If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you may have come across my articles about Jamaican culture a few times. Jamaican travel tips, historical facts, cultural idiosyncrasies, and linguistic dissections are a standard fare in this section of my website.
After reading a few of these posts, you’ve probably come to the grand realisation that Jamaicans have very creative ways of saying ordinary things. I did my best to showcase this in 50 AWESOME JAMAICAN WORDS & PHRASES THAT COULD PUT SHAKESPEARE TO SHAME. In this specific article, I illustrated several examples of how we often turn phrases to toss insults at people’s feet that are as hilarious as they are hurtful.
Another instance where Jamaican patois is as colourful as ever is when it comes to giving directions and measuring distance. This is because Jamaicans often describe some places and directions that Google maps will neither find nor compute. Here are the four main ones you should listen out for.
While Giving Directions
When I think about my home country, one of the things I miss most is our sense of community. This sense of civic responsibility makes Jamaicans very helpful to one another. However, if you have ever taken directions from a Jamaican, you know that our helpfulness is sometimes not very helpful at all. Here are two directional descriptions Jamaicans give that you should never, ever trust.
1. Right ‘Roun Di Corner
If you ask for directions and a Jamaican tells you that the place you’re looking for is right around the corner, you should probably ask for more specifics. Which corner are they referring to exactly? You’re likely to pass a few before you get to the exact one they have in mind.
If they are unable to tell you exactly which one it is, a good rule of thumb is to count the next three or so. If you are in a rural area, multiply that estimate by two or three. It’s also well to note that going around the corner could actually mean making a left or right turn, especially in a T-shaped intersection.
2. Right Up/Down the Road
The directional measurement of right up or down the road in Jamaica is highly deceptive. In very rare instances, this could mean about a quarter of a mile up the road. This is usually in urban areas.
Once you move into a rural setting, you may want to extend your leniency to up to about 20 miles or so. Worst case scenario, up the road may not be a straight distance, but also includes several left and right turns that were conveniently omitted.
What can I say? We’re terrible at giving directions. If my Google Maps had a Jamaican accent, I would do the opposite of everything she said! 😅
During Regular Conversation
When we get really creative with our geographical descriptions, however, is during our regular conversations. After all, this is when our comedic talents are at their greatest!
Jamaicans learn of a place called Chooku from a very young age. Here are the key features of Chooku.
- It is an hour or more from the Jamaican’s current location.
- It is in a rural or isolated area.
- It is not particularly easy to find unless you know the area well.
Another word we often use in place of Chooku is Timbuktu. However, it turns out Timbuktu is a real place Google Maps can actually direct you to. I was mind-blown when I learned this in the 8th grade!
4. Behind a Jesus & Back a God
No, we are not implying there is more than one Jesus. “A” in this instance, actually means “of”. So, yes, it literally translates to “Behind of Jesus”. If something is Behind a Jesus, naturally it is also at the Back a God. Because of this, Jamaicans may describe a place that is too far away as Behind a Jesus and back a God!
I was a teen when I first heard someone say this and almost died laughing. As a student who lived roughly 30 miles from my high school in the city, according to the city kids, I went home to Behind a Jesus and back a God, every day. 😆
I’m sure Jamaicans aren’t the only ones who are directionally challenged. What are the cultural equivalents of these words and phrases in your area? I’m especially interested in hearing from my British and Irish readers as we share a lot of our linguistic idiosyncrasies with you!
To my fellow West Indians, I know you’ll have plenty to say, as well. Feel free to add to my list via the comments, below.
About the Author
Alexis Chateau is a Jamaican author of mystery, paranormal, and crime fiction novels. Her interest in the culture and history of Jamaica was shaped by her social sciences degrees, earned with first-class honours at the Montego Bay Community College and the University of Technology, Jamaica. To see West Indian characters in action, read her historical novel, The Moreau Witches now on sale for as low as 99 cents, all through Black History Month.
Praise for The Moreau Witches from the National Library of Jamaica
This book catapulted me into reading so many others, looking for that good feeling I got from reading yours. It was so well written! I absolutely love it. You are a genius.
—Monique Fergie-Scott, National Library of Jamaica