Alas! The joyous winter holidays are upon us, meaning plenty of interaction with family members and all of their personal and cultural quirks. This list was made with the Guyanese community in mind—yes, even the self-loathing ones who refuse to identify as such—for the ease of communication with relatives this holiday season.
In a culture known for its colorful expressions, the following proverbs and translations will hopefully allow you to understand and connect with your relatives without any of the linguistic barriers that have so often prevented first generation kids from understanding what the hell is going on.
Concededly, some of these are not exclusive to Guyana, but shared among West Indian countries. All the more reason to read it anyway. Look, even if you couldn’t care less, just read it so that you can, at the very least, know if your cousins who just came up are insulting you or not.
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1. Wha rain can’t full, dew can’t full.
If it didn’t work or wasn’t successful after all that work/time, then nothing else will make it happen.
2. Nah tek fiyah stick ah night for wha you can see in the day.
Don’t wait until it’s too late to see things when there have been clear warnings.
3. Who does eat fiyah does shit cold.
If you don’t want to heed advice or warning, you must bear the consequences.
4. Cat foot soft but he does scratch hard.
Not all who seem friendly really are.
5. If oil ah float, watah deh ah bottom.
Just a bit of evidence can tell you a lot.
6. After laugh come cry.
After happiness comes sadness.
7. Every bush ah man night time.
When we are afraid, things always seem scarier than they really are.
8. Fish and cast-net nah friend.
Some people will just never get along.
9. One one dutty does mek dam.
Every bit adds up.
10. Moon ah run till daylight ketch am.
You can try to get away with it, but you will get caught one day.
11. Nah every big head get sense.
Those who present themselves as smart aren’t necessarily smart.
12. Nah tek yuh mattie eye fuh see.
Don’t rely on others’ stories—see things for yourself.
*Note: mattie is a disambiguation of mate.
13. Nah put all two foot in di river if yuh want see how deep.
Don’t be fully invested until you know if it’s worth it.
14. Turtle nah want trouble, mek he walk with he house pon he back.
Always be prepared for the worst.
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15. If you nah hear, you guh feel.
If you won’t heed warnings, you will feel the consequences.
16. All skin teeth nah laugh.
Not everyone who smiles with you is your friend.
17. Monkey turn captain.
An expression used when someone who was not always highly regarded (always clowning around) suddenly gets a big job or a high position.
18. “If meh bin know,” always deh behind di door.
It’s too easy to use ignorance as an excuse for our mistakes.
19. Baby who ah cry ah house, and ah door, ah di same ting.
Treat all children the way you would treat your own.
20. Sorry fah magga dog, magga dog turn round bite you.
When you help people out, they don’t appreciate it.
21. When man mek sugar, he mattie ah suck am.
When you are too kind to people, they will take advantage.
22. You tell Tara and Tara tell Tara.
When you tell one person a secret, it is bound to spread.
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23. Wha does hurt eye does mek nose run watah.
When you hurt one family member, it hurts the whole family.
24. If yuh gah balls nah laugh gody man.
Don’t make fun of circumstances that could one day be your own.
*Note: gody = hernia.
25. Goat seh he rather he mumma dead befo’e afternoon rain ketch he.
You guys, this is literally just a proverb about how much goats hate the rain.
26. Wha sweet ah goat mouth does sour he backside.
After the sweetness comes the bitterness.
27. When bird fly too fast, he pass he nest.
You get into trouble living a fast paced life.
28. One man money mek too much man cry.
When the wealthy die, everyone feigns closeness and sadness in hopes of getting a cut of the inheritance.
29. Yuh diggin hole to fill hole.
The way you are solving the problem is really only perpetuating the problem.
30. Gi Jack he jacket.
Give credit where it is due.
31. Good livin nah long life.
A comfortable life does not necessarily mean a healthy life.
32. Nah cut yuh nose fuh spile yuh face.
Don’t be self-destructive when reacting to a problem.
33. Ole fiyah does ketch flame quick.
It is very easy to reunite with old lovers.
34. If dutty deh ah roof top, yuh barrel ah ketch am.
Children pick up the bad habits of their parents.
35. Easy snake does bite hot.
Those who move in silence are often the most dangerous.
Happy Holidays! Looking forward to seeing everyone post the same picture of pepper pot and bread to their Instagram on Christmas morning. Myself being one of them.
And, for your viewing pleasure, Professor Mike Singh tells us his favorite proverbs:
Elizabeth Jaikaran is a freelance writer based in New York. She graduated from The City College of New York with her B.A. in 2012, and from New York University School of Law in 2016. She is interested in theories of gender politics and enjoys exploring the intersection of international law and social consciousness. When she’s not writing, she enjoys celebrating small joys with her friends and binge watching juicy serial dramas with her husband. Her first book, “Trauma,” will be published by Shanti Arts in 2017.