Monday, October 20, 2014

"Bangarang" Means Different Things In Jamaica & In The USA

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post highlights the differences between the meanings of the word "bangarang" in Jamaica and in the United States.

Click for a companion post that showcases three Reggae songs entitled "Bangarang". That post includes selected comments about the word "bangarang" from the discussion thread of one of those featured YouTube sound files.

The content of this post is presented for etymology and cultural purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks all those who are quoted in this post.

Line breaks: banga|rang
Part of speech -noun

Meaning -An uproar or disturbance.

Origin - West Indian

probably imitative, but perhaps influenced by Portuguese banguelê 'riot, disorder'.
By "probably imitative", my guess is that that editor means "imitating the sound of gun fire' ("bang bang").

"Jamaican Patois [Patwah] and Slang Dictionary"
English Translation - Commotion

Definition - slang term used to describe a loud uproar or commotion

Example Sentences
Patois: A wah cause di bangarang over deh suh?
English: What caused the commotion over there?

[posted by anonymous on July 5, 2013]
Note: An anonymous blogger also posted the meaning "old clothes" for bangarang. I've not seen that meaning anywhere else. I therefore discount this "old clothes" definition for "bangarang".
[UPDATE 10/20/2014: According to the OED online (Oxford (University) English Dictionary) "rubbish" and then "old clothes" are old meanings for the words that became "bangarang". Read more in the comment by slam2011 below. Thanks, slam2011!,

Given those early meanings of "bangarang", the theory that it comes from the Portuguese banguelê 'riot, disorder' might be more doubtful.]

From "Rasta/Patois Dictionary and Phrases/Proverbs"
"bangarang - hubbub, uproar, disorder, disturbance."

UPDATE 10/20/2014 [Hat tip to blogger slam 2014 who found information about this word in the Oxford English Dictionary online.

The first documented use of the word that became "bangarang" was in 1935.

In 1967 (some sources give this date as 1968) Lester Sterling & [Wilbur[ "Stranger" Cole recorded a tune with the title "Bangarang". Some say that this is the first Reggae record.
[Update ends]

Here's an excerpt pf an article from the Jamaican newspaper about that song:
From "STORY OF THE SONG - One line makes a 'Bangarang'", July 19, 2009 by Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer
"For a song that has just one line of lyrics, Strange Jah Cole's Bangarang packs a wallop of a musical punch.

Not only did it hit number one when it was released in 1967, as Cole told The Sunday Gleaner, but Bangarang, on which saxophonist Lester Sterling does most of the lead duties, was covered relatively recently by Freddie McGregor. And the term's use in Parliament when the political battle got hot, after it has long ceased to be hip street terminology, seems to confirm that Bangarang has served the purpose of language preservation as a side effect to simply being a danceable tune."...

[Stranger Cole happened to visit a music studio in Jamaican when music producer Bunny 'Striker' Lee was working on a song]

"Lee was happy to see Cole, saying, "Pro, you are the right man I am looking for. I have a song called Bongo Chant. I want to do it Jamaican style with Lester Sterling."

"He played it for me with his mouth," Cole said, humming the melody for The Sunday Gleaner, much slower than the hit Jamaican version. As Lee finished humming, Cole picked up on the melody and sang the line "Moma no want no bangarang".

And they went into the studio to record.

When The Sunday Gleaner asks Cole what he was thinking when he did the line, he replies, "It is not what I was thinking, it is what the word means. 'Bangarang' means problems, so to break it down it is 'mother no want no problems'."...

He points out that many people sing "woman no want no bangarang", but he actually said Moma.
Examples of comments from various YouTube discussion threads for that Lester Sterling & Stranger Cole record as well as examples of comments from discussion threads of Freddy McGregor's song with the title "Bangarang" are included in that pancocojams companion post about this word. Those self-identified commenters define ""bangarang" in similar terms as have already been given by West Indian sources or by sources quoting West Indian people.

1. Battle cry of the Lost Boys in the movie Hook.
2. Jamaican slang defined as a hubbub, uproar, disorder, or disturbance.
3. General exclamation meant to signify approval or amazement."
by Drewcifer511June 14, 2006

The ultimate in excellence. Better than cool, rad or awesome. Saved for very special occasions. Word first used in the movie "Hook".
Dude 1: Man, I just found a cheap cure for HIV/AIDS.

Dude 2: Bangarang
by James Tao KlauenburchAugust 08, 2004
The 1991 American movie "Hook" was definitely not the first time that the word "bangarang" was ever used. However, that movie may have been the first time that "bangarang" was used as an exclamation of approval.

