On Pidgin


Pidgin English, according to Wikpedia, is actually a general term for the many variations of Pidgin that are derived from English. Many different countries have their own version of Pidgin, and of course there will be some overlap in words and phrases, particularly among regions that are geographically similar.

To read more about Nigerian Pidgin (also referred to as “broken English”), check out the wikipedia page, and dare to correct it if you see any errors.

I wasn’t exposed to Pidgin among young folk until 2005. Up until that time, I lived in a blissful world where the only thing I had to master in order to be comfortable speaking with other Yoruba people was the Yoruba language. I worked to master my numbers and the alphabet (yes, I’m in my late 20s and I was learning these things a mere five years ago, in 2003) and short phrases, and I paid attention to my parents’ conversations to improve my vocabulary. My grandmother visited in 2004 and since her knowledge of the English language is limited to a handful of words, we spoke with a mixture of Yoruba, gestures, a few English words and what I found out later was broken English.

I joined a Nigerian forum in 2005. Since there were Nigerians from many different parts of Nigeria represented on the site, I didn’t think I would be able to communicate in Yoruba with all of them. I soon saw that no matter the origin of the members, it seemed that not only could they understand each other, but they were using the same “language”, with English words I recognized and other words that I did not. That language of course was Pidgin.

Pidgin English is not easy to master as my untrained eyes (I was reading the words off the computer screen) discovered. I soon came to understand (I think: don’t be too harsh in correcting me!) some basic greetings:

  • How you dey? (How are you?)
  • Wetin happen/Wetin dey happen/Wetin shele? (What’s happening/What’s going on?)

their possible responses:

  • Body dey in cloth. (literally “Body is clothed”, a way of saying “All is well” or “It’s all good”)
  • I dey kampe. (I’m doing fine/good.)

and some other expressions that would crop up too:

  • Yarn, yarning (Talking)
  • Chop (Eat)
  • Throway face (Snub, ignore deliberately)
  • Haba! (Good grief/Oh my goodness)
  • Toast (Court a girl)
  • Na wa o. (Oh man/Oh my goodness—but in a relaxed, not panicked/freaked out way/Wow)

That last one is one of my favourites and as I got ready to travel to Maryland in 2006 to meet some members from that forum, I drove my mom and sister crazy at the bus station by continuously uttering Na wa o!. I like it because it’s just the perfect expression for situations where you can’t believe what you’re hearing and want to make a comment expressing that in a way that also conveys a sort of weariness with the world we live in. I think I’m a pro at saying it, yet of course, I’ve never had an opportunity to use it.

To this day I still struggle to understand exactly what people are saying when they speak in Pidgin. It’s kind of like when you read a book full of big words: you may not be able to understand each individual word but in the end, you get the general idea of what is being said and what the individual words must mean based on their context. Now that reminds me of another Pidgin word, gist. To me, before Pidgin, “gist” meant the main point of something, usually a story, or lesson that is learned. In Pidgin, gist is another word for conversation or even gossip, ala “Ooh, I heard you were there when Tunde and Kelly broke up…oya give me the sweet gist!”

There are some words that I thought were Yoruba words but according to my resource* on all things Pidgin are actually Pidgin words:

  • gbadun (to enjoy)
  • wahala (trouble)
  • oyinbo (Caucasian or English)

I could go on and on about this but instead, I’ll give you some quick homework:

Please give me one or two Pidgin words or phrases that I must know and let me know what it means and when I’d use it.

*Babawilly’s Dictionary of Pidgin English Words and Phrases


26 Responses to “On Pidgin”

  1. Yayyy

  2. Lol…I hear so many as well and I just go along with it.
    Stuff like nothing do you…is supposed to be a praise, like saying, carry on with the good work…and I’m like owwkayyy. I know my fair share of pidgin so I guess I can fake knowledge in places that I seem to be lacking.

    As for yoruba, one day at the age of 8, I got home and found out the new rule at home. “No more English in this house” and unfortunately for me, this house only consists of me and my mother…

  3. pidgin words:

    whosai! (dont exactly know the meaning, someone else help me out!): used mostly in a gossip context.


  4. okay i will be back to giv u a pidgin english lesson. hook up with me ‘u knw where for the lessons’. There is no better person to pass on vital pidgin words than a Warri boy.

