Author Archives: nkmcmill

Wap konn Jój

-Haitian Creole saying

-direct English translation: “You will know George.”

-Dom’s colloquial translation: “Basically means you gonna find out or you’ll know soon – origins are debated”

My friend, Dom, is from Atlanta, GA; however, both of his parents were born in Haiti. He is fluent in Haitian Creole, and quite passionate about his heritage, culture, and driving upliftment of Haiti and its inhabitants.

According to Dom, “Wap konn Joj” directly translates to “You will know George.” However, he likens it to the more commonly Black American saying, “Fuck around and find out.” Growing up, he would hear it from his parents at times when he was perhaps doing something or going down a path that would end negatively, perhaps at the hands of the speaker. In this way, it can be somewhat of a threat or warning to stop doing something before the speaker (or someone/something else) intervenes/consequences arrive.

The number of translations and informational videos about the saying and how it’s used in Haiti give me the impression that it is pretty widely known on the island and among members of the diaspora. Additionally, popular Haitian-American rapper Mach-Hommy has a 2022 album titled Wap Konn Jój, further implying my former statement. 

According to Dom and the Founder and Director of the Haitian Creole Language Institute of New York, Wynnie Lamour, origins of the phrase are debated; however, “the most common is that it’s attributed to Hurricane Georges that passed through Haiti in September 1998, causing great damage…Still, others claim that it was a popular saying warning schoolchildren to behave, or they will know Jòj, another word for the rigwaz, or whip. Most likely, it is a Biblical reference to St. George, who is known for bringing the mad back to their senses.”

Regardless of the story behind the mysterious “George,” the meaning of this saying seems to be made clear to most Haitians from an early age. 

Pa fe bouche mwen long

-Haitian Creole saying

-direct English translation: “Don’t make my mouth long”

-Dom’s colloquial translation: “Don’t piss me off, basically”

My friend, Dom, is from Atlanta, GA; however, both of his parents were born in Haiti. He is fluent in Haitian Creole, and quite passionate about his heritage, culture, and driving upliftment of Haiti and its inhabitants.

According to Dom, “Pa fe bouche mwen long” directly translates to “Don’t make my mouth long,” however, it essentially means “Don’t piss me off.” He heard it from his parents and other adults in his community if he or others were bothering or angering them. 
Most of the online media defining this saying provide only colloquial translations. However, as I suspected when Dom first told it to me, according to Learn Haitian Creole, somewhere between the direct and colloquial is the translation, “Don’t make me talk too much.” When Dom’s mom would tell him not to make her mouth long, she was really instructing him not to get her worked up to the point of having to lecture or yell at him.

Haz el bien, sin mirar a quien.

-Spanish proverb

-direct English translation: “Do the right (thing) without looking at who”

-Miguel’s colloquial translation: “..which means do right, without prejudice”

Miguel is a friend I met as freshmen at USC; however, we both call the Bay Area home. He grew up in Richmond, CA and his mom is from Guanajuato, Mexico but moved to Oakland, CA when she was 11. Although Miguel grew up immersed in Bay Area Chican@ culture, he actually didn’t hear this saying that much growing up. 

It is more significant for his mother, who heard it from parents and elder relatives. Findings from brief research online, i.e. a book of 6000 Spanish proverbs that is named after this one and numerous downloadable wallpapers of the phrase, would suggest it’s quite a common proverb, although origins are difficult to establish. 

In addition to stressing the importance of doing the “right” or “good” thing, this proverb commands listeners to do so with and for anyone. Not only does it ask listeners to act without prejudice, it implicitly requests that we are “good” even if someone else is “bad.” Neither prejudice nor bitterness justify maltreatment of people. One’s own judgment doesn’t either; in this sense, the proverb evokes biblical teachings that “only God can judge,” that individuals are in charge of their own fate/salvation/repentance and the actions or inactions of others should not determine/compromise one’s own. 

My eyeballs (are) floating out of my head.

-American English saying

-Taylor-Corrine’s translation: ”Gotta pee bad”

My friend, Taylor-Corrine, is from Seattle, WA. While she identifies as Black, she belongs to a diverse familial heritage characterized by African American, Caribbean, Italian, and Native/Indigenous cultures. Perhaps as a result, it’s not uncommon for the most random and/or niche sayings to slip right out of her mouth like they’re a part of common vocabulary, and for me to, of course, have questions. This occurred one day recently, when we accidentally locked ourselves out of our own bathroom at our house. 

She said, “My eyeballs floating out of my head,” and seemed surprised by my confused look before telling me it means she “gotta pee bad.” Taylor-Corrine grew up hearing her maternal grandmothers say the phrase. She joked about her ignorance regarding the saying’s origin, “Ion know if it was some shit from the Great Depression or some Italian shit but my great grandma n great great grandma said it when I was younger.”

While not much seems to be out there on the phrase based on a quick Google search, I found an Urban Dictionary folk definition for the phrase “my eyeballs are floating,” which means “My bladder is full; I need to pee.” Therefore, it is definitely used outside of Taylor-Corrine’s family. Additionally, a list of “The 16 Funniest Southern Expressions” on Destination Tips includes the phrase, “My back teeth are floating,” with “my eyes are floating” as a less common alternative. 

Perhaps, then, the saying emerged in the American South. However, this is unclear. Nonetheless, even without a direct translation and only context, the imagery evoked makes sense for what is being conveyed: one’s bladder is so full, the liquid has leaked and started filling the rest of the body to the point of causing the eyes to float. 

Aqoon la’aani waa iftiin la’aan.

-Somali Proverb

-Translation: “Without knowledge, there is no light.”

Khalif was born to Somali immigrants in Minneapolis, MN. “My parents told me this all the time,” he said of the proverb, which he believes is quite common among Somalis. The phrase translates in English to “Without knowledge, there is no light.” He grew up hearing it as a reminder to put effort into learning and pursue higher education. 

The proverb serves as somewhat of a cautionary warning. It brings up the widespread but elusive concept of “light” as a metaphorical synonym of, perhaps in this context, goodness, wellness, success, joy. It also implies that without knowledge, one’s life will be, in contrast, dark–messy, ugly, difficult to navigate. Therefore, this Somali proverb is also saying that without knowledge, one cannot see. In that, one cannot make decisions, at least informed ones, that improve his or her life (or the lives of others). 

It evokes the lightbulb imagery associated with ideas. Knowledge lights the way.