Claude McKay's Early Poetry (1911-1922): A Digital Collection

Glossary to "Constab Ballads"


A : I. Pronounced short.
a : it ; e.g., " a be'n ondly "= it was only.
a : intrusive word ; e.g., " a t'row "= throw.
a : by ; e.g., " a day "= by day.
a : to, as in " a school."
a : is ; e.g., Dis a fe me luck "= This is my luck,
a': at.
abouten : about.
a come : is coming.
agains': against.
a-how : how.
aldough : although.
a-limber : gently waving.
an': and.
'an : than.
anedder: another.
a no : it is not ; e.g., a no true "= it is not true.
aroun' : around.
as much wort' while : of as much value.
a whe' mumma deh ? where is mamma ?


ball-pan man : vendor of patties.
ban' : band.
bare-face : impudence.
barn : born. " From A barn "= since I was born ; in all my life.
bat' : bath.
bate : rest.
'batin' : abating.
batter : toil and moil,
beas' : beast ; i.e., horse, mule, or donkey,
beat de eight : do eight hours beat-duty,
becausen : because,
bedouten: without,
behin' : behind.
be'n : was, were ; e.g., " be'n deh fret "= were fretting,
bex' : vexed,
big-tree. A certain big tree in Kingston is the resort of
idlers and vicious characters,
bluff: big.
bluff: insult.
boun' : bound ; bind, oblige ; are bound,
'bout, 'bouten : about,
brukfus' : breakfast, the midday meal,
bud : bird.
bulldog boots : rope- soled slippers,
bumming: cadging, begging for gifts. The u has the value of the oo in book.
bungo : black African.


caan' : can't. A y is often slipped in after the c. Pro-
nounce kahn or kyahn.
car' : carry,
'causen : because,
'cep' : except.
chat, all deh : all are saying (how bad the policemen are),
chicaney: tricky.
Chiny : the Chinaman.
chock up : right up.
chune dem : tunes.
clot' : cloth.
comes-up : familiarity.
constab : policeman ; of or belonging to the constabulary. Pronounce the con as in condor.
corpy : corporal,
'cos : because,
cotch : stand still or lie, and refuse to move. Cotch donkey a cotching donkey. " Him always cotch " = he always cotches.
couldan : could,
couldn' : couldn't,
'counten o' : on account of.
couple : few.
cram' : crammed,
'cratch : scratch,
cut : sore,
cutliss : cutlass,


da': that.
dah : auxiliary ; e.g., " dah dun "= is dunning ; " dah sabe "= are saving,
dan: than,
dat: that.
de: the.
dead 'way : die away,
deaf ; death. To deaf "= exceedingly,
degra': degrade,
deh: there,
deh : auxiliary ; e.g., " me deh go "= I am going ; " me deh tell "= I am telling = I tell.
deir: their.
dem : as sign of plural, tacked closely to the preceding word. Thus " man dem "= men ; " beas' dem " beasts.
dem : them, their, they. " All dem boys, etc."=All them (those) boys with eboe-lights (eboe-light sticks), they are waiting there for me.
den: then,
dere: there,
dey : they ; " dey do "= they have ; " dey'd come "= they had come = they came,
diffran': different.
dih-ya: lengthened form of dere (there).
dis: this,
dis: just.
dis ya : this here, for this.
doana : do not.
dog-driver : nickname for a policeman,
do'n : down. The vowel has a short dumb sound, and is followed by a slight g.
don'-ea': don't care; inattentive,
don'-ca': nonchalance; indifference,
dough: though,
'dout, 'douten : without,
drop : atom ; scrap.
ducky hen : a small short-legged variety of hen.
dus': dust,
dutty : dirty,
dyin' out : very sick.


eber: ever.
ebery : every.
eboe-light dem : sticks made of eboe-light or torch-wood.
ef: if.
ef she gwin' go lef we : if she is going to (go and) leave us.
Ef you 'low, etc. : If you allow the sun to get hot, grass-lice (small ticks) will surely "make you know" (punish you),
en': end.
equip': equipped.