    Warri no dey carry last. I remember going to Sapele some years back, my folks asked me to deliver a message to an an aged aunt, i stood outside her little house for almost 40mins trying to piece the words together in Itsekiri or Urhobo. she was almost 80yrs old so i reckoned english even pidgin was a no-no. Thinking i had enough words stringed together to communicate, i went in to see my aunt. I did my ‘megwor’ in a florish then the big part came. After fumbling with the words for a bit the toothless old woman laughing at me all the while just said ‘my pickin before u comot ur tongue dey broke Urhobo, abeg nack me the tori for english, abi na fight?’

    nuff said

  5. 5 sting

    LOL @ na wa o! I love speaking pidgin (if u haven’t noticed that from reading my blog). Back when we were in high school it wasn’t cool to speak pidgin at least in my school (stuck up biatches) they thot it was razz (i don’t know how to explain razz in english lol), but now pidgin is the new cool. Besides i grew up in Benin where pidgin is the main language pple communicate with in markets and stuff like that. You can’t try Benin and Warri people when it comes to pidgin. We too try.

  6. 6 sting

    Those words u thot were yoruba, actually are. Pidgin is actually a mixture of english and a bunch of nigerian languages.

  7. 7 sting

    Damn there’s so many pidgin phrases i could teach u. Where do i start from? Why u dey wash me or see u dey wash me— to deceive someone or flatter them.

    See how u dey burst me head… Also means u are flattering me.

    So do u mean that u don’t understand a lot of the pidgin i write on my blog?

    From my numerous comments u can see that i didn’t finish reading b4 coming to comment. Loved the post though.

  8. naija bloje how right are you!!warri pidgin is the bomb!!!sometimes i no dey undestand di thing sef!

    GNG!!!LOL..i sure sey your pidgin better pass some people wey dey born for naija sa!the way u broke down the meaning of the words and stuff me sef no know some of them!!!your quest to learn nigerian stuff is CUTE!!..its not only nigerians that speak pidgin english i think most west african countries speak it..i work with this west african guy and anytime we want to abuse somebody we use pidgin..and people ask us ,u guys speak d same language,are you from the same country and we start laughing!they have no idea we are making use of some english words too!

    you bin fit understand the pidgin way i write for your page so?

  9. wetin dey do you- whats wrong with you?
    My guy how far na?-whats up.’NA’ means ‘NOW’..but thats the way its pronounced when speaking pidgin-i think?

  10. When I started writing my blog I inserted a lot of expressions in pidgin English, which gave the blog a humorous slant. The problem however, is that my recent posts have been political and I tend to get serious when writing about politics so the pidgin expressions have reduced. Let me give you one expression for the road, ‘I don beleful’ means I’m satisfied. It’s actually a direct translation (I guess that’s what English people call transliteration) of ‘my belly is full’. I have a short video clip in pidgin English on my blog right now. Wanna check it out? If you do understand what’s being said you’ll laugh.

  11. To second Sting on that point, Wahala, Gbadun and Oyinbo are definitely yoruba words.

    I don’t know what the ‘wilkepidia people’ are thinking passing these words off as pidgin!!!

    Interesting piece.

  12. 12 Oluwadee

    I so love pidgin, I don not know how i learnt it, but i just did. N now even words i havent heard b4 i just know what it means.

    A few days a go i heard “omo small Kasala dey” meaning there is trouble oh.

    as 9jalines said gbadun, wahala and oyinbo are all yoruba words.

    A few words for you;

    I dey hung – am hungry
    Comot there – leave that place
    na lie – its a lie
    abeg – please
    tori – story

    Babe I go follo u yarn later.

  13. 13 GoodNaijaGirl

    @naijababe – I never knew 100% what “nothing do you” meant so thanks! That was a good plan of your mom’s…I wish we had done that in our house when I was growing up.

    @bumight – is it an expression like “no way!”?

    @naijabloke – free me o I’m just trying to learn basic pidgin here…I no fit ready for anything too complicated. What does “megwor” mean?

    @sting – ooo, thanks for these additions to my vocabulary. I didn’t know what wash means at all, nor would I have been able to guess. I do understand your blog because I look at the context…when I don’t I’ll definitely ask.

    @pink-satin – thanks o! I actually understood your comment completely!

    @Ahmed – I’ll check out that clip…thanks for stopping by.

    @naijalines – hehe, well it’s not wikipedia but the link at the end of the entry, babawilly, that’s passing those Yoruba words off as pidgin.

    @Oluwadee – thanks for the phrases. I’ve never heard “hung” used for “hungry”…maybe Nigerians are just lazy, trying to save syllables.

