Island Vocabulary Lesson #1: Anguilla

It isn’t difficult to fall in love with island accents, especially if you’ve naturally begun to associate them with that mesmerizing bliss that takes over when you’re in a Caribbean paradise. (A word of advice though: Don’t get so obsessed that you borderline stalk a guy in the grocery store because you hear him talking on his cell in a lovely island accent like somebody I know. Ahem.)

Although English is the primary language spoken in Anguilla, I have to admit that there have been times there where I felt like I couldn’t understand a word of what was being said around me. (And no, it wasn’t because of the rum punches. Well ok, not most of the time.)  It wasn’t so much the Anguillian accent that gave me trouble, but that combined with fast-talkers and some unfamiliar words and phrases did sometimes put me in a state of confusion.

Thankfully, most of the locals that I’ve interacted with have been very patient with me and, when I needed it, have kindly repeated themselves or helped me to understand without the slightest hint of annoyance.

I did recognize that there were times where I was better off not interrupting, though, like during an intense political conversation  (Anguilla elections are coming up in mid February 2010, so people are talking politics pretty much everywhere on the island these days.) or during equally as heated post-boat-race-analysis discussions (boat racing is the national sport of Anguilla).  In situations like these where I had very little to contribute because of my lack of specific knowledge on the subject matter, I was happy to sit quietly on the sidelines and  just observe.

It can be a lot of fun to watch these often animated conversations because there always seems to be at least one jokester in the group who will pipe up and say something random like “When I’m Chief Minister of this island, everyone will be required to wear g-strings and thongs!” to break up the tension (Yes, I actually heard that once.).  Ehrm… or maybe that’s just the bunch of clowns that I hang out with.  Ahem again.

Anyway, once you’ve gotten a chance to chat with some locals or listen to them speak, you might hear some unfamiliar words and expressions being used. I’ve included a few examples that I’ve heard in Anguilla below. I’m sure these words/phrases are not used only on this one island, and they may very well be widely used even outside the Caribbean, but they definitely aren’t common in the east-coast English that I’m used to, so they were new to me! (Please feel free to correct me if I’ve gotten anything wrong!)

“Good morning”, “Good day”, and  “Good night” – These terms are all common island greetings (Yes, even “good night” is a way to say hello.) and they are all commonly used by locals at different times of the day. Amongst friends, you might find it more comfortable using more relaxed greetings like “Hey” or “What’s going on?” (which might you might sometimes hear shortened to something like “Whagwaan?”), but with others it is considered to be more polite and respectful to use one of the above three greetings.

“Lime” – I know this word is used throughout the Caribbean as a verb meaning to hang out and take it easy.  You might hear it used as in “I’m just limin’.” or “I’m goin’ out limin’ tonight.” From what I’ve been told, the term originated from times when people used to sit and relax in the shade underneath lime trees.

“Reach” – I’ve found that “reach” is sometimes used the same way I would use the word “arrive”.  So a friend might say something like  “Give me a call when you reach.”.

“Carry” – When someone asks you to “carry” them somewhere, they’re asking for you to drive them there.  I was once warned, by locals, to be careful about asking for “a ride” in Anguilla because it might be taken the wrong way (especially when said by a woman), but I have commonly heard locals asking to “get a ride”, so I’m not completely sure on this one.  I guess I avoid asking for “rides” just to be safe.

“Take-away” – This just means “take-out” or “carry-out”” as in ordering food to-go from a restaurant.  So, you might walk into a restaurant and place a take-away order.

“Partner” – This term is used commonly among guys (and maybe among women too, but I didn’t hear that usage myself) to indicate someone who is a buddy or good friend.  In Anguilla, though, it does not carry the same connotation of a romantic relationship as it might if used in the states.

“By me” – At first, when someone said to me “You should come have lunch by me this weekend”, I assumed that she just meant that we’d eat at a restaurant close to where she lived.  What she actually meant was that she was inviting me to her house for a meal.  So when someone says something about coming “by you”, it means they’re talking about showing up at your place.

“Liar” – This one is not so much unfamiliar as it is something that I misunderstood more than once.  In two separate instances (on two different trips – so maybe the amount of time between them was why I forgot?) I was asked by locals “Are you a liar?”.  Both times, my immediate reaction was to get flustered and offended and say “I’m not a liar!” and frantically wonder what could possibly have given them that idea!  Both times my companions laughed at my misunderstanding and repeated themselves more slowly so that I understood what they were really asking: “Are you a lawyer?” (I’m not, but maybe I look like one?)  So, the island accent got me on this one.  I know that the “lawyers are liars” joke has been around forever, but the double meaning was definitely unintended on the part of my Anguillian friends.

I’m sure there is much more to learn on my future trips but for now I’m just concentrating on remembering that “lawyer” thing so I don’t embarrass myself again!


  1. Great write up! Love the perspective. I think a lot of people (especially people on cruises who don’t usually do island research before visiting) forget the customs of greeting and politeness. It’s very important in my book.

    I’m going to post this story on my fan page if that’s cool. I think my readers would love to read the different phrases of Anguilla and the Caribbean.

    • Hi Ryan! Thanks, as always, for reading and for the compliment. I think it’s really important to observe and respect how other people interact too. You’re right that too many people don’t care so much about “doing as the locals do”, and end up looking foolish if not being downright offensive.

      Thanks so much for passing this post on via your fan page! I’m honored! :)

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