Saturday, 21 November 2009

Wha’ Gwan? Yeah Blaaad.

This post was inspired by Potty Mummy's notes on Hackney Patois.

Wha Gwaan, people?

A friend of mine, who shall remain nameless, didn’t have a clue that when her daughter talked about “blazing it” the other day, that it meant that her daughter had been smoking weed. My friend is no wallflower. It’s fair to say she’s partied hard and experienced life. She’s a cool Mum, but even cool mums find it hard to keep up with the way young people speak.

My working life has meant that I’ve learned a lot of slang. Add to that my knowledge of Patois and I can just about keep up with street talk. I don’t necessarily want everyone I work with to know why I understand Patois, so I lie to them.

For example, a few weeks back, when a girl claimed she was going to 'shank' someone (i.e she was going to stab someone) I was able to challenge her, much to her open-mouthed surprise. When questions were asked as to how I'd understood her, I just said:

"I studied Patois at university." I was lying through my teeth.

The girl and her friends tested me and after some further blagging on my part, they bought it.

Then they kept egging me on.

“Can you talk it? Can you talk it? Go on let us hear it… Go on…. Go on!”

I turned round and said to them in my poshest voice.

“I think you’ll find that’s GWAAAAN!”

…….ending on a gravelly Jamaican tone, my impression had them falling about laughing. This was probably because after being with a Jamaican for nearly six years, I can do a pretty accurate impression, which is totally at odds with the posh, middle-class, twat with zero credibility that they think I am.

One point to Miss, then.

On a more serious note, it’s my biggest fear that my son will trade on his Jamaican roots and become a ‘Jafaican’. I cannot bear affected Jamaican accents. Most young people who use Hackney Patois don't even realise half of the things they are saying.

It’s hilarious though because on my last trip to Jamaica I just started talking Anglo-Patois (not to be confused with Hackney Patois!) out of a frustrated desire to be understood. It was instinctive. It was also strangely appreciated by Bushman’s brother, who giggled when he realised why we were communicating so much better. I think there’s just a time and a place for it......... Jamaica, to be precise.

Perhaps you can understand why I might be tempted by the posh nursery? I seriously had an 19 year old woman in my class the other day who thought that 'Ethiopian' was just a word for skinny, black people. When faced with this kind of educational vacuum on a daily basis and people threatening to 'shank' one other, you can see why sometimes I have this desire to wrap my son up in cotton wool and put him in the posh drawer. Then
, at other times I am tempted to shut his fingers in the door or throw him in the swimming pool so that he learns to swim.

So, searching for this perfect balance in my parenting, I might send my son to two different nurseries for one day a week each. I’m now on the look out for somewhere tough, rough and ready. Wish me luck, yeah blaaaad.


  1. you mean theres like a real like place called Ethiopian or sumat? Like. Innit.

  2. Being Dutch, I'll never be able to figure it out. I'm not even up to understanding Black Dutch, the kind that comes from the West Indies. I'm totally out of the loop and then there are all the dialects in the country that are like languages on their own. I only speak Dutch and a smattering of a Northern dialect and that's it. I'm too old to learn any of it now and just have to hang out in the right age group and geographic area.

  3. I love learning new languages. I would love to live in a big city, even just for that.

  4. I have a similar problem in that my husband keeps slipping into a dreadful 'mockney' accent for no discernable reason. He grew up in Windsor for Christ's sake!

    I will try to put him in the posh drawer but he might not fit. May have to be a posh double wardrobe.

  5. love it! munchkin is sporting his jamaican top now... and I'm pretty sure he said Wha Gwaan to me today.. all thanks to you!

  6. Good luck with the nursery search - will be very interested to see how you solve this one. I often think about how my boys are wrapped up in K&C bubble, not experiencing anything like the lives kids elsewhere do, but when it comes down to it I just don't have the guts to do much about it. Other than move to Moscow, of course. But I suspect that it will just be an expat bubble there instead...