Questions like, “Who is George and what will he do to me when I get to know him?” And when things get tough, really really tough, you are told, “Wap konn Jòj. W ap konn manman Jòj, w ap konnen papa Jòj. Anfin, tout fanmi Jòj.” Yup, you will know George, his mama too, his dad. Heck, his whole family!”
I bet you’ve told someone, “W ap konn Jòj”, and have no idea what it really means! You tend to throw it at others, because your parents and other assorted persons have been known to throw it at you.
But, really, who is George? And while we are at it, why not, know the origins of other Creole expressions and sayings that grandma and grandpa, mom, dad and other relatives like to throw around! To assist your favorite chick Kreyolicious in this task, we reached out to Wynnie Lamour, the Founder and Director of the Haitian Creole Language Institute of New York.
Lamour was born in Haiti, and moved to New York when she was a kid, and has taught Haitian Creole. She holds a in Bachelor of Arts degree in Linguistics. Here she is educating us on the origins of 11 Haitian Creole expressions and sayings, and guiding us on how and when to use them!
1. Saying: “W ap konn Jòj.”
WYNNIE LAMOUR: This phrase literally translates to “You will know George” while it actually means, “Just wait and see” or “You will get what’s coming to you”. The origin of this phrase is up for much debate. There are several explanations floating around. Currently, the most common is that it’s attributed to Hurricane Georges that passed through Haiti in September 1998, causing great damage. Others attribute the saying to Reynold Georges, a leader of the political party Alliance for the Liberation and Advancement of Haiti (ALAH), who is loosely quoted as saying “[Jean-Bertrand] Aristide pral konnen ki moun ki rele Reynold Georges la” or “Aristide will know who they call Reynold Georges”. Still, others claim that was a popular saying warning schoolchildren to behave, or they will know Jòj, another word for the rigwaz, or whip. Most likely, it is a Biblical reference to St. George, who is known for bringing the mad back to their senses. In popular biblical lore, to be sent to St. George’s is to be sent to the madhouse. No matter the origin, the meaning still stands.
When to Say it: If you are in a furious argument with someone and they are just not seeing or understanding your point, you can end the argument by saying “W ap konn Jòj!”.
2. Saying: “W ap voye flè.”
WYNNIE LAMOUR: This literally translates to: “You’re throwing flowers”, while it actually means “to not take seriously”, “to talk nonsense”, or “to act silly”. The origin of this phrase most likely comes from the French idiom “envoyer sur les roses” which means “to brush off” or “to send off” in an annoyed manner.
When to Use it: An appropriate time to use this phrase would be: If two people are discussing their favorite sports team and one person insists that their team will be the winning team, the other can quickly shut them down by saying “W ap voye flè!”.
3. Saying: “M ap degaje mwen kon Mèt Jean-Jacques.”
WYNNIE LAMOUR: This phrase literally translates to “I will handle myself like Mr. Jean-Jacques”, while it actually means “I will do my best to handle a situation”, or “I will find a way [no matter what]”. The origin of this phrase is most likely a reference to Jean-Jacques Dessalines, who is considered by many to be one of the founding fathers of Haiti, who led the Haitian people to victory in the Haitian Revolution. He was an autocrat, who ruled with a tough hand and had little empathy for those who got in the way of what he had to do. He is known for his strong character and commitment to an independent Haiti.
When to Use it: An appropriate time to use this phrase would be: If you are given a difficult task to complete at work, but you have faith that somehow you will be able to do it, you can say “M ap degaje mwen kon Mèt Jean-Jacques”.
4. Saying: “Ti Mari p ap monte, Ti Mari p ap desann.”
WYNNIE LAMOUR: This phrase literally translates to “Little Mary will not go up, Little Mary will not go down”, while it actually means “things will not change”, “things will remain to same” or “to remain right where you are”. “Ti Mari” refers to the servant girl that one can find in many Haitian households, who is often burdened with many tasks.
When to Use it: If you are trying to convince someone to do something but they persist in saying no, they can really drive home the point by saying, “Ti Mari p ap monte, Ti Mari p ap desann”.