fabour say : it seems.
fait'ful: faithful.
fat : good food.
favour know : seem to know.
fe : for.
fe : to (sign of the infinitive).
fe go mek : to make.
fe late : to be late.
fe me : my ; literally, " for me."
fe you : your, yours.
fingle up : finger ; caress.
Finzi : rum.
flockin' : crowding round.
'fo': before.
form : pretend, sham.
fortnight : pay-day, which comes once a fortnight,
'fraid : afraid.
frien': friend ; in a special sense, paramour.
full: fill.
fus': first.
fyahn : fern.


ge'man : gentleman ; gentleman's,
get fe write : get the opportunity of writing,
gie'm : give him ; gave him.
gill : three farthings. " Gill bread "=loaf costing three
good, 'Fo we tu'n : hardly had we turned when
go'p : go up.
grass-lice : small ticks.
gro'l : growl.
groun': ground.
grudge : envy.
gwin': going (to).
gwin' go lef we : going to (go and) leave us.


hab : have.
hamper : panniers.
han': hand.
harse : horse.
hea': hear.
him : his : e.g., him nose=his nose.
h'is'in': hoisting. Pronounce with long i.
hop up : hold up, i.e., neglect to pay.
hound : chase.
hu't : hurt, hurts.

i' : it.
in-a : into the ; in the ; in.
ingredients : salt, pepper, butter, &c.


jack : donkey
jes' : just.
jesmy : jasmine. ' The buds are put in with the letter,
jine : join.
John-to-whit : the red-eyed greenlet. The name is imitative of the bird's note.
Judge de feelin's : Judge the feelings just think,
juice : deuce.


ketch: catch.
kep' : be kept.
'kin : skin.
kin' : kind. Pronounce with long i.
kit: job.
know, mek you : equivalent to the slang phrase " give you beans."
ko: look,
kue : hi !


laka dis : like this. The lak has the value of French lac.
Lard : Lord.
larn : learn, teach.
last, fe de : for the last time.
lay : lies ; lie.
leas' : least.
ledder: ladder.
lee : little.
lef : left ; leave.
lib : live,
li'l, lilly : little,
limber : see a-limber.
'lone : alone,
'long : along,
love' : loved,
lub: love.


mac : shilling, shillings ; short for macaroni.
manchinic : Martinique bananas.
marnin', soon a : early in the morning.
me : my. It is written thus in order to remind the reader that the y of my is almost invariably short,
me no know : I don't know,
me poor boy : I, poor fellow that I am ; poor I.
mek : make ; let.
mek we : let us.
mek you know : see know.
mell : meddle,
'member : remember,
mese'f: myself.
middle. " In de middle road "=in the middle of the road,
mighta : might.
min' : mind. Pronounce the i long,
mo' : more.
mountain-side : in the mountains,
mout' : mouth,
mudder: mother,
mus'n' : must not.
mus' smart : must be smart,
mussy : mercy,
mus' wukin' overdue : must be working overtime.


'neat' : beneath.
neber tens', &c. : never trust theirs as I can mine.
neider : neither.
no fe her own han' ?=is it not her own hand ?
no lef me : do not leave me.
nong : now. The vowel sound is very dumb and short.
northers : north winds.
not'in' : nothing. Pronounce nuttiri*.
'nough, 'nuff : enough.
no wuk : don't work.
nummo : no more.
nyam : eat. A monosyllable like yam.


ob : of.
ober-bex' : over-vexed.
ole : old.
ole-time : of or belonging to former times.
'ole : whole.
ondly : only.
ord'ly : orderly.
out : out of.
owna : own.


