What de rass is bomboclaat?

When you go to Twitter to see if “sco pa tu manaa” is over and they just shifted it to “bomboclaat.”

After wishing all the people posting “sco pa tu manaa” would just go the fuck to sleep, I was really happy to see the “bomboclaat” meme circulating at first. We don’t see enough sweary Patois! Admittedly, I couldn’t see what was so “fuck, man” about some of the images, but…

…but then I found out that most people using the meme had no idea what bomboclaat means and were just using it to mean “caption this” – or, even less usefully, something vague and phatic, like Bazinga!

I knew what bomboclaat means because I live in Toronto. It’s not that I learned it from a member of Toronto’s fairly large Jamaican community. It’s that Rob Ford did. Do you remember him? The pasty-white crack-smoking buffoon that an inattentive electorate made mayor of Canada’s largest city? Well, in one of the quite a few videos that came out of him being an intoxicated lout, he was imitating Jamaican Patois, and one of the words he used was bomboclaat. You can hear it at 25 seconds in this video:

It’s quite the word, and it dropped on me with a bomb’s éclat. So of course I had to know about its semantics and etymology.

Semantically, it’s very flexible – it’s an all-purpose swear. As dictionary.com explains, using another common spelling for the word (there are a few), “bumbaclot can be a noun (what a bumbaclot), modifier (this bumbaclot store), verb (don’t you bumbaclot me), or exclamation (Bumbaclot! I fucked up my hand).” This is apparently how the meme got started: @rudebwoy_lamz, who is Jamaican, tweeted an image showing a “Bomboclaat!” moment and some other people recaptioned it –

and so on – and it took off from there, with many of those who picked up the meme not knowing what bomboclaatreally is. Which frustrated @rudebwoy_lamz too.

In languages worldwide, swears most often involve sex, hygiene, parents, and/or religion. Jamaican Patois draws on the first two for these, especially the hygiene part, in bomboclaat and its siblings bloodclaat and rassclaat.

Claat, you see, is the Patois reflex of cloth – though the word with a more equivalent tone in modern English would be rag. The reference is mainly to menstruation, which has a particular taboo attached to it in Rastafarianism. Blood, as in bloodclaat, is the same blood as English blood. Bombo or bumba looks like bum and was very likely influenced by it, though it may trace back to a word meaning ‘vulva’ from one or more West African languages. And rass? It is not from Ras Tafari! It’s the Patois reflex of ass (arse), and if you’re wondering where the came from, consider that your ass translates to yuh rass.

Rass can also be used as a stand-alone swear, a fact adeptly used by Kwame Dawes and Kellie Magnus in their splendid Patois translation of Go the Fuck to Sleep:

IMG_1496

Go de Rass to Sleep.


Which would also be good advice for everyone still using bomboclaat without knowing where it’s from and what it means there.

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