5. Saying: “Abraham di sètase.”
WYNNIE LAMOUR: This phrase literally translates to: “Abraham says that’s enough” while it actually means “enough is enough!”. The origin of this phrase is up for debate. There are many who believe that it is a biblical reference to Abraham who, through his great faith in God was allotted great influence over others. It could also potentially be a reference to Abraham Lincoln who was the first US President to, against popular opinion at the time, officially recognize Haiti as an independent nation. No matter the origin, the meaning still stands.
When to Say it: If some great social issue has begun to feel overwhelming—like the racial profiling by the New York Police Department— and the people are just tired of it all, they can proclaim: “Abraham di sètase”.
6. Saying: “Pwoblèm p ap fini”
WYNNIE LAMOUR: This phrase literally means “Problem[s] will not end” and could translate to “when it rains, it pours”. An appropriate time to use this phrase is anytime you want to express a sense of endlessness to your problems or issues. For example, in the Jacques Roumain novel Masters of the Dew, many of the characters living in misery in Fonds Rouge could proclaim “Pwoblèm p ap fini”—as the drought continues, and the townspeople slowly start to abandon the land.
When to Use it: Whenever you’re facing problems back to back, sigh and say out loud: “Pwoblèm p ap fini!”
7. Saying: “Ban m zòrèy mwen.”
WYNNIE LAMOUR: This phrase literally translates to “give me my ear!” while it actually means “be quiet!” or “shut up!”. This phrase is similar to the English idiom “to give an ear to someone/something” which means to listen intently. It is similar to the French “tendre l’oreille à”—which means “to lend an ear to”. It is not usually considered to be a polite phrase.
When to Use it: If someone has grown impatient with a group of children making too much noise, they can yell out, “Ban m zòrèy mwen!”.
8. “Yon vyewo li ye wi.”
WYNNIE LAMOUR: This phrase literally translates to “He is an old man”, while it actually means “He/She is a know-it-all” or “He/She is well-experienced”. The word “vyero”—also sometimes spelled “vyero”—comes from the Spanish word “viejo” which means “old” and refers to someone who has spent time working in the Dominican Republic, or other Spanish-speaking country.
When to Use it: An appropriate time to use this phrase would be: If you are new to the neighborhood and you are still trying to find your way around, someone might send you in the direction of so-and-so, insisting that he can give you all the inside information because “Yon vyero li ye wi!”.
9. Saying: “Mazora.”
WYNNIE LAMOUR: This is a word that is used to describe someone who is gap-toothed or someone that you consider to be ugly. The origin of this phrase is not known.
When to Use it: Anytime you would like to refer to someone who has a gap in their teeth, or you would like to insult someone that you find to be unattractive, you can use the word “Mazora”.
Wynnie Lamour of the Haitian Creole Language Institute.
10. Saying: “Sife!”
WYNNIE LAMOUR: Sife used as an affirmative, such as “yes”, “truly” or “indeed” and also as the conjunctive adverb “therefore”, connecting two thoughts. It is also sometimes spelled and pronounced “sife”. This word could come from a combination of the French words “aussi faire” which literally means “also [do]”.
When to Use it: An appropriate time to use this phrase would be: Any sentence that can use the word “therefore” like “Li bwè tout Kafe a sifè mwen pa te gen anyen maten an pou bwè.” He drunk all the coffee, sife, there’s nothing to drink this morning!
11. “Mande mwen yon ti kou ankò ma di ou.”
What it Means:
WYNNIE LAMOUR: This phrase literally translates to “Ask me in a little while again and I’ll tell you”. It actually means “I don’t know”, as a response to an impossible question.
When to Use it: An appropriate time to use this phrase would be: If a young child is pestering Mom about doing something, but Mom is super busy. So, to keep the child at bay, mom might say “Mande mwen yon ti kou ankò ma di ou”.
Dearly beloved Kreyolicious.com readers, get your Kreyol on! Be sure to visit the website of the Haitian Creole Language Institute of New York HERE. And follow it on Twitter at Twitter: @kreyolnyc.