Jook, Chook, Jab and Poke

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By Anthony Deyal

When I was growing up and people of East Indian, Grenadian, Vincentian or even Jamaican descent walked into a medical facility and said they were looking for a “Jab”, I knew that the person was seeking paid employment. Now, that has changed drastically.

A Jamaican newspaper recently reported, “Over 100,000 Jamaicans receive first COVID-19 vaccine jab.” A Jamaican government source stressed, “Health Minister Reminds Persons to Still Observe Protocols After First Jab.” The Barbados Nation News announced, “Visitors with jab invited under new protocol.” Clearly, if you want people to come to your country, they should not be “jabless.” Then I remembered Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and its sequel, “Through the Looking-Glass”. If you look back into the mirror of times past and books read, you will find the “Jabberwocky”, a terrible and formidable dragon who symbolizes threat, danger and evil and who is eventually killed with a “vorpal,” a deadly or sharp sword. These days a hypodermic has become our sword, and medication our shield, but what has become of our language?

In dealing with COVID-19 in the Caribbean you need to get two jabs. However, if you use the term “jab-jab” in Trinidad you are referring to a person playing a “devil” in a Carnival band. And if you don’t get the injection and remain jab-less, like my wife and daughter, your situation might be more extreme than not having a job. You might actually be a genuine “jabless” or “female devil.” Worse, if you get even one jab only, you are likely to develop absurd curiosity about who got jabbed and whether it was from Oxford, India or the United States of America and show clear symptoms of boastfulness, so extreme, that you start conveying the news, as loudly as possible, to every Tom, Dick and Harrylall, as well as to all and sundry.

It is why, when one of my friends called and announced, “Boy ah get Jab today,” I responded, “You very lucky you didn’t get jook.” “How you mean?” he queried. The fact is that while a jab might be considered a jook, the term “jook” (also “chook”) is one of those that all of us in the Caribbean use, understand and identify regardless of the context. When the great Gabby, the premier Barbadian calypsonian sang, “Dr Cassandra” about the female doctor who, between her ministrations, kept telling him to be quiet, he described the action as “Jook, jook, jook, jook” and every West Indian knew exactly what he meant.

We also easily worked out the maths or mats that underlaid Sparrow’s “Jook for Jook” in which “Theresa and she man playing jook for jook” and she eventually begs, “Doh jook so hard…” Then there is Becket whose calypso might be a wry comment on Theresa’s man, “Small pin does jook hard” as well as Jamaicans like Aidonia singing “Jook so, jook so”, and Desi Ranks “Wine and Jook”. They pose no problems in appreciation, interpretation and what we in the entire Caribbean know as “follow fashion.”

In her classic Dictionary of the English/Creole of Trinidad and Tobago, Lise Winer points to the African origin of the word “jook” and also some of the non-sexual usage. When I was growing up, every house had a “jooking board” and it was not a wooden bed. We have one still but unfortunately, it is no longer in use. As Winer explained, “Following the ‘soaping down’ was the ‘jooking’ of every piece with bare hands on a ridged plank that was lodged in the tub for that purpose.” (Readers are advised that extreme discretion is advised and they are warned not to try this at home).

Winer also included as an example the classic joke about the man who was gambling when the police raided and he got hit with a bull-pistle by a policeman. He was so scooted up to the very top of a “Banga” or “Grugru Bef” tree which is a palm-covered with extremely sharp thorns or “pickers”. You can get to the fruit but not by climbing, unless you want to get ‘jook’ or ‘bore’ as they say in Guyana. After the police eventually left, the man’s friends and family advised him that it was safe to come down. The man looked at them and demanded angrily, “What? For picker to jook me?”

I’m not sure what Brer Rabbit was doing in this example from Richard Allsopp’s Dictionary of Caribbean Usage, “Brer Bookie pulled Brer Rabbit’s hand away from the barrel saying ‘Boy, stop juicking yer finger in dat crack!’” We tended to use “chook” not just for knife wounds or even sexual movements but if a batsman was blocking instead of hitting the ball we would say, “He chooking” or if you decided to try your hand at a poker or another card game, or make a small bet, you would say hesitantly, “I will take a chook.” Maybe if the COVID injection was not so much a jab as a jook, many Caribbean people would not have hesitated in making a booking for a jooking or a chooking.

Interestingly, in New Orleans the word “juke” developed in almost the same way. First, it meant “disorderly, rowdy or wicked” but now “juking” describes the movements made in teen parties when a girl dances against her partner with her back to his front. Some of us are not so violent so instead of “jook” or “chook” we prefer the word “poke” which is how my grandfather pronounced “pork”. It would have been really difficult for him to say or understand the American warning about not “buying a pig in a poke.” I remember my reaction when I first entered Canada Hall in UWI, Trinidad, and heard the many Jamaican boys referring to one of their countrymen as “Pokey”.

While in America it means “jail, cell or calaboose”, in Trinidad, Barbados, Guyana, most other Caribbean countries, even Jamaica, it is a common term for the female sexual organ. The other students, especially the Trini girls, were appalled and questioned one another, “You hear what they calling him?” It turned out that “Pokey” was really “Porky” because the fellow had worked on a pig farm. However, what saved him from even more “fatigue” or Trini “jokes” was that he was studying agriculture and not just animal husbandry.

*Tony Deyal was last seen saying he loves the Caribbean word “cuss” for “curse” especially when a man charged with using obscene language was reported to be in police “cusstody”.

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