How To Swear and Possibly Win a Fight In Nigerian

Yoruba, unlike English, is undiluted.   An insult is an insult, no two ways about it.

A lot of the insults centre around the head, unlike English swear words that focus mostly on  fornication and private parts.

A bad thing to say in Yoruba is  ori e oda (your head is not correct).  Slightly up on the offensive grid is ori e o pe which means the same thing but slightly more intensely.  Moving even further up the scale we  have Iya e (your mum) this of course is an international insult but in Yoruba if you accompany iya e  with a gesture of splayed fingers directed towards your foe,  you have crossed a line. Expect your opponent to start tying her wrappa more firmly around her waist as she challenges you to a fight.

A word to the wise; never ever get into a fight with a Nigerian woman (or women from south west Africa), especially a market women.  The rules of the fight are as follows,

1) Everything is permissible

2)The winner is the one left holding the knickers (panties)  of the loser in her hand after ripping off all her opponents outer garments.

Don’t get involved…it’s just not worth it.

English  has more twists and turns; it is less direct and more malleable.  As I gradually pick up on the language, the otherness of Nigerians fades away, the gabbling noises that once sounded so foreign now sound like the conversations I once used to over hear between housewives shopping in my local Sainsburys back home in England.

It is only when I start to absorb the information through language that I realize that I too have been prejudiced in my own way.  Recalling how the aggressive jibber jabber is and has always been no more than a language that I needed to learn.  I start to see how in return Nigerians who speak no English regard  English  as jibber jabber too.

While watching TV at Mama Toyin’s house, I start singing along to a  Sheena Easton video ‘My baby takes the morning train.’ Mama Toyin asks me,

‘Do you actually understand what that white woman is singing?’ She stares at Sheena Easton with a mixture of suspicion and fascination.

I nod my head and Mama Toyin looks at me in disbelief.  I know what she is thinking.  ‘How can that jibber jabber be a language?’

FOOTNOTE:  There are three main tribal languages in Nigeria Yoruba-Southwest Nigeria, Igbo Eastern Nigeria and Hausa Northern Nigeria.  Interestingly enough the  Hausa language of the Muslim Northerners sounds similar to Arabic…

Some Igbo dialects have an inexplicably similar cadence to Japanese and to add to the mystery many Igbos have what one might call Asian features.

Please feel free to leave a comment …



  1. November 26, 2012 at 10:47 pm

    Excellent info and interestingly written. Keep up the good stuff!

  2. January 2, 2017 at 3:46 pm

    The Hausa for many centuries were in contact with the Arab world, being the main traders in their part of Africa (now Nigeria), so I suppose it would get into the language, wouldn’t it, as French and Norse got into English. I lived in Lagos for a while as a teenager, very fond memories of that wonderful country and its charming peoples, and the Hausa traders coming to our door. I suppose I should add it was just after independence, before it all went so sadly wrong. Hopefully, things will continue to get better. Thank you for this article. Enough of my jibber jabber! I was researching Yoruba language, so will get back to that now!

    • olarhodes said,

      January 5, 2017 at 2:09 am

      Hello Rory, thank you for you comment. I find language fascinating and yes you are right about the Hausa’s. When I lived in Lagos between the ages of 23 and 17, I always thought that the men and women from the North were ‘exotic’ – especially the Fulani women.
      Yes it is like this the world over, language is a liquid form that changes shape as it moves.

  3. Bruce T. said,

    October 4, 2017 at 6:31 pm

    I had two very close friends from Nigeria in college. Both were from near Calabar. We shared a bathroom between or rooms in the ancient dorm we lived so we got to know each other well. When my roommate flunked out early, I didn’t know a soul on campus except my advisor and those two guys.

    They both came from well to do families, and were always inviting the various Nigerians they’d met over hang out. I used to call our rooms “Little Lagos” because there were so many Nigerians in and and out. When they first started coming over there were times I thought they were speaking in various local dialects as the cadence was odd and they were speaking at a mile a minute? I could make out a few words of English in there, but I figured it was something they didn’t have a cognate for? I thought they were ignoring me, so I’d normally head to my room. They’d look at me odd, and I’d look back the same way. There was some tension but I couldn’t figure out what was up?

    One night I go to bed early, about month and a half after we’d become the defacto Nigerian Students Center. As I’m nodding off I can hear four or five guys talking and I know what they’re saying! They’re talking about where to get a carburetor for a used Toyota! They’d been speaking their version English around me for weeks! The two guys I knew slowed it down a bit when it was three of us, it was accented with some local terms thrown in, but understandable. However, once there were more than few guys around it was their version of English at full speed.

    It was funny when I told my friends the next day, they and the others thought I was either very shy or extremely rude. From then on I start to fit in. We became the best of friends, rooming together in various places throughout school. Jibber-jabber, even in ones own language can go both ways.

    One of those fellows had the epicanthic folds around his eyes you mentioned, something we had in common. It’s a common feature in my family, too, but God only knows where it comes from? People would notice it and comment and we’d say we were brothers. It made the girls laugh, and that’ s what we wanted.

    • olarhodes said,

      October 7, 2017 at 12:51 am

      Hi Bruce, interesting story and very funny. Thanks for sharing it 🙂

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