Photo: Paul Lowry
GROWING UP in Trinidad and Tobago, I was always surrounded by people from different ethnicities, races, and beliefs, descendants of those who arrived from all across the globe — Indian, Spanish, British, Chinese, African, and French, to name a few. Our music and traditions, and especially our dialects, accents, and slang, reflect the rich history that has made Trinbago what it is today.
One example of this slang is how we call someone a horse (spelled “hoss”), similar to the term “dawg” in many other parts of the world — basically, a way to address a friend. So phrases like “waz di scene, hoss?” — “waz di scene” meaning “what’s up” (see below) — are casually friendly and popular among the “youts” (youths) of Trinidad and Tobago.
At the same time, the word has a certain infamy among the older generation, as it seems as if it wasn’t used very much “in di ole days.” The rest of the Caribbean appears averse to using it as well.
As with many instances of slang, no one I’ve ever spoken to can give a definite answer as to how this particular meaning of “hoss” came about, or how it became so popular here. One popular explanation is that “hoss” represents a friend in the same way as “padna” (Trinidadian word literally meaning “partner” but understood as “friend”), just as a horse is your riding partner.
Over time, the word “hoss” has taken on new meanings in Trinidad and Tobago. Instead of just referring to a friend, it can be used in place of the word “weys” — a term conveying disbelief or surprise (see below). Using “hoss” in this manner is almost a combination of “weys” and “hoss,” since you’re typically attempting to draw the attention of a friend. This use is signified by a placement of emphasis on the word itself: “HOSSSSSSS, you see that?”
Here are some other examples of slang you’ll hear in Trinidad and Tobago:
“Bess” is a term that can mean either “awesome” or “sexy.” For example:
- “Dat girl rel bess.” – That girl is really sexy.
- “Dat rel bess.” – That’s really awesome.
“Weys” is an exclamatory term often used in moments of surprise, shock, or disbelief.
“Lime” is a word used in Trinidad and Tobago and throughout the Caribbean as a synonym for “a gathering” or “to hang out.” As a Trinibagonian, I can attest that this word is built into our vocabulary. Indeed, instead of “No Loitering” signs, we have signs that say, “No liming.” “Lime” can be used in many different ways, as both a verb and a noun.
A few examples as a verb:
- “When we limin’?” – When are we going to hang out?
- “When last you lime with her?” – When was the last time you hung out with her?
A few examples as a noun:
- “You going to the lime tonight?” – Are you going to the get-together tonight?
- “I’m having a lime tonight.” – I’m having a get-together tonight.
And if you want to be really complex:
- “You gonna lime with her at the lime tonight?”– Are you going to hang out with her at the get-together tonight?
“Owah” means “or what?” It’s commonly used at the end of a question. Examples:
- “You going to sleep owah?” – You going to sleep or what?
- “You like her owah?” – You like her or what?
This is an abbreviation for “Down di Islands,” pronounced “dong di islands.” It’s a term used to refer to islands off the northwest coast of Trinidad. Many of these islands have houses on them and residents typically go DDI on their own boats on weekends and vacations.
You don’t have to own your own home or boat to go DDI, however. You can rent a boat, find someone to go with, or befriend a local fisherman and anchor in the middle of a bay or near a beach and have fun in the ocean. During weekends and vacations, many young people can be found DDI, enjoying water sports, a good lime, and the occasional DDI party.
“Wine” or “wining” is the name given to the dance of Trinidad and Tobago. It’s similar to “grinding” in the United States and Europe. However, the movement of the hips tends to be more fluid.
A common phrase directed at individuals who can wine very well is, “Yuh grease yuh waistline,” which is supposed to mean the individual’s hips move so fluidly it’s as if they were oiled.
“Bacchanal” is a term used most often to refer to drama. It can also mean having a good time at a party, as heard in the very popular Carnival song in Trinidad and Tobago called “Bacchanalist,” by Kerwin Du Bois.
Waz di scene
“Waz di scene” literally means “what is the scene?” but is understood as “what are you doing?” or “what’s up?” Though similar, it should not be confused with “waz your scene?” (see below).
A typical start of a conversation would include:
- “Ey, waz di scene?” – Hey, what are you doing?
“Wam” means “what happen?” and is synonymous with “Waz your scene?” Both tend to be used in instances of indignation, though “wam” can also be used in a friendly manner, as meaning “what’s up?”
- “Wam to you?” / “Waz your scene?” – What’s the matter with you? Or, why are you behaving like that?
- “Ey, wam?” – Hey, what’s up?