Every culture has its own collection of wise sayings that offer counsel on how to live, succeed, get along with others, etc. Many of the idiomatic expressions I am about to share are ones that I heard constantly growing up in my Jamaican household and others I have heard from my grandparents, other relatives and family friends.
Disclaimer: The following expressions are written in the Jamaican dialect, patois. Patois (pronounced pat-wa) is a creole of English that is comprised mostly of broken English, with bits of Spanish and Western African languages mixed in. So, please do not be alarmed by the incorrect grammar, it is just a feature of the dialect.
1) Fi dem bread butta
Literal translation: Their bread butter.
Actual meaning: Their bread has butter on it.
This saying is a personal favorite of my mother’s. It is basically encouragement to advance your own life instead watching the lives of others. These ‘others’ commonly refer to celebrities, those who already ‘have it made.’ So instead of watching their every move, go do that thing you always wanted to do to get your own life going, because their dreams have already been fulfilled.
2) Belly full, potato ha’ skin
Literal translation: Belly full, potatoes have skin.
Actually meaning: When your stomach is full, potatoes have skin.
This saying speaks literally about want versus need regarding hunger. If you are actually in need of food, you will not care necessarily what it is, you will be grateful for it. When you are not in need, you become picky about what you want to eat. Figuratively, it can also mean that when you have everything you want, you may tend to find faults with everything. The undertones are pretty much ‘don’t be a spoiled brat.’
3) Day nuh light, dog ha’ seven puppy
Literal translation: Day not light, dog have seven puppy.
Actual meaning: The day has not yet dawned and the dog has seven puppies.
This one is basically the Jamaican version of the American “I told you so.” It is implied that the person has predicted correctly something that they strongly believed would happen.
4) Too much rat dig bad hole
Literal translation: Too much rats dig bad hole.
Actual meaning: Too many rats dig a bad hole.
When working with a large group, it is more effective to split tasks among the group than to have everyone trying to do the same thing.
5) Furr pas’ mek okra spwile
Literal translation: Far path makes okra spoil.
Actual meaning: A far path away will make okra spoil.
This is a farming reference that is literally saying if your crops are far away from you, it is more likely that they will go bad. So, if you have something important to do and do not give it your full attention (or keep it close to you), it may go awry.
6) One one cocoa full basket
Literal translation: One, one cocoa fill basket.
Actual meaning: One by one, you can fill a basket with cocoa.
“Easy does it” is the idea here. Take things one step at a time, and you will still reach your goal. Don’t let life overwhelm you.
7) Wi lickle but wi tallawah!
Literal translation: We little, but we strong.
Actual meaning: We are little, but we are strong (or fierce).
With recent Jamaican victories in the Olympics, this one is oh so relevant. It is a very patriotic phrase to Jamaica. In its literal sense, it means that even though we are a small island, we make a big impression or have a strong, fierce, presence. This kind of nationalistic spirit was definitely paraded in Jamaica as people cheered on our famous Usain Bolt.
This phrase can also be brought to an individual level. A person may not be what you expect, but they should never be underestimated because they may have a fierceness inside that is unseen.