In my first year of writing this blog, I wrote an article about all the UK words and phrases I had learned in Cayman. Some people loved it, some people were annoyed by it. Caymanians were quick to jump on my glaring lack of exposure to the local culture and language. And I mean, yeah, I had just moved to Island and all my friends were expats–a lot apparently from the UK. I work at a private school where all the teachers are expats, and many of the students too. The only time I interacted with Caymanians was maybe to get my driver’s license or go to the bank, and even then, it was not as if they were speaking to me freely and naturally in their local dialect. It was all business.
Fast forward three years. I’m finding myself a little more in the mix. A big part of that is thanks to my soccer team. All or most of my teammates are Caymanian, and spending time with them has done a lot to boost my awareness and exposure to Caribbean English. I also frequently deep-dive into the Cayman Wastes and Marl Road comments, and that’s been rather…educational. It’s not to say that I use any of these words in everyday speech. If I did, I would get laughed at. But I still think it’s important as an expat to learn and understand local dialect because it will teach you a lot about the culture and people. So without further ado, here’s a very preliminary guide: 10 Words You Should Know If You Live in Cayman. In three more years maybe I can write a part two.
Una / uneh
Pronounced [uh-nuh] — It means ‘you guys’ or ‘you all.’
Example: Una come read this (Everyone come read this)
It took me a very long time to figure this out. ‘Una’ sounded a lot like the name ‘Ana’ to me, so whenever someone who would ask if ‘una’ is coming or what ‘una’ is doing, I wanted to ask who in God’s name is Ana??
Pronounced as it’s written [gee-yal] one syllable to mean ‘girl’
For me, after I said this word for the first time, I couldn’t stop saying it. With two feet planted firmly on Caribbean soil, the use of ‘girl’ now feels bland and basic. Hey girl? Who are you calling girl–I’m a gyal. It feels like a promotion. Even midwesterners like myself may already be familiar with this term via global party banger: “Gyal You a Party Animal.”
Pronounced as it’s written — (sah = sir)
There is nothing particularly enlightening about this phrase. It can be used as a simple ‘no’ or ‘no way.’ It is worth mentioning though, because of the attitude with which the phrase is delivered. It rolls off the Caymanian tongue in a way that casts judgement or disbelief.
Example: The referee had just made a truly awful call and one of my teammates responded with a swift and resounding “No sah!”
Pronounced ‘mah-sh up’
This phrase, typical of the Caribbean, can be quite versatile in its usage. It is most commonly used as a verb to mean ‘break.’ For example, you could say ‘mi mash up mi phone,’ to mean, of course, that you broke your phone. It could also be used as an adjective to describe something as already being destroyed. My teammate once said that her cleats were ‘mash up.’ meaning they were old and useless.
Alternatively, I’ve heard ‘mash up’ used in soca songs within the partying context. You may, for example, find yourself wanting to “mash up di place,” or in other words, take the venue by storm. If anyone every tells you to ‘mash it up,’ you don’t actually need to break anything. Rest assured.
In the same vein as ‘mash up,’ I present to you another party-centric term: wine. Not the kind that you drink, it’s the kind that you buss. i.e. ‘buss a wine.’ If you’ve listened to a single soca song in your life, you will be plenty familiar with this term. What is it, exactly? Trust me, you would know if you’ve seen it. But if you haven’t, here is a rather graphic definition from jamaicanpatwah.com: “A form of dancing normally done by women, which involves gyrating the mid-section of body, specifically the waist and hips. This is done in a sexual manner, either fast or slow and is mostly performed to West Indian music such as reggae, soca or calypso.”
To receive a complete and proper education on wining techniques, I recommend you ‘jump in,’ or at least spectate at Batabano or CayMAS. Warning: you may witness physical acts that you didn’t know were legal in public. You may even find yourself partaking in said acts–wink, wink. Alternatively, save yourself from the ‘bacchanal’ and simply turn up at a local bar like Mango Tree or Cotton Club.
Bruddah is an alternative spelling of ‘brother,’ but its use is not limited to men. Many girls on my team use ‘bruddah’ when speaking with other females. It reminds me a bit of the use of ‘dude’ in the Midwest, as dude originally referred to men but became so pervasive in colloquial speech that it lost its true meaning. In Wisconsin you might say, “No dude, I don’t know know you’re talking about.” The Caymanian version would be, “Nah bruddah, wha you say?” Something like that, anyway.
Cayman Marl Road is, I guess you could say, an alternative news source. But I’m pretty sure most people who follow do so for the Island tea rather than the hard-hitting news. Posts include ‘jackass of the day,’ which usually features vehicles parked in handicap parking spots, stolen jet skis, missing dogs, found keys, and birthday shoutouts to people who probably would like literally ANYTHING else for their birthday. On more exciting days we can enjoy long-winded live rants from the lead journalist herself, Sandra. Recently this revolved mostly around Miss Universe drama as it seemed Sandra had a personal vendetta against former Miss Cayman. That’s a story for another day.
When it comes to Marl Road, you hope to keep yourself off it. But what does Marl Road actually mean? It’s basically Cayman’s version of ‘hearing it through the grapevine.” Marl is a type of rock, so a marl road is kind of like a gravel road. It refers back to an era of Cayman in which the only way to get information was by leaving your house, walking down the marl road, and chatting with neighbors. So when someone says “I heard it on the Marl Road,” it has almost a double meaning. Kind of like, “I heard it through the grapevine,” or alternatively, they could have heard it on the actual Cayman Marl Road “news source.”
Vex means that you are upset or angry. It can also be used as a verb meaning to annoy or upset someone. Additionally, my friend told me that vex can also be used as in “vex money,” basically cash stashed on your person or in a secret place. This money is to be spent only in case of emergency in the event that a once stable situation suddenly becoming “vexed” — usually but not always because of a man. Vex money could be used during a date if you need to get a cab (escape) fast or pick up the tab because the guy is too cheap.
-Who vex Sandy this time?
-She vex because she got locked out
-Thank God I had my vex money
For someone who doesn’t live in Cayman, you have to know that the island is broken into districts such as West Bay, Georgetown, Bodden Town, North Side, etc. You will also hear Seven Mile Beach and South Sound frequently thrown into the mix as many expats live in those areas. It took me nearly three years of living here to figure out that when people say Town they are referring to Georgetown. For example, you may hear “Do you want to meet in town?” or “I live in town, where do you live?”
Growing up in Wisconsin, “going into town” was an expression that people who lived out in the country would use when they needed to go shopping or to the bank. So yeah, it took me a while. I was like, what do you mean you’re going into ‘town’? We live on an island. Anyway, it’s good to know and will save you some confusion later on down the line.
Not necessarily ‘Caymanian,’ (most famously Jamaican) but you sure will hear it a lot here. What surprised me about ‘mon’ is that is can be used while talking to anyone. Mon can be men, women, or even children.
That’s it for now 🙂 Tell me your favorite words and expressions that you learned in Cayman!
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