The traveler’s Instagram guide to understanding Jamaican slang

Other than the gaudy floral shirt, straw hat, ankle socks and sandals combination that so many people visiting the Caribbean seem to love, nothing screams TOURIST to us Jamaicans quite like the museum-worthy phrase – irie mon.

Are you guilty of either transgression? Here’s a friendly tip: It is way past the time to drop those two little words from your lingo. And please, go donate the Hawaii Five-O wardrobe castoffs to your closest charity right now!

So as not to leave you hanging, I’ve compiled a few phrases to help you ‘kick it’ with us locals, and impress the people you meet on your next trip. In each instance, I’ve also added Instagram posts from popular Jamaicans to help you get a better understanding of local context.

1. What a gwaan? OR How yuh stay?

Pronunciation: For what a gwaan – as it reads. For the second, use  a short ‘u’ sound.

Meaning: How are you? What’s happening?

Context: Use in conversation as a general greeting with someone who would be your peer.

Usain Bolt: World's Fastest Man
Usain Bolt, World’s fastest man

2. Parri OR bredrin

Pronunciation: Paa-ri and Bread-drin

Meaning: A buddy; friend. Parri Is gender neutral while bredrin is specifically used to refer to men. The female equivalent is sistren.

Context: You can show your street savvy by referring to your friends (old or new) and travel companions this way. Please note that if you’re speaking to Jamaicans under 30, it’s best to use parri. If you are engaging with persons older than that, bredrin or sistren is more common.

Kaci Fennel: Miss Jamaica Universe 2015
Kaci Fennel: Miss Jamaica Universe 2015.

3. Shampoo and condition OR looking sharp

Pronunciation: As it reads

Meaning: Well-dressed, nicely styled, looking good

Context: Out at a local bar or beach and feel like flirting? You can use it to compliment the object of your desires. (It’s likely that you will win a grin but don’t be surprised if the response to that might be, “yuh have lyrics, ennuh”, which loosely translated means “you are full of compliments but I am not sure they are genuine”.

Dutty Berry: Popular YouTube Vlogger
Dutty Berry: Popular YouTube Vlogger

4. It sweet

Pronunciation: As it sounds

Meaning: This is really good

Context: This phrase can be used in many settings – to refer to the feel good vibe you get  from a delicious meal, a good party, an outdoor concert, your favorite sports match etc.  For additional emphasis. add “yuh fret”.

Lisa Hanna: Miss World 1993 and current Government Minister of Youth & Culture

5. Mek wi reason

Pronunciation: As it sounds

Meaning: Let’s talk; as in have a heart-to-heart discussion

Context: A sit-down chat with friends or a group of people. Typically, this conversation will take a little time; it is not a quick exchange. It also can be used in reference to a discussion with someone senior and more experienced. Use it as a conversation starter with your hotel staff. It should bring a smile to the face of your tour guide on a day-long excursion, or the watersports team whose job is to entertain you on a long boat trip.

Tessanne Chin: Winner of NBC's Season 5 of The Voice
Tessanne Chin: Winner of Season 5 of NBC’s – The Voice

6. Big up

Pronunciation: As it sounds

Meaning: An indication of praise

Context: This phrase can be used to show thanks to all the hotel staff that made your stay wonderful.  Did the concierge give you great restaurant suggestions for dinner? Tell him, “big up my yute the food did sweet“. [My yute is equivalent to my compadre, my colleague etc.]  Did your housekeeper have your room cleaned on time?  Earn extra towels in your room the next day with a simple “Big up mi sistren”.  You can add “nuff respect” for emphasis.

Finally, Big up yuself (yourself) for completing your first Jamaican slang tutorial! Nuh seh nutten mi sistren or bredrin. (i.e. All is well)

Christopher Martin - singer
Christopher Martin – singer

Note: Jamaican slang changes frequently, as it is heavily influenced by our dancehall culture. So my Jamaican peeps, I know that this compilation is only the tip of the iceberg. Tell me, what are some of the good ones that I missed?