#Bomboclaat. You may have seen these expressions pass through your social media in recent weeks, often accompanied by a gif, a photo or a short video presenting an absurd, cardboard situation, a particularly expressive face or else another exaggerated reaction. Often without additional text, just with this new hashtag.
And if you had trouble understanding its meaning, you are not the only one, to believe the explosion of searches on Google at the end of 2019. And when some explain to you that it is a little same as the “Sco Pa tu Manaa”, born a few months before from a Ghanaian song, you did not feel more advanced.
When your friends go without you to the beach 😒 #bomboclat https://t.co/p56o21YouU
On the model of “caption this”, which means “legend that” in English, bomboclaat is an invitation to associate a situation with the image in question, to share a reflection. With humor of course and creating, if successful, chains of photo captions for the same illustration. In France for example, we particularly enjoy bomboclaat from Ratz, cartoon from the early 2000s dubbed by Eric and Ramzy, who stages a duo of grandiloquent rats.
@OOCRatzz when I see my money a week after Christmas
Let's go back to the beginning. It’s first a twitter account, @rudebwoy_lamz, who allegedly launched bomboclaat's online fashion by sharing a reference to the American comic animated series in early fall CatDog. The tweet received in less than two months more than 13,000 “likes” and 3,300 retweets, recalls the census site Knowyourmeme. The model is taken up, multiplied, diverted.
However, this is not the first time that the word has become an Internet reference. In 2017, North Americans largely mocked Rob Ford, a former sulfur mayor of Toronto, filmed tipsy in a fast food restaurant swearing bomboclaat while he was doing some kind of imitation.
This sudden virality still makes other internet users cringe because this expression has been stripped of its meaning. This is not a question or an invitation to give feedback, remind some Twitter users. Bomboclaat is an oath in Patwa, Jamaican Creole. It is “A language derived from English which developed at the end of the XVIIe century of the contact of many speakers of Niger-Congolese languages who were transported to Jamaica as slaves and of speakers of different dialects of British English “, linguists Joseph T. Farquharson and Byron Jones explain in the collective work Global English Slang: Methodologies and Perspectives (2014).
A reference to menstruation
Bomboclaat, or “bomboklaat” or “bumboclaat” is basically an insult which means “sanitary napkin” in the Caribbean island dialect. It refers to menstruation considered to be a stain. “Traditional Jamaican society has a wide range of taboos related to menstruation. One of them forbade women to wash men's clothes in the same bin as theirs, or even to hang them on the same washing line “, explain Joseph T. Farquharson, Clive Forrester and Andrea Hollington in The linguistics of jamaicain swearing: forms, background and adaptations (2020).
The researchers also explain that this swear word, with several derivatives such as “blodklaat”, “bloodclaat”, “pusiklaat” or “raasklat”, is composed by associating a word with biological, scatological or sexual connotation with “klaat” (derivative of “clothes”. Jamaicans therefore associate “klaat” with what they consider on the island as the most offensive, often tinged with sexism or homophobia. “Bum” or “bumbo” here would refer to the buttocks, the vulva, the vagina.
The expression can express offense, disgust but also surprise or admiration
The expression is now used in a whole range of circumstances: it can express offense, disgust but also surprise or even admiration … For Jérémie Kroubo-Dagnini, Jamaican music specialist and associate researcher at the Center d 'contemporary political studies at the University of Orleans (CEPOC), “Today in Jamaica, the use of this expression is really similar to” fuck “in English”. He explains :
“For example, in English, you can say” It's a fucking good singer “when you talk about a very good singer. In French it looks like “he's a fucking good singer”, and in dialect you can say “It's a bloodclaat good singer”. “
Bomboclaat spread to the island in the mid-1950s, probably with the rise of the Rasta movement. “They play a lot with words, their sounds, take up fashionable expressions or want to launch them”, details Jérémie Kroubo-Dagnini.
Challenge the establishment
On the island, however, it is estimated that swear words are inherited from the customs of African slaves and their descendants, who used these words as a tool of subversion and linguistic rebellion towards the settlers. Similarly, at the XXe century, Jamaicans use it to challenge the establishment. In the controversial piece by Peter Tosh, Oh bumbo klaat (nineteen eighty one), “Swear words are a cathartic response to a repressive and corrupt system”, explain Joseph T. Farquharson, Clive Forrester and Andrea Hollington.
“We must not confine reggae and rastas to this insult, which is far from appearing in each song”, however, warns Hélène Lee, a journalist specializing in reggae. She regrets “Once again, Jamaica only arises to highlight one of the worst aspects of culture. Nobody remembers that the most famous formula of this same culture is “peace and love”, which the rastas took for salutation around 1933, and which the hippies made famous “.
Nor did we have to wait for this Twitter meme for bomboclaat to spread outside the Caribbean. In dancehall culture, Jamaican DJs use profanity profusely, especially in concerts, a bit like rap. And have also influenced different artists around the world: among Latin Americans fond of reggaeton, or even in African countries where Jamaican music is extremely popular.