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:
JAMAICANS ASSEMBLE 🇯🇲: What are some words we commonly mispronounce even when speaking English.
Eg. cerfiticate for certificate and flim for film. Not counting the misuse of H, this time around.
cc @jixifox @raz876g @Shena_i @NikkiJamaica @JcSkyline @Rubie_Rue @Rizzle2k
— Alexis Chateau 🇯🇲 (@alexischateau_) March 5, 2018
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.
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! ✌️
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.
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!” 😑
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 bo
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.
Oh. One more that grinds my gears: "Voylence" for violence. 😒
— M'Buckup inna (@Rizzle2k) March 5, 2018
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. 😅
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.
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.
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.
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.
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! 😂
Technically plantin for plantain… But we're always right so that didn't count 😎
— M'Buckup inna (@Rizzle2k) March 5, 2018
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. 🤔
"Pingwing" for penguin, "Simit" for Smith, "invilope" for envelope, "trapalin" for tarpaulin, "valentimes" for valentines
— Keri (@Shena_i) March 6, 2018
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.
“Stangerine” for tangerine.
— Nikki J (@NikkiJamaica) March 5, 2018
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.
Maggage for Maggot. Swims for Shrimp.
— Chan 새련 (@tabooxchanz) March 5, 2018
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…
Ponganat for pomegranate.
— M'Buckup inna (@Rizzle2k) March 5, 2018
67 thoughts on “15 English Words Jamaicans Just Can’t Seem to Get Right!”
I love the pingwings that’s such a cute word
Haha, you’re right! Sounds much better than penguins. 🐧 😂
I’m so happy to have found this article today. I laughed so hard, it hurt and then I cried. But most of all, it felt great and took me back. In the mid 90’s – 2000’s, from my late teens into my 20’s I was engaged to the love of my life. He was born in Kingston, Jamaica and moved to NYC when he was 9 with his family. I had heard him, as well as his family, pronounce every word (except swims/shrimp) pretty much exactly as described here on a daily basis for 9+ years and it brought many laughs to all of us. I remember like it was yesterday the first time I heard him say film/flim lol.
What I most often think of is how when we were still getting to know each other, and (although they were always kind and welcoming) his family wasn’t sure what to think of me and our relationship, as I’m Italian and was born in the US; they would only speak Patois/Patwa(h) to my fiance and amongst themselves around me. What my fiance didn’t tell them for at least the first month of our living together, is that I understood every word they said. I decided to finally let them know by joining in a random conversation one day about an hour into it. Needless to say, they were caught off guard, though pleasantly surprised. That evening after dinner(Red snapper w rice and peas) his Father, 2
Brothers, and his Cousin loaded the ‘flim’ into the camera, to capture his marriage proposal. Best night of my life!
Then I experienced the very worst day of my life in 2004 when he passed. It has never been easy to think of our time together. And becausel I break down, I never talk about him and our relationship, that is, until today. Yes I broke down, ugly cry and all, but I laughed as well. Thank you for taking the time to share this page with us. We all need joy and laughter, especially during this time…
Bless Up! Keep Safe! Peace Out!
Thank you for sharing this story with me! I’m so happy this post helped you relive happy moments in your life and I’m so sorry he passed.
Jamaicans in Kingston aren’t as exposed to multiple cultures the way we are in MoBay as MoBay is the tourist capital, so they do sometimes tend to be a bit more suspicious of whether to trust you or not. I’m glad HE trusted you and gave your love a chance. They say it’s better to have loved and lost than not to have loved at all.
Bless up yourself and stay safe!