Guyana is the only English-speaking South American country. This has spared me the troubles and frustration of learning a new language while at the same time adjusting to living and working in a new country. However, there are times where I’m like, “Are we speaking English? Are we really?!”
While standard English is taught in schools and spoken in most business settings, out on de road and in everyday life, it is quite another thing! There are lots of subtle differences in the language, such as pronouncing the “th” sound as just the “t” sound, as in three=tree and thing=ting; or instead of saying “people” they would say “persons”. Small things really. But for me the best part is Guyanese phrases and slang, so I have compiled a list of common terms for your perusal.
1. Jus’ now– This is something I have mentioned before. It represents an increment of time ranging anywhere from literally ‘just now’ all the way up to ‘never really gonna happen. ever’. Incredibly easy to work into one’s vocabulary, as I have only been here three months and already use it many, many times a day.
2. That’s It!–Used primarily as an exclamation by Guyanese people, most commonly (or so it seems to me) when they are surprised or proud that the white girl has finally comprehended something they are trying to say; or when you have finally done something right in the kitchen or other household chores correctly. May not seem all that different than something someone in the States would say in the same situation, it’s just borderline comical at how many times a day I hear this!
3. Wicked–I love the way this is used. If somebody is being mischievous or giving someone else a hard time, a common response might be to say “Ooooooooh, you wicked thing!!” or something to that effect. Kind of another way of saying naughty, haha.
4. Troublin’ he/troublin’ she–I most often heard this at my training host family’s house. Since there were four small children running about, you can imagine there was lots of tattling going on, especially since poor Alyssa was constantly surrounded by her three rambunctious brothers (although very rarely was she completely innocent, despite her adorable-ness…) Many times a day a child would come running into the kitchen and say “So and so is troublin’ me/he/she/it!” Note that he/she are used where him/her would be in standard English, and “troublin'” can be used for off-limits objects as well as people.
5. Catch ya bed–Another one used most often by parents to their children. All it means is go to bed, but I think there’s something slightly more poetic about the idea of “catching” your bed, or it catching you, rather.
6. Skinnin’ ya teeth–From what I understand, this can either mean crying or laughing. Yet another phrase I hear parents saying to their children all the time. Where people back home would say “I’ll give you something to cry about”, Guyanese parents would say “I’ll give yah someting to skin yah teet fuh”. another usage is when a child does something bad or something happens that they shouldn’t laugh at but they do, their parents will say “What yah skinnin’ ya teet fuh??” and that is a warning to wipe that smile off your face haha.
7. Baaaaaad girl/Good girl!–Something my host mom has taken to saying to me when I either do something good (used interchangeably with #2) or bad/forgetful, respectfully. Something akin to how you would say it to a dog. It comes out of her mouth so naturally that it is comical, and has become a joke between us. She has even gotten to where she will bring me rewards when I do “a good day’s work” which absolutely cracks me up!
8. Gaffing/Lime–Gaffing is another word for chat or shoot the breeze, and most Guyanese get caught up gaffin’ multiple times a day, since in general, they are pretty social and friendly people. Lime is another way of saying to chill or hang out, as in “You up for a lime?” or ‘Hey, you wanna go hang out somewhere?”
9. Please for some–The Guyanese way of asking for something. If the kids at school need glue for an arts and crafts project they will say “Miss, please for some paste” or people on the street will sometimes go so far as to say “Please for some drink” or anything else of yours they deem desirable, haha.
10. Vex–Obviously this is a word that most people are familiar with, but the frequency/way it is used here is different. Takes the place of mad or angry in sentences as in, “Ohhhhh man, that guy was vex!” or “Don’t be vex”. Another one that is really easy/natural to start using without even knowing it!
Most of these things will probably infiltrate my vocabulary over the next two years, so if you hear me say he instead of him, or one, two, tree instead of three, don’t be alarmed 🙂