Toronto Jamaican

« previous post | next post »

Tristin Hopper, "Rob Ford’s drunken, Jamaican English-laced rant translated", National Post 1/21/2014:

On Monday, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford was videotaped in a bizarre exchange at a Toronto fast food restaurant that is notable not only for the mayor’s drunkenness, but for his liberal use of Jamaican English.  

Through careful analysis of the audio — and translation via sources in Jamaica — the National Post presents this approximate transcript of Mr. Ford’s exchange with an unknown citizen, along with explanations.

FORD: Cocksuckers. Fuckin’ Chief Blair and them all. Cha, man. They chase me around for five months, man. Bumbaclot man. I said, me and him, ya raasclat bumbaclot.
You know how much money that costs, man? I said bro, just cut something, ‘no man, no money man.’ Cha. Ah, Bumbaclot, man. I said ‘you know what? You raasclat, bumbaclot. I swear to God, man, honestly man. Serious shit, man. Serious shit, bro.
CITIZEN: All we know is we got the best mayor in the world right here.
FORD: No, seriously, you know …
CITIZEN: This guy deserves to be even better than Prime Minister Harper.
Harper is the guy who is fucking up. I always tell them go become the Prime Minister of Canada.
FORD: No, no, no, no. I don’t bullsh*t, you know? I’m a straight up guy, you know?
Who goes into THC? Who’s going into Jamestown, Jane and Finch and then Malvern on the—them fucks—you know what I see, manbro? Shit like …

Key vocabulary items:

cha: The Post article says that "'cha' is a disdainful expletive, the Caribbean equivalent of 'bah!'"

The Patwah Dictionary spells it "cho" and glosses it as "darn!"

bumbaclot: The clot / claat part is "cloth", and the bumba / bumbo part is related to "bum".

According to the Patwah Dictionary entry, this is

One of the most popular swear words in Jamaica. Though this word doesn't have an actual meaning or english translation, it is mostly used as an exclamation of shock, surprise, anger, frustration or for any other intense emotions.  

This term is sometimes combine with other Jamaican expletives such as bloodclaat or pussyclaat. For example, bumbo-bloodclaat or bumbo-pussyclaat.

Bumboclaat is actually a very vulgar swear word so you can get arrested for using it around police officers as well as dismissed from a class or formal business place.

raasclot:  Again the clot part is cloth, and the raas part is "ass":

Patwah dictionary entry:

Generic curse word often used to curse or when one is excited. The word itself does not have a definite meaning. It is often prefixed with other curse words such as bumbo or pussy e.g. bumbo-rassclaat

Example Sentences

Patois: Weh di rassclaat a gwaan yah suh?
English: What the fuck is going on here?

Josh Marshall, "Too legit to quit", Talking Points Memo 1/22/2014:

Believe it or not, Rob Ford has a serious shot at winning reelection as Mayor of Toronto this year. Indeed, through everything he's maintained strong plurality support.

Dana Ford and Steve Almasy, "Toronto Mayor Rob Ford: 'I had a minor setback'", CNN 1/22/2014:

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford said he suffered a "setback" this week after a video posted on social media showed him babbling about the city's police chief Monday night while he was at a fast-food restaurant.

The mayor, who became infamous for admitting he had smoked crack and drank too much in the past, has said he only had a small amount to drink and didn't take drugs Monday.

"As you know, I'm a human being — the same as every one of you. And I'm entitled to a personal life, and my personal life does not interfere with the work I do, day-in and day-out, for the taxpayers of this great city," he told reporters Wednesday.
"Monday was unfortunate. I had a minor setback. We all experience these difficult bumps in life. I am telling the Toronto residents that I'm still working hard every day to improve my health and my well-being. But again, this is completely a private matter."

Doktor Zoom, "Rob Ford has entered full Andy Kaufman mode", 1/22/2014:

If Toronto can’t fire him, they may just install him in a permanent performance space.

 I wonder if he can cuss in all the various ethnic varieties of (seriously multi-ethnic) Toronto. Probably not, I'm afraid.