Here's a quote that credits the word "bangarang" in the "Hook" movie to the Jamaican word "bangarang":
From "Bangarang Peter Pan': Obama Pays Tribute To Robin Williams, Famous 'Hook' Quote After Actor's Death"
By Cristina Silva @cristymsilva on August 11 2014 9:06 PM
" "Bangarang!" It was the Lost Boys' battle cry in "Hook" and now it's how fans worldwide will remember comedian Robin Williams. President Barack Obama paid tribute to the actor after his death Monday with a statement referencing one of Williams' most famous scenes. "Robin Williams was an airman, a doctor, a genie, a nanny, a president, a professor, a bangarang Peter Pan, and everything in between," Obama's statement read.

So what does "bangarang" mean? Williams slipped into Peter Pan's iconic green tights in Disney's 1991 "Hook." In the movie, Williams plays an overweight, adult Peter Pan who must be reminded of his youthful ways by the Lost Boys, who yell out "bangarang" in one of the film's funniest scenes when Peter Pan takes on the Lost Boys' replacement leader, Rufio. The Lost Boys signal their approval [of Peter Pan shouting insults back at Rufio] with cries of "bangarang," according to

Electronic music producer Skillrex paid tribute to the scene with his hit song "Bangarang" in 2012. Skillrex calls out in the song: “Shout to all my lost boys. We rowdy. Shout to all my lost boys. Bangarang!”

OK, but what does it mean? Apparently, it's a Jamaican word that means disturbance."...
The word "disturbance" was hyperlinked to this page "Eight things you never knew about Steven Spielberg’s 1991 film ‘Hook’".
Here's the relevant quote from that page:
"Real word: Bangarang is actually a Jamaican word which means disturbance."
Here's another source that indicates that "Electronic music producer Skillrex paid tribute to the scene [in the movie "Hook"] with his hit song "Bangarang":
"The title is a reference to the 1991 film Hook, in which the Lost Boys' catch cry is "bangarang!" "

My guess is that the word "bangarang" was appealing to the writers of the American movie "Hook" in part because of American's familiarity with both of that word's syllables - "bang[a]" and "rang", and in part because of the American vernacular meanings of the word "bang". Not only is the word "bang" associated with gun fire, in American vernacular English it can be used as a descriptor for something that is very good, awesome, and/or someone who is very attractive In addition, in American vernacular English "to bang [someeone] means to have sex with that person. [citation: online slang dictionary] Each of these meanings add to the cache and the memorability of the word "bangarang" for the "Hook" movie's viewers and for others.

The word "Bang" is also used in the United States [and by extention elsewhere] as an exclamation of approval and/or excitement. I'm not sure if that exclamation predates 1991 - the use of "bangarang" in the United States as it has been discussed in this post.

While West Indians might use "bangarang" as an exclamation, I don't think it means "something awesome", or at least it doesn't mean that in the same way that it is meant in the States. And if or when West Indians use the exclamatory form of "bangarang", I don't think that it usually "signify approval or amazement" except that it may mean approval of lyrics or statements that refer to Babylon [the establishment] falling. [Note: I recall reading some YouTube comments in which "bangarang" was used this way. However, I can't find them now.]

Any examples [with citations] and any corrections are very welcome.

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.


  1. The online OED gives the earliest usage as 1935, 'bangaram', a word used in Jamaica to mean 'rubbish'. By 1943, still exclusive to the West Indies, it meant trash or old clothes, but was spelled 'bangarang' or 'bungarung'.

    In the same year of 1943, however, it was recorded in two Jamaican parishes being used in the sense of 'pandemonium', 'riot'; and this sense gradually ousted the other - the last quote using it to refer to clothes was 1967. Thereafter it means 'uproar'. Online OED evidently considers it purely West Indian and hasn't yet logged the US usage.

    1. slam2011, I really appreciate you sharing your research on this blog. I now must "eat crow" and add an addendum to the post where I indicated that the "old clothes" meaning for "bangarang" was suspect.

      Thanks again!

    2. In my October 20, 2014 update to this post I wrote that the early meanings of "bangarang" might cast some doubt on the theory that this word came from the Portuguese word banguelê which means 'riot, disorder'.

      However, perhaps the Caribbean word did come from that Portuguese source but then its meaning, and its spelling changed, moving [back?] to what that Portuguese word means.

      I have no problem with changes that are made in the meanings of words and phrases, including changes in their parts of speech- for instance a noun changing to or also being used as a verb or an adjective or an interjection. For that reason I have no problem with the fact that Americans have changed the meaning and use of "bangarang". What I do have a problem with is the tendency of "UnitedStaters" to be incurious about the origin and meanings of words and customs and not recognize that everybody doesn't define things or do things the same way we do.

      Take for example, the blogger on urbandictionary who wrote that the 1991 movie was the first use of the word "bangarang." If he or she had said that it was the first use that way of the word "bangarang" that might be true. But I haven't checked OED and other sources to verify that ;o)