I have come across yet another of the internet’s little-known lexicographical resources, Babawilly’s Dictionary of Pidgin English Words and Phrases:

Pidgin English is spoken widely across Nigeria. It is a language made up of elements of the Queen’s English and the local dialects. With Nigeria having about 250 tribes in all, one finds a lot of variation in the type of Pidgin English spoken by the different ethnic groups. In this compilation I have limited myself to what I would call ‘Lagos Pidgin’ as this is what I am familiar with. The three major Nigerian languages namely Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa feature prominently in Pidgin English in general, however with Lagos being historically a Yoruba city ‘Lagos Pidgin’ consists of a disproportionately high number of Yoruba words.

A couple of entries will suggest the flavor:
Dey: 1. Is e.g. wetin dey happun 2. Location e.g. where you dey 3. Stance in the matter e.g. which one you dey sef. 4. In existence 5. Spectacular e.g. dat car dey well-well.
Dey laik Dele: (Dele is a Yoruba name) 1. I am barely surviving e.g Man juss Dey laik Dele. 2. Being idle e.g You juss dey there laik Dele . Also – Standing like Standard Bank, Looking like Lucozade and Dey like you no dey.
I was led to this site by investigating a Lagos term used in teju cole, a temporary blog reporting on a visit home by a Nigerian long resident in the U.S.; it’s full of beauty, sadness, and keen observations on life in Nigeria and in general, and I recommend it to your attention before it vanishes away at the end of the month.
Addendum (June 2008): Correspondent Adim alerts me to Naija Lingo, “a dictionary for people who want definitions to Nigerian words or slang, names and phrases and created by the people (you) who know them. Naija Lingo is an open dictionary where you the user are free to add and edit words as time changes, and as the meaning of words evolve and new words are formed.”


  1. For a minute there I thought you’re talking about local variant of Portuguese in Lagos, Algarve – you know, the original Lagos…
    (Please tell me you can see the picture from my c-path)

  2. Hold on, let me try this way.

  3. Nope, sorry. May be this one will work.

  4. Beautiful!

  5. I’m a bit confused by the multiple definitions of “dey,” since in almost all of the examples given, it seems that the first definition works.

  6. Well, it’s not exactly a professional dictionary, and it’s often confusing, but it’s fun, and usually helpful — you just have to do a little work.

  7. Thank you, Venerable Hat.

  8. Thanks for that link. I had a Nigerian neighbor when I lived in Benin who I used to chat with quite a bit. My favorite expression was ‘Make I come go now’. I don’t know why, but that always charmed me.
    Can you guess what it means?

  9. I have to leave now?

  10. I checked Babawilly, who has:
    Make I hear word: Shut up.
    Make I see road: Get out of my face.
    Which doesn’t help at all. So… what does it mean?

  11. you got it right Xboy. The meaning is effectively ‘I’m going’. It’s used in about the same way as ‘see you later’, or goodbye.
    ‘go and come’ is a translation of an expression used when saying goodbye. I wish I knew the Yoruba for it. The Fon (a language of Benin) is ‘ma yi bo wa’ or ‘yi bo wa’, and my understanding is there is a similar expression in Yoruba.

  12. Perhaps Teju will favor us with a return visit and answer your question.

  13. Ah, I’ve just seen this now.
    Well, I don’t know Fon, but the pidgin is all very familiar to me. “Make I go come now”- even to my Lagosian ears, a charming expression- would indeed make sense to any speaker of Nigerian pidgin. I can translate it literally as “lemme take off, but I’ll be back real soon.” But the word “now” is generally used as a filler in Pidgin.
    As for “go and come”, we have an expression in Yoruba- “lo’re bo’re”- which means “go well, return well.”
    lo= go
    bo= return
    ire= good

  14. Thanks, Teju!

  15. If una won ‘e go find pidgin pas plenty for nigerian Wole Soyinka, down des URL down der.

  16. dale brooks says

    I needed to know what “oleaki” (spelling?) means in Nigerian (not sure which language). It is the name of a pet that was given to me, could someone help?

  17. How do you say beautiful in Yoruba?

  18. I have read a lot of rave comments about Babbywilly’s Dictionary of Pidgin English Words and Phrases, but absolutely no one ever tells how to get a copy of it. There is ONE site with a “pdf” file that you click on, that doesn’t do anything, and I don’t know what “pdf” is and it says after you click “Download” click some other button that i can’t find anywhere. So the site is completely useless. Amazon and Amazon Used Books does not have it. Barnes and Noble and Barnes and Noble Used Books does not have it. The Gutenberg Project USA and UK never heard of it. So what good is it if I can’t get a copy of it — whether a hard copy that i am willing to pay for, or a free download like on Gutenberg?

  19. @RPDubin: On that site, shift your window to the right. You will see a box with the title “select a letter”. If you click on one of the letters below, you will see the words in babawilly’s list that start with that letter.

    Just cut-and-paste the entries. After all, there are only 26 letters.

    I wouldn’t download anything from that site. It won’t let you unless you agree to install malware, and there’s a chance that you won’t get a PDF even if you do install the malware..

  20. Well, you can read it online; the letter a is here, and you can navigate to other letters using the “Select a Letter” box on the right.

  21. (Or what Gary said!)

  22. You can learn Nigerian Pidgin English at

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