Update — Tristin Hopper, "‘Identifiably Jamaican’: Rob Ford’s Patois is actually pretty authentic, Jamaica-based linguistics expert says", National Post 1/22/2014:

A Kingston, Jamaica-based linguistics professor has affirmed that Toronto Mayor Rob Ford indeed appeared to show a good passing knowledge of Jamaican Creole in his drunken Monday night rant, and that his speech was not necessarily vulgar.

“His language, in that context in Jamaica, would not be out of place,” wrote Hubert Devonish, a professor of linguistics at the University of the West Indies’ Jamaican Language Unit, writing in an email to the National Post.

Although Mr. Ford’s speech is indeed laced with Jamaican expletives, the professor noted that the mayor was speaking to fellow men at a late night venue, in this case the Etobicoke restaurant Steak Queen.

“In fact, in a male dominated domain such as that, in casual conversation amongst friends, such language is normal and would not be considered obscene,” wrote Mr. Devonish.



  1. Victor Mair said,

    January 22, 2014 @ 10:31 pm

    How did he learn it?

  2. Scott from Toronto said,

    January 22, 2014 @ 11:03 pm


    This is speculation, but it doesn't seem totally unusual in context (you'll note that the media in Toronto has not tended to view his knowledge of it as remarkable). Toronto has big Jamaican population. It's not totally uncommon for ordinary Torontonians to know a smattering of patois terms, and Ford was councillor for an area with a particularly large population.

    More to the point, although most of Ford's contacts in the drug world were from a specific Somali group (the Dixon City Bloods) at least a few appear to have been Caribbean, and knowledge of patois is widespread enough among young black Torontonians that recorded calls between his Somali contact even contain patois terms. On the more legitimate side, he certainly seems to frequent local Jamaican restaurants.

  3. Walter Underwood said,

    January 22, 2014 @ 11:16 pm

    How did he learn it? Scoring ganja, brah.

    Equally likely, politicians are very skilled at speaking to people in a way to make them comfortable. I expect that he's picked up enough to make people like him.

  4. thomas p also from T.O. said,

    January 23, 2014 @ 1:28 am

    To add to Scott's remarks, Ford also coached a high school football team comprised of a good number of Jamaican-Canadian boys. His interest in these lads, many from poor neighbourhoods, extended to allowing some to sleep in his basement. He had plenty of opportunity to pick up some of their lingo.

  5. Lane said,

    January 23, 2014 @ 3:48 am

    This may provide a clue to his appeal to working class, ordinary Torontans that those of us in the outside, upper-class or intellectual world don't understand. He gets them, and they get him. Being able to listen, and speak the language of the people you're listening to, is something we give politicians like Bill Clinton great credit for.

  6. Richard from Toronto said,

    January 23, 2014 @ 8:07 am

    Of course…. "cocksucker" is pretty well known by all dialects. And openly challenging and defying the police is rather ridiculous for a Mayor. In public no less. Who has a better reputation: Politicians or police officers? That can't be just chumming around with his pals. Aside from a (very few) bad apples, we have a fantastic police force that we trust with our lives up here. Many people have long loathed Ford since well before the crack.

    For the record: The main issue isn't his language- it's that his rampant alcoholism, drug use, alleged bazillion criminal connections, etc. That's why he was stripped of most of his power. He can't be trusted in an emergency (and has been busted in the past for backdoor deals) is the official reason. He can't be trusted in general is the unofficial one. He's wild, unpredictable, and crazy. Not just for the residents, but for his own staff and supporters. His language and behaviour is just a gift to the world of late night television. Yes….I'm pretty sure we're gonna try to add a law later that gives the cities the power to remove problematic elected individuals within the next year or two…

    Why this video is big: He swore he had a "Jesus moment" a few months ago and quit drinking…that he's cleaning up his life. Him trying to 'fix his life' up is his PR movement to try to regain some trust before the next election.

    ….and like most things, his mouth says one thing, while his hands do another. This video is just calling him on that. He's full of crap. And exhibiting extremely clear indicators of an alcoholic, which he still denies is a problem.

