The Wife of Willesden: A Glossary

FEB 14, 2023

by Zadie Smith

Note on the Text

In North West London—as in any corner of any big city—we have some vocabulary that is peculiar to the neighbourhood, and may need translation. Also: places, objects, and ideas. Please find below fifty explanations and translations that we hope will illuminate some of the “North Wheezian” peculiarities you will find in your entertainment this evening.

  1. The Kilburn High Road: An ancient and ungentrifiable street that runs through North West London. Mainly chicken shops.
  2. The Colin Campbell: An old pub on the Kilburn High Road
  3. The Big Issue: A magazine created and sold by the unhoused.
  4. Flexing: Showing off, especially with clothes or money.
  5. From mi eye deh a mi knee: From back when my eyes were at my knees. Therefore: since I was a small child. From Jamaican Patois.
  6. Brassic: To be very low on funds; broke
  7. Slagging off/Slating: Talking shit about somebody
  8. Kipping:Sleeping
  9. To take the huff: To get offended
  10. Proper screwing:To be really annoyed
  11. low it: Not to judge something too harshly; to “allow it.”
  12. Eediat: From Jamaican Patois.
  13. To rinse: To use up all of something
  14. Chatting breeze: Talking a load of nonsense
  15. Grinding:To dance very close to another person in a sexual manner
  16. Baileys: An alcoholic Irish Cream drink
  17. Jamming: Hanging around with a friend
  18. Camden Palais: A beloved North London nightclub, now under new management and renamed. 
  19. Cuss: To run someone down, verbally.
  20. Mandem: Your crew, your boys.
  21. Galdem: Your crew, your girls.
  22. To eff with: To mess with somebody
  23. Chief: A dated North West London phrase from the 90s, now obsolete, meaning complete and utter idiot.
  24. Pum pum: A vagina 
  25. Mi deh yah: Everything is good, I’m here, I’m ok. A transplanted idiom from Jamaican Patois.
  26. Braffing: From Jamaican Patois.
  27. Pickney: From Jamaican Patois.
  28. Hang wid da yute: Spend time with young people. From Jamaican Patois.
  29. Raving: Going out to nightclubs and dancing all night. Also can be done in a field. 
  30. James Crook: A Victorian family-run Funeral Directors in North West London, still in operation.
  31. Fit: Good-looking
  32. Traipsing: Wandering around North West London, usually in search of late-night transport.
  33. Brent: London is divided into thirty-two Boroughs. Brent is ours.
  34. To chirps: To chat someone up; to flirt
  35. Arse over tit: To fall over dramatically
  36. Teef: A thief
  37. Banging on and on: Talking about something in a relentless manner
  38. Bailiff: The guy who comes to repossess your furniture when you can’t pay a debt.
  39. Pisshead: A drunk 
  40. Duppy: A malevolent spirit or ghost. From Jamaican Patois.
  41. River Mumma and Ol’Higue: Fearsome female figures from Jamaican folklore
  42. Muss-muss: Really ugly and dishevelled. From Jamaican Patois.
  43. Creps: Sneakers
  44. Butters: Old North Wheezian term, now obsolete, meaning: unattractive.
  45. Buss up: Blow up, explode. From Jamaican Patois.
  46. Arks: Ask
  47. Oh my days!: You can’t be serious! Wow!
  48. Bwoy: Young man. From Jamaican Patois.
  49. Wastemen: The sort of men who waste your time, energy, money; a generally useless man.
  50. Cut up about it: Very upset about something
  51. The Ends: Another term for your neighbourhood, wherever your neighbourhood may be. Every borough in London believes they invented this phrase, but there is no doubt in our minds that its true origins are to be found right here, in North West London.

Zadie Smith is the author of the novels White Teeth, The Autograph Man, On Beauty, NW, and Swing Time; as well as a novella, The Embassy of Cambodia; three collections of essays, Changing My Mind, Feel Free, and Intimations; and a short story collection, Grand Union.

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