Visitors and Language

A. Today, en route to a meeting with Hope Micro, a Sierra Leonean micro-finance institution here in Freetown, we met a British woman at a gas station who has been having a few (many individual, actually) problems: She promptly declared that she’s been suffering from maggots. No exaggeration here or mixed word usage, but plain ol’ maggots, which, – conveniently, I suppose – escape through her skin. She was so jovial and smiley and gesticulatory about her predicament that a passerby might have reasonably assumed she was talking about the latest Manchester United win. How she got these maggots we were a bit unclear, though I think I heard her say a dog was involved. She went on to say that she has to squeeze her face to help the little guys escape. I was in a bit of a dour mood this a.m., but this cheery woman served to give me some much-needed perspective in that moment by reminding me that no matter what cloudy thoughts besiege me, there are always people who are having a rougher day, but can rejoice in their plight. I pray they’ll stop bugging her soon. Sorry, couldn’t resist.

B. Krio is the common language of Sierra Leone, in addition to the many tribal languages such as Tehmne, Limba, and Susu. Krio is a derivative of English, for the most part, with cognates galore. While in Kambia, one of the neighbor boys gave me a copy of “Rapid English for Schools Volume 1: Translated Krio vernaculars or words into appropriate English vocabulary.”

Copy of Week 4 Kambia 157

While all languages certainly have their idiosyncrasies, the following “Rapid English” items have supplied me with much enjoyment. I especially like the English phrases from Krio and would like to see the popularizing of their use back home. Some of my favorites, in numerical order:

1. Cror-cror is called scabies in English (I hope the number one spot has no relation to actual cases)

7. Munku boy or girl is called village idiot, freak or maroon in English (maroon = moron?)

21. A four-one-nine man is called fraud criminal or fraud perpetrator with a gentle man’s appearance.

22. Sucking blood is called leech. Don’t call it blood sucker.

24. Cutting grass is called cane rat. Don’t call it grass cutter. (I think, however grass cutter would be easier to explain than cane rat, you?)

36. Bomba is called legend, loaded hero, hard-knock, tycoon, tycoon lover, Hercules for strength or prominent personality in society, as the case may be.

50. My germsie is called my ostracized eye sore or my strongly resolved person to have nothing to do with.

57. Portor portor is called mud. (Help with this one, anybody?)

79. Run belleh is called diarrhea or frequent stools.

80. Dry belleh is called constipation or constipated stomach.

104. Bear man is called romantic caller, visiting lover or love visitor.

112. Dorty Colombo is called filthy bloke or dirty maniac. (Colombo, Sri Lanka or the TV drama?)

113. Ronsho is called dwarf devil.

114. Ronsho touch sickness is called shingles, or herpes zoster (technically). (Just technically, mind you.)

118. Hawangut or big yai person for meat or someone who likes meat too much is called meat-maniac.

119. Gbeba child is called prolonged creeper child or over due child for toddling or taking first steps. (My definite favorite)

129. Moroshor girl is called emaciated girl or squashed girl.

133. Cyborg man is called silent action man. (Relation of a single eye with being “silent?”)

134. A tumbalated woman is called a big fat buttocked woman or a woman with big fat buttocks.

137. Ays kaka or ear kaka is called ear-wax.

157. A sleep out woman is called promiscuous night truant or nocturnal home deserter for sleepless time with men.

191. Furniture is called toy or play thing. (Not to you, kids)

On a personal note: My brother was definitely a prolonged creeper child while I was definitely not a silent action man. I was more of a dwarf devil than he, having turned my mom into a big fat buttocked woman when pregnant. And, while my mom was definitely not a nocturnal home deserter for sleepless time with men, I did, strangely, end up with an awful lot of ear kaka as a kid. Maybe it came from all the time spent as a cane rat growing up. Having weighed ten pounds at birth, my mother proved to be a Hercules for strength. Thanks, mom. I hope I never turn out to be an ostracized eye sore for you, if I haven’t already. Much love, Jonah


Out our back door in Kambia
Out our back door in Kambia


Add yours →

  1. A. That made my skin crawl.

  2. Hey, who was a ‘big fat buttocked woman’ when pregnant……………I thought it had all been in my stomach!!!!! Love you, too, Mom

  3. Adam Jacot de Boinod August 13, 2009 — 5:14 am

    Dear Sir

    I wondered if you might like a link to both my Foreign word site and my English word website or press release details of my ensuing book with Penguin Press on amusing and interesting English vocabulary?

    with best wishes

    Adam Jacot de Boinod

    (author of The Meaning of Tingo)


    or wish to include:

    When photographers attempt to bring out our smiling faces by asking us
    to “Say Cheese”, many countries appear to follow suit with English
    equivalents. In Spanish however they say patata (potato), in Argentinian Spanish whisky, in French steak frites, in Serbia ptica (bird) and in
    Danish appelsin (orange). Do you know of any other varieties from around the world’s languages? See more on


    The Wonder of Whiffling is a tour of English around the globe (with fine
    coinages from our English-speaking cousins across the pond, Down Under
    and elsewhere).
    Discover all sorts of words you’ve always wished existed but never knew,
    such as fornale, to spend one’s money before it has been earned; cagg, a solemn vow or resolution not to get drunk for a certain time; and
    petrichor, the pleasant smell that accompanies the first rain after a
    dry spell.
    Delving passionately into the English language, I also discover why it
    is you wouldn’t want to have dinner with a vice admiral of the narrow
    seas, why Jacobites toasted the little gentleman in black velvet, and
    why a Nottingham Goodnight is better than one from anywhere else. See
    more on

    with best wishes


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