Rastafarian vocabulary

Rastafarian vocabulary

Rastafarian vocabulary, or Iyaric, is part of a created dialect of English. The adherents of Rastafari teachings believe that their original African languages were stolen from them when they were taken into captivity as part of the slave trade, and that English is an imposed colonial language. Their remedy for this situation has been the creation of a modified vocabulary and dialect, reflecting their desire to take forward language and to confront what they see as the corrupt and decadent society they call Babylon. This is accomplished by avoiding words and syllables seen as negative, such as "back", and changing them to positive ones.

I words

* "I" replaces "me", which is much more commonly used in Jamaican English than in the more conventional forms. "Me" is felt to turn the person into an object whereas "I" emphasises the subjectivity of an individual.
* "I and I" is a complex term, referring to the oneness of Jah (God) and every human. Rastafarian scholar E. E. Cashmore: "I and I is an expression to totalize the concept of oneness, the oneness of two persons. So God is within all of us and we're one people in fact. The bond of Ras Tafari is the bond of God, of man. But man itself needs a head and the head of man is His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I (always pronounced as the letter 'I,' never as the number one or 'the first') of Ethiopia." The term is often used in place of "you and I" or "we" among Rastafarians, implying that both persons are united under the love of Jah. See also: mysticism.
* "I-tal" is spiritually blessed food that has not touched modern chemicals and is served without preservatives, condiments or salts. Alcohol, coffee, milk, and flavoured beverages are generally viewed as not I-tal. Most Rastas follow the I-tal proscriptions generally, and some are vegetarians. Even meat-eating Rastas abstain from eating pork, as pigs are scavengers of the dead, as are crabs, lobsters, and shrimp (whose banning coincides with the restrictions of Kashrut), though other kinds of seafood are a Rastafarian staple.
* "I man" is the inner man within each Rastafari believer.
* "Irie" refers to positive emotions or feelings, or anything that is good. Specifically it refers to high emotions and peaceful vibrations.
* "Ites" derived from English "heights", means "joy" and also the colour "red". It can also be short for "Israelites".
* "Itesquake" replaces "earthquake".
* "Irator" replaces "creator", and "Iration" replaces "creation".
* "Idren" or "Bredren" and "Sistren" refer to the oneness of Rastafarians and are used to describe one's peers (male - "bredren", female - "sistren").
* "Itinually" replaces continually. It has the everlasting/everliving sense of I existing continuously.
* "Inity" replaces "unity", demonstrating a general pattern of replacing "you" and similar sounds with "I".
* "Iya" (higher): Rastafari vocabulary is full of references to the "iya man", "stepping higher and higher", etc., meaning either a reference to using cannabis, or the high aspirations, path etc. followed by the Rastafari. Iya is also used to refer to a friend. As in "Yes Iya", or "Cool Iya".
* "Iyaric" is the self-applied term for Rastafarian language. It is formed by a combination of "Iya" (higher) and "Amharic," the language spoken by Haile Selassie I.
* "Iwa" replaces "time". "Inna this ya iwa."