    While being understanding of his Jamaican language usage may soften the blow a bit, it does anything but absolve him of it. Go team police. (It's not just Toronto Police Chief Blair he's upset with… it's the whole RCMP (the Canada wide force…the 'mounties') that have been working the case as well!). He's poison to the underworld now….. anyone who he's ever been in contact with is being busted. Funny how he's always nearby…

    I know this post was just analyzing the language and I respect that. I'm just reminding people of the other stuff. Too many Torontonians like his down to earth image, yet don't realize he's @$@#ing them over with his other hand.


    I know. I wouldn't expect many Ford supporters to be reading languagelog…"Ford Nation" doesn't exactly fit the demographics for this site.

  7. Richard from Toronto said,

    January 23, 2014 @ 8:17 am

    Also… on behalf of Canada, we apologize for his behaviour.

    Or perhaps "you're welcome" for the entertainment?

    I dunno….

  8. J. W. Brewer said,

    January 23, 2014 @ 10:14 am

    I'm looking forward to a scandal-plagued Jamaican politician being caught on video doing an impressively authentic take on Canadian English of the Bob-and-Doug-McKenzie variety. Or perhaps a Haitian politician mastering the distinctive Quebecois variety of blasphemy-based swearing?

  9. fev said,

    January 23, 2014 @ 10:21 am

    Really? The Post blipped "bullsh*t" but not "shit," "fucks" or "fuckin'"?

  10. S T from Toronto said,

    January 23, 2014 @ 10:59 am

    I agree with everything Richard from Toronto said.

  11. Ben Hemmens said,

    January 23, 2014 @ 12:15 pm

    Richard from Toronto: how about a genuinely Caribbean (admittedly Trinidadian, not Jamaican) Torontonian? It's more melodious:

    Historical question: when did Caribbean-flavoured speech become cool in white societies? I'd have guessed it was more or less exactly my age cohort in the UK: beginning secondary school at the end of the 70s. Based on this, I guessed that Mr. Ford must be about my age. I see from Wikipedia that he's actually a couple of years younger, but close enough.

  12. D.O. said,

    January 23, 2014 @ 2:35 pm

    I am not a Torontonian or even a Canadian and you can punish your wayward mayor as much as you like, but I don't see any point in becoming as prudish as the chattering class down south. Only on the linguistic side, we had people denouncing Clinton and Obama for their code-switching, GWB for his Texan (or fake-Texan as it was alleged) accent, currently are involved in first person singular pronouns counting game, had a nice discussion about "severe conservative" Romney and so on. I wish US had more flamboyant politicians. Current unofficial standards are too strict.

  13. J.W. Brewer said,

    January 23, 2014 @ 3:30 pm

    Ben Hemmens: I'm not sure imitating West Indian versions of English has ever (even unto this present day) really become a thing for white Americans. I would attribute this to the longstanding tendency in certain youthful and/or "cool" subcultures to borrow lexical items and expressions from AAVE, so the niche was already filled; whereas in the UK and Canada there was not as much of a significant local black population available for that purpose before immigration from the BWI post-WW2. When I was in high school in the early '80's, reggae was a very specialized/minority musical interest among white American kids (and not at all an interest among most black American kids, at least those in my part of the country), so while a few people picked up striking bits of Rasta jargon from records (probably largely because of the rather incomplete percepton that Rasta = ganja = cool), we didn't have a critical mass of L1 speakers available to model when it was or wasn't idiomatic to say "I and I" etc. (Similarly, I doubt that very many British musicians and/or hipsters of the '60's could ad lib plausible AAVE, no matter how many old blues records they'd listened to over and over.)

    In the classic 2005 Onion article "Bob Marley Rises From Grave to Free Frat Boys From Bonds of Oppression" (part of the set-up of which is the premise that by that late date Marley had become widely popular with US social types who were very much not the sort of people who would have been listening to him when he was still alive), the quotations from "Marley" are in a stereotypical version of patois/rasta talk, whereas the quotes from the dumb white frat boy are in a stereotypical version of how dumb white frat boys talk (i.e., not attempting to affect Jamaicanisms/Rastaisms).

