up Benedict Cumberbatch can’t say penguins. He goes through several mispronunciations of that word. 😀

      2. Haha, they mentioned that in the video I saw. Poor thing. 😂 He’s tried and said it right on that show though. He looked so relieved!

  6. I had a Jamaican friend, Marie, when I was about 11. Her family always used to say ‘ax’ instead of ‘ask’. From her house came the most wonderful music. I asked her what it was, and she told me it was called ‘reggae’. I’ve been a reggae fan ever since!

  7. I like how Jamaicans speak. I wouldn’t change how any of my Caribbean friends speak. Patois is historical and should be protected like other languages with historical significance.

    1. Thank you! We do our best to protect it, but it is also important to be truly bilingual. A lot of Jamaicans struggle with differentiating English from Creole, because some of the words cross languages. I think maybe if we were better at it, it would mean even greater protection for patois. This generation is much better though, so time will tell! Thanks again 🙂

Share a comment with Alex!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.