'panish-needle grass : Spanish Needle, a fodder plant,
partly: nearly,
pas': past,
pass : path.
petater: potato.
play : pretend.
play out : deceive.
plenty : many.
'pon : upon.
poo' : poor.
'port : report.
pupperlicks : head over heels ; turning somersaults.


'queeze: squeeze.


rag : (such) fine.
raise : contribution.
rash : rations.
rather tryin' : trying our best.
res': rest.
'res': arrest.
ring grand, was : rang out grandly.
risky : flirty.
roun': round.
roun-a : round the.
rule : regulations ; discipline.
rum's up : rum being about.


sabe : save.
Sah: Sir.
sake o' : on account of.
sal' : salt.
sail, in them : having a fine time of it. Pronounce sahl.
say :  This is often an intrusive word of no significance : e.g., " Jes' becausen say dem poor so "Just because they are so poor.
Say mumma, &c.?=Does he say mamma is sinking ?
see'm : see him.
seems : it seems.
self : even. " No wut gill self "=not even worth a gill,
sen' : send,
sence : since.
se'p me king : so help me God.
shedah : shadow,
shet : shut,
'side : beside,
shouldn': shouldn't,
slimber : slender.
S.M. : Sergeant Major,
snappy: ill-tempered,
so : such.
so-so : only ; nothing but ; bare,
soun': sound,
sport : sporting character,
'spose : I suppose,
stan' : stand,
swea' : swear.
sweet me : give me pleasure.
Syrian-boy : negro working for a Syrian pedlar.


talk, wi' sure : my eboe-light will surely talk, i.e., teach you a lesson by means of the drubbing it will give you.
'tall : at all.
'tan' deh hide : stand there and hide.
tarra : the other. Vowel-sound as in t'other.
tatters all : all tattered.
te-day : to-day, usually accented on the first syllable.
tek: take.
tell: till.
'ten': attend.
tendin' : looking after.
t'enk : thank.
'teppin' : stepping.
'ter: after.
them : their.
ti': till.
t'ick: thick.
tief : thieve, steal.
t'ing: thing.
t'ink : think.
'tion': attention (standing to).
togeder : together.
told good-night : wished good-night.
to'n : town. The vowel is very dumb.
'top: stop.
'top sleep : stop sleeping.
fought : thought.
'traight : straight.
trick : tricky.
'trong : strong.
t'rough : through.
t'row: throw.
trus' : trust ; give on trust ; take on trust.
try, wid all de etc. : try as hard as she may.
tu'n : turn. Pronounce tu'nirf tunnin.
tup : twopence of the old Jamaica coinage ; three halfpence of the new.
two-an'-four : the ordinary policeman's daily pay.


udder : other, other's.
unno : you. The u sounds between o and u, and the final o is more like oo, but very short,
use': used,
ushal : usual (with the middle syllable unpronounced). Except for this omission, the pronunciation is identical.


v'ice : voice. " Ha' no v'ice "=can't say anything.


wan' : want. The to after want is generally omitted. Thus "wan' go "=want to go ; " want see "=want to see.
warra : what. The value of the a is unchanged.
way: away.
we: us; our.
weader : weather.
wha': what. " Wha' de doctor t'ink?"=What does the doctor think? "Wha' de use ?"= What is the use ? Pronounce the a precisely as in what.
wha' it : what.
whe': where.
whe': who, whom. The e is short, as in wet.
wi': will; will be.
wi': with.
wid : with.
won': won't.
wort' while, wut while : worth while, meaning profitable, serviceable, useful.
wouldan : would, not to be confused with the following,
wouldn' : would not.
wud : word,
wuk : work,
wul': world.
wut, no : not worth ; is no use.
wutless, wutlessness : worthlessness, badness, rascality,
wutten price : worth his price,
wut while : worth while, i.e., of any use and profit.

ya: here.
yah : do you hear ? often thrown in without any particular meaning.
yerry-yerries : minnows,
yet : hereafter ; in time to come,
you': your. The ou pronounced as in you.
you sick : you are sick.

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