Saying Wagwan is equivalent to saying the phrase “what’s going on?”.
The word can be compared to the way a Jamaican person would say the phrase.
It originally started as a mocking of the Jamaican English pronounciation of words, but has slowly gone over to be a modern slang, particularly in England.
“Wagwan” is used as a colloquial greeting, and is mainly used between friends. If asked “wagwan”, you could respond with “nagwan”, meaning “nothing’s going on”.
Some argue that a white person saying “wagwan” is cultural appropriation, but white users disagree and claim they are exaggerating.
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Between the 80s and 90’s, big groups of Jamaicans migrated to England, and formed smaller communities, particularly in London.
Native English people started mocking the Jamaican English, as often happens to minorities in a country, but slowly, younger groups started adopting some Jamaican phrases and slang.
The term started out as “what’s going on”, followed by “what go on”, ultimately being shortened to its phonical version “wagwan”.
Spread and Usage
“Wagwan” is often associated with reggae- and hip-hop music, as well as the Jamaican rastafari culture, Bob Marley and marijuana.
It is particularly used in South and South Eastern parts of London, both by Jamaicans and young brits.
In 2015, president Barack Obama greeted the Jamaicans attending the University of the West Indies by saying “Wagwan Jamaica?”, positively surprising the students.
- Dictionary.com – wagwan