Talking the Talk: Barbados Vocabulary

“That’s not a goat, that’s a sheep.”

Wait what? It looks like a goat. It has hair, not wool. But apparently it is a Barbados blackbelly sheep. You can tell because of the tail, the ears, and its temperament.

Barbados black belly sheep

Like that goat, I mean sheep, on Barbados you can never assume, particularly with words you think you know.

I was bemused when I heard that sorrel was a drink. After all, the fuzzy, slightly bitter green that I had in my garden wasn’t appealing enough for me to grow it more than one year. To my surprise, the drink was bright red, because in Barbados sorrel is a red hibiscus flower.

I was familiar with pawpaw for papaya, and with the British vocabulary one would expect: aubergine for eggplant, biscuit for cookie. Mexican names have not flowed this way: cilantro is coriander and chayote is called christophene.

Asking “What’s that?” at the produce stands rarely enlightened. Sometimes it was the Bajan accent, sometimes that I’d never come across that particular food before. But it took me while to realize that a “pear” is actually avocado, although in large stores they are occasionally labeled “avocado pears,” particularly if they are imported when the larger local ones are not in season.

Once, I bought kumquats from a stand because Scott had never tried them. Yup, not kumquats, and not sweet and delicious, but hot enough that he spit it out.

You can take the gardener out of her country, but …
Bajan oregano, oregano, chives and parsley

I love the bags of “kitchen mix” herbs here. It took some puzzling over the labelling, though. What they call marjoram I call oregano, and their oregano is a plant with large, more rounded leaves that is new to me. A Bajan’s “chives” are green onions (or spring onions in the UK) although I did find a pot of what I’d call chives in a garden shop.

Every bag come with a few little “flavour peppers” according to the label. After the kumquat experience we were cautious, unlike some of our Welcome Stamp friends. Alex chopped all 3 peppers into his stir fry. As soon as the pan started sizzling, they had to vacate the house, choking, eyes streaming.

Kitchen mix. Beware the flavour peppers!

In other parts of the world they call these scotch bonnet peppers. Their Scoville Hotness Index is 350 000, compared to 10 000 for jalapeños and 23 000 for serranos. Habaneros are supposed to be the same SHU, but from experience I would disagree. We will throw one whole into a dish, and take it out before serving— just to add the “flavour!”

Bajan hot sauces are a “little spicy,” the same way that their rum punch is a “little strong.” I had two rum punches once, and had to go for a nap.

I hesitate to use Bajan dialect, although I’m starting to understand more of it. There is vocabulary you need in Barbados, however, even if you speak “the Queen’s English.”

For example, you can have a lime or be liming, which means hanging out with people, usually accompanied by food and drink. You might do it before or after you take your sea bath, which might be a swim or just a wade. And of course, Bajan is short for Barbadian, and Barbados is often referred to as Bim.

Maybe soon I’ll be brave enough to use some Bajanisms when I speak!

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