  14. 14 Jess

    Hey, so I’m actually going to post a comment on your actual page :)
    My bf said that pidgin is always changing and when you’re speaking it half the words you make up on the spot ;) as if it’s not confusing enough.
    He was 100% unimpressed with my two phrases I learned and said to him. He just started cracking up and was like why are you trying to learn pidgin?
    Thanks for the post!

  15. LOL babe! I’m impressed you took the time to learn Yoruba and pidgin English. Like you said, pidgin is made up of words from English and other local languages and it is very adaptable so new words and phrases can be made up on the spot. I love hearing people speaking it and I can understand most of the language but I’m not very fluent. I know someone who can speak both pidgin English and pidgin French! Cool eh?

  16. 16 Zena

    @ sting true talk my sista, i noh! know say you be fellow benin babe, and ur right u no fit hold benin and warri ppl with pidgin

    razz can be translated to meaning bush actually, “uncool”

    Like sting, pidgin was considered razz when i went to highschool, started speaking it when I got here actually and I can’t get enough of it,

    Kpefed- as in the boy don kpef go- the boy was seriously dunk (benin pidgin)

    Ya wa don gas- there is problem or “wahala”

    wetin shele- wat’s happening

    runs/runsing- same as toasting- trying to chat up a girl

    too much effizy- shakara, swagger

    there’s so much more tho, every state or language has their own slang

  17. ‘megwor’- its URHOBO. Its the standard greeting; morning, noon and night. The answer is ‘Vre Do’. Like its Isoko variant, Dewor, it literarily means ‘I am on my knees’.

    hey, I thot we were talking pidgin english.

  18. I always find it hilarious that many Yoruba peeps can’t speak Pidgin very well. Nevertheless, some more words for you.

    Amebo: Pesin wey no dey mind im business (Otherwise called bizibodi, as in busybody)

    Kpafuka: Die, dead. E.g.: D guy jus kpafuka like dat.

    A taya: I’m tired

    Na today? : A question usually asked when something thats old news is mentioned. Often used in a longer form like: Na today nyash dey for back?

    Wetin consign agbero wit ovaload: Used often in Port-Harcourt, means you don’t want to bite off more than you can chew.

    Consign me : It does not concern me.

    Hope these have been helpful.:)

  19. Hmmn pidgin sha! men I love that language o! I actually learnt it back in high school from some warri friends of mine…I refused to stop o! even when dey laff at me…
    Now I flow well…archiwiz is right…I cringe sometimes when I hear some yoruba people kill pidgin( i be yoruba myslef o!lol)…true talk o! e no dey sweet for there mouth!
    Had this sierra Leonean colleague who could flow with pidgin as well,we used to crack up the whole office so tey my oyinbo line manager sef learnt how to say and use terms like”abeg” and “free me” lol…hilarious fun!

    any ways make i drop some phrases sha…
    Owu don blow the guy means: the guy is broke!
    I wan lem tight means: I want to eat!
    how e take be? means: how did it happen?
    sabi your sef no be curse means:to know who you are is not a curse…more in the line of be true to urself!
    meeen I cld go on and on and on

  20. 20 Rayo

    Wow…I didn’t even know that gbadun, wahala, and oyinbo weren’t Yoruba words! Hmm…thanks for dropping some knowledge. That being said–not being a pidgin speaker, but an “understander” myself–I don’t have any words to share with you.

  21. oyinbo i yoruba ? wow i would of never thought that but its cool to find out that nigeria is the one who really started the pidgen concept

  22. lmao…really love this post…I can imagine what pidgin sounds like to an untrained ear…

    ok here is one…

    How far?….means what’s up.
    you don kolo….you are crazy…in a nice way..lol
    shakara….errrmmm the only explanation i know is also in pidgin which is to do guy..

    Oh my God, I think I am confusing you more than anything…

  23. one more…just learnt this one myself…

    No lele…means no problem…genuis huh…

  24. For whatever ’tis worth i don’t (for one) dig pidgin english.

  25. 25 Arthur ofose

    i love ur attempt of make pidgin english a language to be proud of. as a wafi brought up i can give any word or sentence in pidgin” no shaking” just send them to me and i will inteprete them for you in pidgin

    ”no shaking” mean am very confident, or very sure

  26. 26 Sparkle--x

    if this has not been posted already but i fink
    sha – which nigerians tend to use after sentences
    btw wat country is the writer from

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