Sunday, September 4, 2011

What Kiss Teeth (Suck Teeth) Means

Written by Azizi Powell

People don't always have to say what they're thinking. Sometimes body gestures and sounds such as "kiss teeth" say what they want to say and more.

I'm an African American woman from New Jersey & Pennsylvania. Although my maternal grandparents are from the islands (Barbados and Trinidad), I wasn't familiar with the phrase "kiss teeth" until I started reading about it on the Internet. But ever since I was a child I knew about "sucking your teeth". That phrase is often expressed in the warning "Don't suck your teeth at me!"

The phrase "suck your teeth" is documented as early as 1915 in Jamaica and is also found in Barbados, Belize, and Guyana, Trinidad, and the United States (particularly among African Americans). In Tobago, kiss teeth is called "hiss teeth" and in the Cayman Islands it is called "sucking your mouth". Source: The Meaning Of Kiss Teeth

"Kiss" and "hiss" are onomatopoeic “[that’s the sound you make when doing it].

In the Caribbean kiss teeth is represented by the initials "KST" (kiss teeth) and "KMT" (kiss my teeth). Among people from the Caribbean, kiss teeth can be represented in writing using the words "Cho!", "Chups", "Tchuipe, "Chupes", "Stchuup”, and similarly spelled words. These words are both nouns and verbs.

UPDATE - June 6, 2013

Here's a video of the sound made when a person is "sucking" his [or her] teeth"

Tjoerie - NO CANDY

No Candy, Published on Dec 5, 2012

A well deserved ode to the tjoerie. The what?!? The tjoerie, which is the Surinamese word for what is known in the French West Indies as 'le tchip' and in the English speaking part of the Caribbean as 'kiss-teeth'.

When something or someone becomes too annoying, one always has an effective weapon at their disposal: a long, cricket-like sound of which the effect combined with rolling eyes is deadly insulting. There is no one that does not respect a good tjoerie.

UPDATE: June 17, 2016

Here's another video about "kissing your teeth":

V a r i n d e r Published on Jun 6, 2016


Today's word of the day is less of a word and more of a sound. I've heard this sound used mostly when people aren't happy about something, it's referred to as "kissing teeth". To be honest, while filming this video, the sound got annoyingly addictive, it's kind lol
But at the same time, use caution with this word, it doesn't have the best connotation because me and everyone I know agree that when they've heard it used, it was in a negative light...

End of Updates.

You Know You're Jamaican When... Celebrating JAMAICA's 50th

Examples of kiss teeth are shown in that video at 1:45 - 1:46 and at 2:15 - 2:33.

Notice the neck roll and cut eye (rolling eye) movement that usually accompanied kiss teeth.

Researchers have documented KMT in West Africa, as well as in the Caribbean, and in certain South American nations which have significant populations of people of African descent. Of course, KST is also found in other nations such as the United Kingdom where there are Caribbean, African American, and African residents.

KMT can convey a wide range of emotions including (in no particular order) disgust, disdain, defiance, exasperation, annoyance, displeasure, disrespect, scorn, insult, sorrow, impatience, disagreement, disapproval, dislike, and vexation.

Here's a quote about "chupse" (kiss teeth) that is included in this previously mentioned pdf
The Meaning Of Kiss Teeth
Esther Figueroa (USA) Peter L Patrick (UK)
The chupse is not a word, it is a whole language. There is the small effortless chupse of indifference; the thin hard chupse of disdain; the long, liquid, vibrating chupse that shakes the rafters and expresses every kind of defiance. It is the universal language of the West Indies, the passport to confidence from Jamaica to British South America. How dare the compiler downgrade it to a mere word!(from the “Barbados Advocate”, quoted in Collymore, 1970)
Here's a review of the book "Cut-Eye" and "Suck-Teeth":African Words and Gestures in New World Guise by John R. Rickford and Angela E. Rickford:
An investigation questioned whether the words and gestures "cut-eye" and "suck-teeth," evident in Guyana, represent African survivals, and how widely these are recognized in the Caribbean, the United States and Africa. Caribbean data were drawn from observations, dictionaries and interviews. U.S. data came from questionnaires administered to both blacks and whites. African students were also questioned. In Guyana, "cut-eye" is a visual gesture indicating hostility or disapproval. A glare is delivered followed by a vertical or diagonal sweep of the eye over the other person. "Cut-eye" insults by visually invading another's territory and turning away contemptuously. The gesture was familiar to all West Indians interviewed. In the U.S., nearly all black informants were familiar with the term, but few of the whites. All African informants recognized the gesture. "Suck-teeth" refers to the gesture of drawing in air through the teeth to produce a sucking sound. It expresses anger, exasperation or annoyance, and is stronger and ruder than "cut-eye." It is known throughout the Caribbean, by black Americans, though not by whites, and by Africans. The study provides evidence that Africanisms persist in the New World even in commonplace expressions and gestures. (CHK)
Here are some responses to a 2007 Yahoo answers question: Why do some black people "suck their teeth"

Hi, I'm Jamaican. In Jamaica we call it "Kiss teet" (kiss teeth).

We do it to show our disapproval, disagreement and/or anoyance.

If someone p*sses you off you do it, if someone says something stupid you do it, if you see someone you don't like you do it.

It means "Whatever man, I don't care what you think, you're talking crap, talk all you like I'm not listening" It's showing your disapproval.

:-) We incorporate this into our internet lingo. The internet slang for this is KMT (which means: kiss my teeth).

It's actually coined "smacking the lips." And I do it when someone is saying something stupid, being fake, if I don't think someone is being honest, when i'm calling someone's bluff, brushing someone off etc.

