Plasters for the sore and fast

3rd May 1996 at 01:00
DICTIONARY OF CARIBBEAN ENGLISH USAGE. By Richard Allsopp. Oxford University Press, Pounds 50.

If yuh tink seh me a kunumunu, you should have seen me last week giving laugh for peas soup. I ate so much I got niggeritis, but couldn't settle on the bed weh a go crips-crips every time me turn.

West Indians will recognise the boaster who is telling his friend that, contrary to popular opinion, he is no fool because he was able to keep up a lively conversation long enough to oblige his hosts to invite him to join in the family meal. He was so full up afterwards that he couldn't resist the urge to lie down, but wasn't able to get any sleep because the bed creaked too much every time he shifted his position.

Those who don't, could be expolicated (forgiven) for lack of knowledge - until now - about possibly the most diverse and well-established variety of English in the world.

But if you are fast (inquisitive) enough and like to have a plaster for every sore (an answer for everything) take a look at the first inventory of Caribbean words and phrases.

The Dictionary of Caribbean English Usage, the latest dictionary to be published by the Oxford University Press, claims to be the first attempt in 400 years to translate some of the more creative West Indian expressions. And perhaps explain that, while the official language of the Caribbean states of the Commonwealth is English, the vast majority of people speak a different tongue.

Among the 20,000 words explained are duppy-agent (an undertaker), backra (a white person), natty-dread (rastafarian) and agwa (a matchmaker).

Compiled by Guyanan-born Richard Allsopp, 73, who recently retired as reader in English language and linguistics at the University of the West Indies, the dictionary explains that people may be described as red-eye (envious), quashie (gullible), lickerish (greedy), spranksious (good looking) or nuff (precocious).

In addition to everyday words and phrases, the Dictionary of Caribbean English Usage gives guidance on spelling, pronunciation, plurals and information on word origins.

Mr Allsopp says he did not set out to produce a dictionary to replace any of the standard English ones, but to attempt to collect 400 years of history and culture of the Caribbean.

Covering as it does a large number of independent states, stretching from Belize to the Bahamas to Guyana, each with its own variety of English, this dictionary with its particular focus on Indic and French Creole words, is a must wherever Caribbeans live.

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