Lagoon - Nnedi Okorafor

The glossary at the back of Lagoon is useful but rather incomplete. Here are explanations of some more of the Pidgin English, Igbo, and Yoruba expressions in the novel, which I’ve gathered from various internet sources and from guesswork. Babawilly's Dictionary of Pidgin English Words and Phrases was particularly useful. Corrections and additions would be welcomed.


A beg – “please” as a request (p. 102: “A beg, mek everybody relax” = “Everybody please relax”; sarcastically, on p. 186: “A beg mek I ask, o. You dey worship deity too?” = “Let me ask, if you please.”)

Abi - tag question: “isn’t it?” (p. 50: “Abi na film tricks?” = “It isn’t film tricks, is it?”)

Amusu (Igbo) - “witchcraft”

Biko, biko-nu (Igbo) - “please”

Dey - preceding the verb, present tense marker; on its own, copula (“is”)

Don - past tense marker

Eh heh (Igbo) - “yes”

Ewo! (Igbo) - Exclamation of sadness, unpleasant surprise, pity: “Oh no!” [source]

Fit - “can” (p. 50: “I no sabi if she fit do am” = “I don’t know if she can do it”)

For - location preposition: “in, on, at”

Go - future tense marker

Jare (Yoruba) - “please”

Jo - an exclamation used to plead; or, used for emphasis at the end of a sentence [source] (p. 107: “We need comot for here, jo!”)

Kai! - “Yeah!” An exclamation of agreement, enthusiasm, or sympathy

Kukuma - word placed in a sentence for emphasis [source] (p. 103: “Mek you kukuma ask am for him autograph!” = “You really ought to ask him for his autograph!”)

Mek/make - preceding the sentence = 1. “should” (p. 90: “Mek you no waste time” = “You shouldn’t waste time”); 2. mek I = “let me”; mek we = “let’s” (p. 182: “Mek we go my place”)

Nack - “tell”

Olofofo (Yoruba) - “someone who reveals a secret; who lets a secret be known, often inadvertently; gossiper” [source]

Sake of - “because of”

Say - 1. “because” (p. 88: “Mek we first pray say mek checkpoints no dey this road today” = “Let’s pray first because there mustn’t be checkpoints on the way today”); 2. like say = “as if” (p. 115: “You look like say na from de street you come”)

Sef - 1. “even” (p. 103: “But you sef [=even you], you need to lie down for floor, too”) 2. placed at the end of a question when irritated or impatient (p. 184: “Una people fit die, sef?” = “Can you people even die?”) [source]

Since - “before, a while ago”

Wey - relative pronoun: “which, who”

Wor wor - “ugly”



On p. 40, Anthony talks about Lagos:


“Lasgidi” you dey call am, right? Eko? Isn’t that what you people call Lagos? Place of belle-sweet, gidi gidi, kata kata, isu, and wahala. Lagos is energy. It never stops. That’s why I like coming here too.


Here’s my attempt to explain that. “Lasgidi” is a name for Lagos that might be derived from the Yoruba word “gidi” meaning “real, really”. “Eko” is an old name for the city which, according to Wikipedia, might perhaps derive from a Yoruba word for “cassava farm”. So Anthony is punning on those names: prosperity, gidi gidi (“extremely”) and isu (literally “yam”, slang for “money” [source]), contrasted with kata kata (glossary: “trouble of the sort that only the poor experience”) and wahala (“trouble”). The extremes make life and energy.