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When you hear it, bite your lips

Tobagonians speak a Creole language, that is to say a language that has been developed over the centuries here on the Island and is specific to the Island. Structurally based on the West African languages, the actual words are basically English with some Scottish thrown in. Words have come to mean different things here to their original meaning, for example the word ‘humbugging’ which would mean ‘deceiving’ in English, here means something is a nuisance. A phrase like ‘de tree humbugging me man’ means the tree is in his way! Other words are more or less out of use in the UK. Take a phrase like ‘ de man get me vex, yes’, would probably become ‘ the man is making me really cross’ in the UK.

However much pleasure might be had from the many phrases and sayings in Tobago, there are some that make me want to scream back at the person who uses them.

For example try: “Take your time Mr. Mark, take your time!

No, there is nothing wrong with the phrase, but it is the context in which it is said that makes me want to explode. You might (hopefully not) hear this phrase when you are lying flat in the middle of the road having tripped on the kerb, slipped on a banana skin, fallen off your bike etc, etc, etc. In other words, on seeing you or me falling, there is no rush to see if you are alright, but rather this extraordinary desire on the part of the person still standing and to whom the accident has not befallen, to try and remind you to take more care. As if you did not realize this yourself. It is similar to that awful phrase used in the UK, ‘more haste, less speed’ when applied, as it often is, when you have just given yourself a nasty shock by falling down the stairs. I rest my case!

Another, much beloved of Tobagonians and Trinidadians is: ‘You can’t find it all?

Imagine having lost something really important such as one’s spectacles, wallet, etc. You ask your spouse, close friend, next door neighbour, dog etc to be greeted with the phrase. ‘You can’t find it all?’ Well of course not, you idiot, If I had found it, I would have it, wouldn’t I? I mean you only ask because you need help don’t you, for goodness sake!

For me the classic example of this came when we had finished a fun run through miles and miles of bush in Tobago and discovered one of our number missing. After several people made sorties in various directions. I traced the route back a long way and did a considerable amount of ‘Yahooing’, all to no avail and walked back to the buses in which the not-lost members of the party were waiting. A lady leaned out of the bus and I shook my head at her to say that I could not find him and she said,  ‘ you can’t find him at all? What on earth did she expect? That I am hiding him under my shirt or what? I felt like yelling at her the obvious answer ‘NO’, but being a gentleman and a scholar, I replied, lamely, ‘no, no sign of him at all’.
It transpired that on finding himself lost, he simply returned to the main road, begged a lift and went back to the hotel where he phoned a fellow member on the run on his mobile phone to say he was ok!

I suspect that this phrase is more Trinidadian than Tobagonian but, nethertheless, watch out for it

Imagine yourself in a public car park, the bonnet of your car is up and you, being in the hot sun and in your going-to-town clothes, are sweating buckets trying to get the thing running. Now, being familiar with the vagaries of this, your own, and sometimes much loved, motor, you are aware of the probable root cause of the problem. At this moment, with perspiration pouring down your brow, your hands blackened with oil and somewhat singed from the heat of the engine, in other words, not in the best of tempers, up pos a Tobagonian and he says:

‘It must be the battery’

Now I will admit that car batteries in Tobago seem to have a life span which exceeds the warranty by one day, but nethertheless, when a battery gives trouble, you know it! Somehow you manage not to tell him to disappear and instead wearily explain, no, it is not the battery but it is probably the distributer or some other highly technical part, mentioned in an attempt to prove to him that you know what you are talking about. Hopefully he will hear the ‘buff’ (Tobagonian for ’rebuff’) in your voice, but he may be more persistent and when he has located the battery try and do things to it. Very frustrating, in a very frustrating situation.

All visitors in Tobago know that the climate in the tropics is hot all the year round. It is the reason tourists come here, not just for the gorgeous white sandy beaches and the crystal turquoise sea, but to be hot and divest themselves of all them clothes that they have to wear in colder climes. In fact the temperature variation from morning to night is 32•c to 24•c and this is throughout the year. Occasionally the temperature may drop a little or may rise a little but never more than one or two degrees.

So when a Tobagonain says :

‘Boy, it hot, ent?

One is left wondering how to respond. If, as is normal, you are perspiring heavily or even sweating a lot depending on your personal choice of language. It is fair to say that the heat may have got to you and made you, as it can, a little irritable, especially if you are attempting to shop in Scarborough, rather than drinking a rum punch in the hotel pool! A more obvious statement I have never heard and seems to merit a response like ‘ what do you expect?’ or perhaps, ‘where do you think you are living, Iceland?’

However, a Tobagonian finds that the tiny bit of extra heat is too much and therefore ‘hot’, just in the same way that he/she feels that 23•c is actually cold and will dress accordingly, in other words, in warm clothes! Therefore any response other than ‘you bet it is’ will not be understood! Now this phrase irrationally irritated me for quite a long time, probably because I always feel hot and there are times when I do get somewhat brassed off with sweat pouring down my face, chest, arms etc.

However I have now learnt that there is such a thing as the heat index, it is a chart which weather persons can use to tell how hot you feel, would you believe! What it appears to do is relate moisture content with temperature. In other words, thanks to the vast quantities of moisture in the air during parts of the rainy season, your poor old body cannot get the sweat to evaporate properly and thus the body’s cooling system does not function too well. So when you have a heat index of say 41, you actually feel that the temperature is much higher than the 33•c it really is and you know what:

‘Boy, it hot, ent?

By Mark Puddy

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