I‘ll admit. Whenever a foreigner spews a few words of Yòrubá to me, regardless of delivery quality, I instantly warm up, throwing them a cheesy grin of approval. This gesture shows they’ve made an effort to learn my tribal tongue, one of over 500 Nigerian languages they could have chosen from.
If they open up with Pidgin English instead, I instantly perk up. Speaking Nigerian Pidgin transforms them from visiting foreigner into one of the hundreds of well-integrated expatriates in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital. There’s a certain intimacy that this form of broken English emits; a down-to-earth, survivalist approach to everyday living and hustling in Africa’s most populous nation.
Pidgin English is extremely popular in most parts of Africa, particularly West Africa, and has been accepted as the de-facto language of blue collar trade and merchants. Pidgin English remains the “great” equalizer — a way of communicating on a base level that cuts through bullshit.
With more than 250 ethnic groups speaking over 500 languages and dialects, English is the country’s official business language, whether you’re actually on business or just on safari.
For citizens without easy access to higher education and white collar jobs, picking up a few words of English and mixing it with elements of their native tongues has been the default way of communicating across tribal cultures.
Variations of Pidgin English can be found all over the world, from the Caribbean to China, and each comes with its own library of everyday words.
As you travel across West Africa, the style of Pidgin spoken becomes more familiar, but still differs based on local language elements infused into it.
Even if you don’t find yourself traveling to Nigeria in the distant future, try one of these phrases on one of your Nigerian friends, and fully bask in their glowing response. Here are 26 Nigerian Pidgin English phrases you need to know.
(Listen to how pronounce the first 26 Pidgin English phrases listed below here and don’t forget to add “o” at the end of sentences in Pidgin for extra emphasis, like “Thank you o!”)
1. How bodi? / How you dey? – How are you doing today?
2. How far? – Hey, Hi
3. Wetin? – What?
4. I no no – I don’t know
5. I no sabi – I don’t understand
6. I dey fine – I’m fine. I’m doing well.
7. Wetin dey happen? – What’s going on? What’s happening?
8. Wahala – Problem/Trouble. Example – Why you dey give me wahala? Which means why are you giving me so many problems?
Example: Why you dey give me wahala?
Meaning: Why are you giving me so many problems?
9. Comot! – Get out of here!
10. Comot for road – Make way
11. Dem send you? – Have you been sent to torment me?
12. Gi mi – Give it to me.
13. K-leg – Questionable. Example – Your story get k-leg! Which means your story or gist sounds suspect or exaggerated.
Example: Your story get k-leg!
Meaning: Your story sounds suspect/exaggerated.
14. I wan chop – I want to eat
15. Come chop – Come and eat
16. Abeg – Please, but usually not a repentant plea. Example – Abeg! No waste my time!; Which means Please! Don’t waste my time!
Example: Abeg! No waste my time!
Meaning: Please! Don’t waste my time!
17. Vex – Upset. Example – Make you no vex me! ; Which means “Don’t upset me!”
Example: Make you no vex me!
Meaning: Don’t upset me!
18. I no gree – I don’t agree, I disagree
19. Abi? – Isn’t it?
20. Na so? – Is that so?
21. Wayo – Trickery. Example – That man be wayo; which means “that man is a fraud!”
22. Area boys –Street-smart young men that loiter around neighborhoods.
23. Butta my bread – Answered prayers. Example – “God don butta my bread” which means God has answered my prayers.
Example: “God don butta my bread”
Meaning: God has answered my prayers
24. Go slow – Traffic jam
25. I go land you slap – I will slap you!
26. Listen well well – Pay attention
27. Now now – Immediately
28. I dey miss you – I miss you
29. Where are you going? – Wusai do dey go?
A version of this article was previously published on January 28, 2010, and was updated on February 22, 2021, with more information.