Other words

*"Dreadlocks" describes the locks they wear, now universally called dreadlocks in English. The word is related to the fear of the Lord, as well as the fear locksmen inspired in the early stages of the movement. To Rastas, dreadlocks are a deeply spiritual part of who they are. They cite the Bible verse, "And she made a vow, saying, "O LORD Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant's misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head." Samuel 1 1:11. [http://rastaphilosophy.com/images/Dreadlocks.pdf] Dreadlocks are formed by simply not combing your hair. Rastas see this as the most natural way to grow your hair as well as a symbol of defiance.
*"Babylon" is an important Rastafarian term, referring to human government and institutions that are seen as in rebellion against the rule of JAH (God), beginning with the Tower of Babel. It is further used by some to mean specifically the 'polytricksters' who have been oppressing the black race for centuries through economic and physical slavery. Rastafari is defiance of Babylon, sometimes also called Rome — in part because of the 1935 Italian invasion of Ethiopia, then ruled by Rastafari's 'Living God,' Haile Selassie I, and partly because as the head of the Roman Catholic church the Pope is considered an opponent of Selassie I and Rastafari. "Babylon the Great" and "Whore of Babylon" are apocalyptic terms from the book of Revelation that may have been used to describe the pagan Roman Empire, which often persecuted Christianity. "Babylon" is also sometimes used by some Rastas with the more specific meaning of "police", insofar as they are seen as executive agents of Babylon's will.
* "Politricks" is a Rasta term replacing English "politics", because so many politicians, etc. turn out, they say, to be more like tricksters. "Politrickster" n.
*"Everliving" replaces "everlasting", particularly in the context of Life Everliving. The "last" in "everlasting" implies an end (as in the term "at last"), while the life the Rastas have will never end according to them, they being immortalists. Often used in the phrase "...I an I is Everliving, Everfaithful, Eversure. Ras Tafari."
*"H.I.M." (His Imperial Majesty), pronounced "him", and referring to Haile Selassie I.
*"Downpression" replaces "oppression", because oppression holds man down instead of keeping him up (pronounced "op" in Jamaican patois.) Similarly "downgression" = "violence" (from "aggression"). "Downpressor" n. /see Peter Tosh song "Downpressor Man" aka "Sinner Man".
*"Livication" replaces "dedication", to rid itself of a connotation of death. "adj. Livicated. v. Livicate."
*"Outvention" replaces "invention", because mechanical devices are seen as outdated, and because it is the inner experience of being a Rastafarian that is invention.
*"Overstanding" (also "innerstanding") replaces "understanding", referring to enlightenment that raises one's consciousness.
*"Aprecilove" replaces "appreciate" because of the similarity to hate.
* "Amagideon"/"Gideon" is a Rasta theological concept meaning the general state the entire world is in now, and has been getting progressively deeper in since 1930, and especially since 1974. This is a slight mutation of Armageddon, a name appearing in Revelation. Also the name of a song written by the reggae legend Neville Livingston, aka Bunny Wailer.
*"Zion" refers to either Ethiopia or the whole continent of Africa, after the Day of Judgment, as well as a state of mind one can enter through Rastafari.
*"Know" replaces "believe", as Bob Marley sang. Rastafarians do not believe Haile Selassie is God and that they the Rastas are the chosen people. They claim to know these things, and would never admit to believing them.
*"Whore of Babylon" is the Revelation character sometimes considered to be Queen Elizabeth II, who is still the Head of State of Jamaica; and/or the papacy.

Popular impact

Several Rastafarian words have migrated into mainstream English usage, or even widespread global usage. The term "dreadlocks", for example, is used worldwide to denote the unique hairstyle which was popularized by the Rastafari. Rastafarian usage of words like "Zion" and "Babylon" has entered hip hop culture through Caribbean-American and Caribbean-British rappers/musicians. Some criminals in Europe, perhaps influenced by popular culture depictions of or actual encounters with Afro-Caribbean 'rudeboy' gangs, use the term "babylon" to refer to the police. Most often this is in the context of a shouted warning, indicating the arrival of officers at the scene of a crime.

Radio station WOCM/98.1 FM in Ocean City, MD bills itself as "IrieRadio", and is owned by the Seacrets Night Club in Ocean City, which calls itself "Jamaica, USA." 98.1's transmitter is located in Salisbury, MD.

The character Little Jacob in Grand Theft Auto IV speaks with this Rastafarian vocabulary.


Johnson, Ken (1972). “The vocabulary of race.” In: Rappin’ and Stylin’ Out: Communication in Urban Black America. Thomas Kochman, ed. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, pp. 140-151.

Legman, Gershon (1964). The Horn Book: Studies in Erotic Folklore and Bibliography. New Hyde Park, NY: University Books.

Legman, Gershon (1975). Rationale of the Dirty Joke: An Analysis of Sexual Humor. Second Series. New York: Breaking Point.

Levine, Robert M. (1980). Race and Ethnic Relations in Latin America and the Caribbean: An Historical Dictionary and Bibliography. Metuchen, New Jersey: Scarecrow Press.

Mills, Jane (1989). Womanwords: A Dictionary of Words about Women. New York: Free Press.

Paros, Lawrence (1984). The Erotic Tongue: A Sexual Lexicon. New York: Henry Holt.

Partridge, Eric (1984). A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English: Colloquialisms and Catch-phrases Solecisms and Catachreses Nicknames and Vulgarisms. Paul Beal, ed. New York: Macmillan Publishing.

Partridge, Eric (1989 [1950] ). A Dictionary of the Underworld. Hertfordshire, Great Britain: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

External links

* [http://THSlone.tripod.com/rasta-bibliography.html Annotated bibliography of Rastafarian speech]
* [http://jah.org.ru/ Rasta Patois - Russian Dictionary]

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