September–let’s remember: Cut your ten!

My father often said to me, as a boy, “Look how him a cut ten”, when I was taking a break of just lazing around. Checking with a few other Jamaicans, I hear that they understand it to be looking ‘boas(t)y’, with legs crossed in some form, even when standing, and some insist it’s when the ankle is over the knee, not legs crossed. Be all that as it may.

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I never thought much more about it till yesterday. So, in keeping with the monthly theme, I had to do a little research, and what did I find? The expression is well described in the Dictionary of Jamaican English, by Frederic Gomes Cassidy and Robert Brock Le Page, originally published in Britain, but recently republished by the University of the West Indies Press in a paperback edition accessible to more Jamaican speakers, according to Le Page’s biography. Cassidy was born in Jamaica, while Le Page was born in south London (ironically, where many Caribbean migrants went to settle from the 1950s). Amongst other things, Le Page went to Oxford, studying Old English, and later came to teach at the fledgling University College of the West Indies (now University of the West Indies) at Mona, Jamaica, where he was introducedto Frederic Cassidy. Together with Cassidy, he began the research which was to lead to the Dictionary of Jamaican English.

Frederic Cassidy, Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, was appointed Editor in 1962 of a dictionary of American regional English dialects, and encouraged to start working in earnest.

Funnily, the Dictionary of American Regional English came to my attention one morning, about four years, driving through Washington, DC, and listening to a report on the project on NPR. It’s a fascinating study of the many different ways Americans speak tonally and use words differently. It makes for great listening, if language is one of your things. The dictionary has an audio feature that bring out all that rich difference clearly.

While we Jamaicans struggle to put Patois in its rightful place in all of our communications, I thank cartoonists, like Leandro, and now Clovis and Las May, for letting us appreciate daily what we have that is so good, yet not given its proper place.

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Typical cartoon, using Patois. (Courtesy: Leandro/Jamaica Gleaner)

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