Speak JA

12 Favorite Jamaican slangs of all time

Every now and then, a catchy slang makes it into the Jamaican language usually spreading in popularity through reggae and dancehall songs. While some may be familiar with the more recent ‘nobody canna cross it’ and ‘A yah so nice’ here are a few Jamaican slangs which were much more than a passing fad. Some like ‘skettel’ and ‘Joe Grind’ are more than 20 years old.

  1. Wat a stress! – For a while in late 90s to early 2000s this was a very popular slang often used to express alarm at a shocking or peculiar situation. The phrase was sometimes joined with “inna me lef breast” to add the drama that only a Jamaican can bring.
  2. Seen! – Decades old, this one keeps evolving. Yuh simme, yuh zeet, yuh seet are similar versions all used during a conversation to show that you fully understand what is being said.
  3. Run a boat – To cook a meal usually with friends who pool together to buy the ingredients.
  4. Skettel – Initially a loose woman; now used to describe low class women and men, and things of inferior quality.
  5. Maama man – Usually refers to an effeminate male especially one who does household chores.
  6. More fyah – A phrase made popular in the 90s by dancehall artiste Capleton that’s still going strong today. Refers to the hell fire that the Rastas say will burn anyone involved in “unclean or immoral acts.”
  7. Pop style – To show-off usually in the presence of haters.
  8. Kill me dead – A form of swearing used to show that one is speaking the truth or mean exactly what they say.
  9. Babylon  – Initiated by Rastafarians in a time when the group was vilified by the general society. Once used to reference to any agent of the state but mostly code for police.
  10. Hol it dung – Keep this a secret between us.
  11. Joe Grind – This reference to the Jamaican version of a gigolo never gets old. He prefers women who are married or in a committed relationship.
  12. Matey – This one has stood the test of time. The Aussies see matey as a friend but in Jamaica, this is a woman who steals your man. The man may have offered himself up to be “stolen” but it’s matey who gets all the blame and has served as fodder for many dancehall songwriters over the years.

About the Author
Denise Clarke is a freelance journalist based in Kingston, Jamaica. She has written for print and online newspapers in Jamaica, Barbados, and the British Virgin Islands. Email her with feedback at [email protected].

About the author

Denise Clarke