Island Vernacular

Living The Harbour Island Dream

by Roy Schmidt


Harbour Island is often referred to as Briland, and the inhabitants as Brilanders. This contraction is understandable when the location is expressed quickly in Bahamian as “arbor h’Island.

Words beginning with vowels are prefaced with an “H” sound, but the “H” is dropped from words beginning with “H.” The letter “H” would be pronounced “haitch”. A person would be in ‘is ‘ouse when at ‘ome.

“V’s” and “W’s” are reversed. A car or boat is backed up by “rewoise ‘er back”. The expression vice versa, if it were used, would come out “wice woisa”. The Brooklynese is a mystery.

During the annual Christmas caroling around the fig tree, the song NOEL sounds like “No H’ell”.



“Tryin’ t’ make it.”   A common response to “How are you?”

“Tingum” is used in reference to an object in place of the actual word. A sauce pan might be “that cookin’ tingum.”

“Cut it on  — cut it off”.  The process of turning something on or off, i.e. an auto, a boat, a mower, etc.

“Can’t catch myself.” Usually spoken by a male on Monday mornings after a weekend of drinking. The cure is a few beers before coming to work.

“Half empty,” or might be “One quarter empty.” Never expressed in terms of fullness. Could be a gas tank, a bucket, or some other container.

“Jus’ me one.”  Only me, no others.

“Mussee be.”  for must be. — ‘e mussee be out fishin.

“’e ‘ead ain’t right” for “his head ain’t right.” Indicative of a mental disorder.  Also, “ ‘e funny.”

“New brand” as in a brand new bicycle or other item.
“Soon come.”  The mail boat will be here shortly.

“Biggety” – to describe someone who is outspoken, stuck-up, uppity, superior, etc.

Comment by Bonefish Stanley Johnson, a fishing guide. “h’I got no sense of humor for sharks.”

Our bartender Alkie (aptly named but not a drinker), referring to someone’s health problem, “’e got some kind of  ‘eart trouble. I think maybe h’artritis.”

Method of describing the size of a fish. Extend left arm and lay side of right hand on arm to show the length from the left finger tips. I don’t know what they do if the fish is longer than the left arm.

“Good night.”  In response to a hello after dark.

“h’ain’t seen my ‘ealth in two months”, meaning she’s pregnant.


Creativity in names flourished, especially for the women. Two Higgs sisters had the lyrical names of Generosa and Arimenta.

One of our office girls was Healias, pronounced ‘Ealias. Cecilia in our office, named her daughters Indira and Indisha.

A young maid had produced her first child, a daughter, and announced to us that her name was Joelitha. Three weeks later she said, “I didn’t want my girl called Joe, so I changed her name to Ishmelita” A few weeks later she was back to Joelitha.

Our excellent cook was Jessilee.

A maid was named Orley —  probably a phonetic interpretation from the song “Aura Lee”.

    The men had traditional names, mainly from British influence — Neville, Cyril, Duval, Basil, Leander, Edgel, Casper, Israel, Percival, Reginald. Last but not least was our favorite bartender, Alquin. His nickname, Alkie suited his profession. He now owns the liquor store in town.

I was addressed by our staff as “Chief” or “Bossman.” Naturally, Moyra was “Bosslady.”

Just a part of the charm of Harbour Island.