  14. Bobbie said,

    January 23, 2014 @ 3:41 pm

    So is "bumbaclot" or "raasclot" fairly similar to "asswipe"?

  15. Ben Hemmens said,

    January 23, 2014 @ 4:32 pm

    @JW Brewer: thanks. I guess I wasn't really thinking about the USA, but about the UK and wondering if Canada experienced a similar thing at the same time, or if it didn't.
    Unoriginally I suppose, my experience of becoming a teenager was that the world of popular music and culture had just been completely reinvented; I started secondary school in 1978 and punk was happening; I confess, in my hometown of Dublin, U2 were happening; and also, ska was happening. It was more or less impossible to regard that music and that way of talking as being uncool. Kids had anti-racism slogans on their schoolbags (in a place where, although I'm sure we had plenty of latent racism in our background, there was a bit of a shortage of non-white people to be actively racist to). And it strikes me that sometime before that, that must have been not the case. I suspect the first wave of popularity of ska in the UK in the 1960s didn't achieve this kind of crossover, whereas the second wave at the end of the 70s/beginning of the 80s definitely made this stuff part of general culture.
    I just wonder if I'm mistaking my own personal cutoff of 1978 for the exact moment when this shift happened ;-)

  16. J. W. Brewer said,

    January 23, 2014 @ 5:00 pm

    Ben Hemmens: I know nothing about the social history and linguistic impact of the BWI diaspora in Canada (much less the timeline of any relevant impact on the speech of the broader community or cool-kid subcultures therein). I assume there's a literature on it.

    But I can tell you that for US teens at the turn of the '80's who weren't listening directly to actual reggae records, they got a bit of that mediated to them via British bands (the Police and maybe a little early Joe Jackson for everyone, the Clash for some of us; the Twin/Tone bands for others — OTOH it's probably good for all concerned that the Police limited their reggae influence to matters rhythmic and we didn't get Sting attempting to sing in faux-patois). By contrast, the Canadian bands of the time that were popular south of the border (Rush, Triumph, April Wine, that sort of thing) had approximately zero apparent West-Indian influence. Oddly enough, if you'd polled my more rock-obsessed white male schoolmates circa '78 as to their favorite living black musician (Hendrix being dead), there's a decent shot the answer would have come up Dublin: ("You know, what's-his-name, the guy from Thin Lizzy.") But because of his unusual life story (oddly parallel to that of the current President of the U.S.), he had nothing of particular linguistic interest to offer. OTOH, just to make things come full circle, I recall being quite struck circa '81 or so by the full-on Belfast accent (not a dialect I had much familiarity with at the time) of the singer from Stiff Little Fingers giving a spoken-word intro to . . . a cover of a Bob Marley song (possible subtext: people here in Belfast are getting shot for no good reason . . . just like they do in Kingston, which is in Jamaica, which is cool).

  17. Levantine said,

    January 23, 2014 @ 8:58 pm

    In response to some of the comments above, I don't think Ford's imitating a Caribbean accent really constitutes code-switching or demonstrates a talent for communicating with ordinary people. Surely it's just as silly and offensive as if he had put on, say, a Hinglish accent.

  18. Ben Hemmens said,

    January 24, 2014 @ 4:40 am

    Well, it seems seriously cringe-worthy to me, too, but I'll defer to the quoted "Jamaica-based linguistic expert" who said "Identifiably Jamaican: Rob Ford’s Patois is actually pretty authentic". I think the point is not that he's doing it well, but that he's doing it at all: a few decades ago, one would hardly have expected a boorish white conservative guy to even attempt to imitate some kind of black immigrant speech even quasi-realistically. Something's shifted, even if the result still isn't pretty.