Hope that helped.
-Cesaria Barbarossa

Its not just the black people that suck their teeth its allot of teenagers do it two and Its sorta like an irritated way of saying its stupid,waste of tI'me, and im not doing it kinda thing

It's just an expression to show that what has been said is a load of crap, like when I read your question I skinned teeth big time.

Update: October 12, 2017- A West African version of "suck teeth" [which might be the source of that custom]

"What is the meaning of mtchew?
It s a written expression made when someone is displeased, or when their expectations is lowered. Also called "sucking teeth"
Clint, 2015"


Definition: a popular sigh of disapproval in Nigeria, (maybe West Africa). The sound can be heard when one sticks his tongue to the roof of the mouth and ties to suck in air. Just like germans use 'Scheiss' Example: Mtcheew... poor man, I even think say you carry money come."
Here's another example of the use of the Nigerian (West African ?) Pidgin English word "mitchew"
"Re: Daniella Okeke Marks Birthday With Dazzling Photos by abdoolorunwa(m): 3:24pm On Mar 26, 2016
Here's my attempted interpretation of this comment: [Corrections welcome]
I think that in the first part of this quote, the commenter criticizes the person he or she is addressing by saying that that person professes to look up to Fathr [God]. Then the commenter says (using an African American way of speaking] God need to "fix" that person [Make up up], but actually no miracle would fix that person's hard hearted being [stone face]. Then the commenter basically says "If you don't like the actress, then don't post any pictures of her because they spoil my [good] mood. I'm asking you and people like you this. Ah, Ah, [expresses exasperation] What can this thing be?! You just made me vomit on my rug now. Mitchewww!! [suck teeth expression]

Cut-Eye and Suck-Teeth: African Words and Gestures in New World Guise Author(s): John R.Rickford and Angela E. Rickford Source: The Journal of American Folklore, Vol.89, No. 353 (Jul. - Sep., 1976), pp. 294-309 Published by: American FolkloreSociety Stable URL:

Dillard:perspectives on American English Csl 29
By Joey Lee Dillard
hat tip to tonyspeed on "Words of African origin in American English" for this link.

"Kiss My Teeth or Sounds with Meanings in Africa"

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  1. I just came across a very interesting online article about the retention of various words from African languages in patois of the Caribbean nation of Grenada.

    The link to that article is

    This comment from that article refers to the custom of "suck teeth" which Grenadian call "stroops":

    "Africanisms have also been retained in mimed and gestural Grenadian speech and also in symbolic sounds. In the latter category, the best known is the "stroops"; an echoism that describes a "rude" sucking of the teeth: stroops is probably the most eloquent Grenadian expression of disgust or displeasure. Children never stroopsed in the hearing of adults, for if they did they got what "Paddy gave the drum". Children who strooped at their peers got the retort: "stroops in you fryin' pan;
    the stroops gave off the sound of hot oil!"

  2. Hi, I'm Mexican and we call it "chuparse los dientes". Indicative of annoyance, such as when a parent sends a kid to do a chore. In a traditional home it's sufficient to bring on a "cachetada" or a slap in the face by a parent. Also means disbelief at a story someone is telling you, such as saying "aha, right"

  3. Eloisa Viruet, I just read your comment almost one month late. Please accept my apology for that.

    I love learning information about similar customs found in various places in the world and I really love getting first hand confirmation from people about what I've read.

    Thanks for sharing that information about "chuparse lost dientes".

    Best wishes!

  4. There's a woman I live with who does this nearly every sentence and it's so annoying that I just don't speak to her any more.

    I can understand the concept, but not in nearly every sentence with nearly everyone you speak to.

    "Ayy! *sucking noise*"

    1. Thanks for your comment, Andi Bone,,

      I'm curious if you have told this woman about her habit and about your reaction to it. She may not even be aware that she does this so often that you-and maybe others-find it so annoying.

    2. My neighbour does this constantly, and she thinks she's the cats @ss. Its done as a I'm better than you n you etc. So annoying!

    3. Thanks for your comment, Anonymous. I suppose "kiss teeth" (suck teeth) could mean "I'm better than you and you". And yes, I can understand that gesture would be annoying if it done constantly.

      Again, I wonder if your neighbor knows that you find this annoying. But maybe her intention is to annoy and one strategy would be to act like it doesn't even bother you.

  5. perhaps they should learn to communicate and voice their opinion than be a coward fed up with a certain collegue sucking her teeth

    1. Anonymous, thanks for your comment

      "Suck teeth" is a form of communication and a way of voicing one's opinion. And whether people who do this are cowards, is painting with a rather large brush. Not everyone has the security which enables them to be freely directly voice their opinions. Sucking one's teeth provides them with plausible deniability.

      But I suppose you wrote this to vent since you're fed up with the person you know who sucks her teeth. I didn't expect this post to provide that opportunity. But if it does, so be it.

    2. Suck teeth is a form of communication. If you get suck teethed at, you have been dismissed. It's sufficient communication that you need to find something else to do elsewhere. It could also mean, whatever. So you have the go ahead to do whatever you like. This is for this guy up here posting as anonymous to hide the fact that he/she is racist. Talking about "Communicating their opinion" and stuff.

    3. Thanks for your comment, Antony, July 11, 2017, 5:43 AM.

      I assume that you are referring to the Anonymous who wrote about being fed up with his or her work colleague. I don't know if that Anonymous writer is a racist or not. But one thing that should now be clear with that writer is that that suck teeth is a form of communication. Whether Anonymous understands what exactly is being communicated each time that person sucks teeth and/or whether Anonymous finds that vocalization annoying may not be relevant to the person sucking his or her teeth- or both of these points could be very relevant.