Who can say Wagwan?
You may or may not have seen an advert that has/had been broadcasted online from Google, which posed the question 'Who can say Wagwan? I guess the advert encourages us all to use Google. However, the advert also serves as a way to address something else - the origins and modern use of colloquial expressions and or slang - and whether it's always appropriate for everyone to adopt!
'Wagwan or Wa Gwan' is a Jamaica Patois greeting equivalent to 'What's Up' or 'What's going on.'
As a Black British born Londoner of Jamaican heritage, it's a greeting I've grown up hearing from Jamaicans and Brits alike. In London especially, it's very common to hear people from varying nationalities use the term 'Wagwan.'
With migration comes integration - and following the mass migration of Caribbean people during the Windrush era of the 1950s and 1960s, British culture became heavily influenced by the culture of the West Indies, especially that of Jamaica. It's not surprising then that greetings such as 'Wagwan' are now recognised as British slang rather than Jamaican patois in the UK. I previously wrote a post on MLE - Multi-Lingual English, which speaks about the integration of dialects and accents from a Grime music perspective. Popular series and movies such as Top Boy or Blue Story have also influenced the integration and awareness of this British London dialect.
In big urbanised and multicultural cities such as London, it's not uncommon to hear people, especially teenagers greeting their peers with 'Wagwan'; it's a term of endearment that's embraced across all races and cultures. And with the popularity of 'urban' music and movies, depicting the inner cities, MLE language has become a lot more mainstream and accessible.
So why the question of 'Wagwan' now?
Well, we live in a time when there are more conversations centred on cultural appropriation, being 'woke' and addressing sensitive topics as a whole. It's become essential then to examine our behaviours. Although with this said, we need to be careful not to be overly critical of things that are natural to our evolution of culture, linguistics and shared lifestyles. Is it a question of race, culture or class... yeh, but no!
As it pertains to cultural appropriation, there can undoubtedly be some sensitivity, insecurity and resentment. History has shown us that many of the contributions made across the world are often credited to or favoured by people who are not the originators. It's that which has led to this.
However, language is different. Language is as expansive as it is archaic. It is, as they say, the gift that keeps on giving. Every word has its roots, and like a seed, it moves, grows and transforms. This is why we shouldn't be the gatekeeper for its usage - if there is no malicious intent. If we start to do this, then our freedom of expression will become stagnant and suppressed. Languages have been borrowing, mixing and fusing for Milena; it's the nature of us migrating, integrating and influencing one another.
We are part of a global community where language is constantly shared, adapted and celebrated. Therefore, if a diverse range of people feel comfortable saying wa gwan, then what's the problem? There isn't one!