    Back to 70s Ireland: Thin Lizzy were already pretty much on the way out, as far as my peers were concerned, by the time I became aware of them. Yes, Lynott had an odd upbringing to contend with. Actually his family did a brave thing by the standards of the time by keeping him; other Irish women who had non-white babies gave them away (or effectively had them taken away) to be brought up in various kinds of institutions; so that there's a scattering of black people in Ireland who grew up in children's homes, convents etc. A couple of those guys were the only black people I knew.

    The SLF guy's remarks are no surprise since the Northern Irish Civil Rights movement modeled itself on the US one (and any other liberation movements of oppressed peoples it heard about). Which had a culmination of sorts in a debatable saying that Roddy Doyle picked up and used in roughly this version in The Commitments: "Do you not get it, lads? The Irish are the blacks of Europe. And Dubliners are the blacks of Ireland. And the Northside Dubliners are the blacks of Dublin. So say it once, say it loud: I'm black and I'm proud." Which isn't necessarily that much less mixed up than a Rob Ford.

  19. Ken Brown said,

    January 24, 2014 @ 6:14 pm

    @Ben Hemmens – I think I'm a little older than you, I was a teenager in Brighton in England in the early and mid 1970s. There was always some reggae around, even in the almost total absence of black people. At least some 60s ska entered the popular consciousness of white pop fans and stayed there,though I think it was a lot bigger in London than elsewhere. And Bob Marley was huge, 3 or 4 of his hits would be instantly recognisable to almost any Brit of my age.

    In the late 70s dub reggae was a definitely minority interest among white English people, but not a *very* small minority. At least not among us university educated scruffy lefties. And those who liked it thought it was very cool.

  20. J. W. Brewer said,

    January 24, 2014 @ 6:50 pm

    Ken Brown: I guess the relevant question would be whether at either point in time (teens in Brighton earlier in 70's or amongst scruffy university etc. a bit later on) English whites in your peer group adopted / affected words/phrases/distinctive pronunciations etc. etc. of West Indian origin as a way of making their in-group dialect/register sound cooler? One could develop a reasonably good passive comprehension of some of that stuff from listening to the records (I did so, a bit later, in the US), but that's different from actively deploying it in your own speech the way Mayor Ford did.

  21. Colectare ulei alimentar uzat said,

    January 25, 2014 @ 10:54 am

    The wonders of alcohol..I speak can speak russian after I drink:)

  22. AG said,

    January 25, 2014 @ 9:48 pm

    Bloodclaat and all the other forms "don't have an actual meaning" or English translation?

    They clearly mean a menstrual pad. I don't have scientific proof to back this up at the moment, but it's… pretty obvious from the combination of related terms, isn't it?

  23. J.W. Brewer said,

    January 26, 2014 @ 1:02 pm

    AG, perhaps "actual meaning" is infelicitous phrasing, but it is seems entirely possible that some of these -clot pejoratives might be parallel to e.g. "douchebag" and "scumbag" in American English, where the original non-human referent has become of largely historical interest and the current abusive usage is successfully and grammatically deployed by a wide range of speakers, many of whom are ignorant of the etymology.

  24. Craig said,

    January 28, 2014 @ 5:54 pm

    AG, my understanding is that a "bombaclat" is indeed what Jamaican women used to use to mop up their monthlies before modern pads or tampons came along, and has consequently retained a generic "swear word" connotation, divorced of its original literal meaning, just as JW Brewer suggests.

  25. ASG said,

    February 4, 2014 @ 12:26 pm

    I'm surprised nobody has mentioned Ras Trent, an SNL skit from a few years ago that expertly skewers white college boys trying to adopt patois to needle their, quote, "bumbaclot parents." In Facebook, my friends and I were splicing Ford's speech together with the lyrics to this song with great success.

    One thing I've always enjoyed about that skit is the way that Andy Samberg manages to exaggerate his "suburban white-boy" accent, something that other comedians of all races sometimes do when making fun of white people who find themselves the minority in "ethnic" communities. Has LL ever posted anything about this accent, by which I mean not a specific regional American accent but the exaggerated "suburban" accent that encodes a particular character as, not just white, but affluent and clueless and WASPy?

RSS feed for comments on this post