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Carnival Chat 101

By Terry Joseph
February 22, 2003

"Diss" it at your own peril, but word on the street is that a whole new communication is developing, much of its etymology in the titles or lyrics of Carnival songs, this party parlance jumping into regular usage at Road March speed.

So if you plan to go to Skinner Park today for the Calypso Fiesta, here's a pocket-sized lexicon that might help get you through, or at least unravel crucial colloquialisms.

Some of it may well stay with us too in much the same way the handy "orama" suffix, adapted to pan's premier show, came to help describe any event, from block party to those torpedoed by rain; or the "cue"—once peculiar to smoked meats—was tailored to fit curry and chinese food preparations.

For openers, even a soca song isn't a just a song anymore but a (presumably legal) "joint" although one group, Spotrushaz, has titled its mini-album A Five-Piece, referring, they say, to the number of tracks on the CD. The label "joint" is, of course, lifted from American film-maker Spike Lee, who describes his work in such terms.

But most of the new-wave slang is homegrown. The title of Bunji Garlin's "By the Bar" is now being used to answer queries about a person's whereabouts—especially if you don't know. On the other hand, "Yuh done know" would be an appropriate response if the information was common knowledge or obvious.

And don't take too long deciding which version fits the circumstance, lest you be accused of "stickin'", an unflattering tag, suggesting at its most charitable interpretation a slow mind. There is a favourable application, however, if you are asked to "stick and stay". It simply means "don't move, I'll be right back". Note: The opposite of "stickin" is "clickin'".

Precise or prolonged conversation can actually be transacted simply by trading titles of popular joints:

Boy: "I'm Dr Seales."
Girl: "Whey yuh want?"
Boy: "Passion."
Girl: "Yuh is a Mad Man or what?"
Boy: "Trini to the bone."
Girl: "Ah Doh Want to Know."
Boy: "Yuh Still Need a Man."
Girl: "Wrong Timing."

Quite naturally, the spread of this new language is almost exclusively attributable to radio which, you may have guessed, also has developed its own lingua franca.

Once on air, you are "on the inside", free to request a joint or "holla" at your "clan" (buddies) who, up to recently, used to be your posse. Some programmes require a password, invariably either the station's call-sign or phraseology relevant to a current promotion. Be ready, because "stickin'" is universally frowned upon.

Gone are the days when you just speak to the announcer. Now, it is a matter of "representing", a mode in which people are not clearly identified. In sending a holla, you describe the recipient as a facsimile of himself. A greeting intended for the Express Editor-at-Large therefore goes out to "Man like Keith Smith".

And don't think you can just listen dispassionately anymore. From first crack of the volume knob you are "locked on" to the station or in a "link-up" with the show-host who, let us remember, is already on the inside.

And it's not just "caller from Point Fortin" anymore. You are nowhere if you're not in a "zone", which may also be interpreted as a clan or location.

How you address the announcer or, for that matter, a man in the street, has also undergone a variation. "Fah-da" ("father") replaced the string of salutations that included "Yea, De Boss", "Family", "King", "Fren" and "Dread". If the music on air is irritating, you refer to it as "raka-tiki, raka-tiki", terminology used by the ragga-soca clan to derogate sub-standard work from their peers.

Signature is a whole other matter. You'd still be in the zone (but only slimly so) using "Bless" at the end of a conversation. Although on the wane, it is not yet regarded as a sign of advancing age. A current option is "Bhouw!" Pronounced in crisp staccato burst like a gunshot, it mostly means "I'm entering the conversation at this juncture", but is completely adaptable as a prelude to departure; its versatility rivalling that of the guttural sound "Brrrrt!" (aka "Grrrrt!") used in similar pursuits.

In general chat, each situation has its peculiar tongue. A "brace" is neither the quantity nor form of support it once described, but a state of being confronted by authority (as in "He geh brace by the door trying to storm de fete"). "Ben'in" is much more literal than it appears at first bluch, as it speaks of someone bent out of shape by vexation (eg: "He ben'in because they brace him by the bar").

"Way" means more or plenty and is available for duty as a superlative, even when used comparatively ("She is strange but he is way more strange").

"Bling-bling" is simply money, known as "dead presidents" if American currency notes are being traded and "Fy-urrh" (Fire) is a party whoop. The jury is still out, it would seem, over the final definition of "Chi-Chi Man".

Bhouw! So, Fah-da, if yuh find I didn't deal today with the NCC and NCBA stickin' on the bling-bling business or BC Pires ben'in, yuh done know, I on the inside, representing in a different zone, hanging with the clan or linking-up, dancing to even the raka-tiki raka-tiki—fy-urrh!

And if you understood that at first reading, you can now put your hand in the air and sing: "Ah Home".


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