“Onye sɔɔmi” is such an enigmatic phrase. In its truest meaning it’s a vulgar insult directed at someone’s mother but actually it’s so much more than that. I speak three Ghanaian languages and each of them has tried to replicate it but none has achieved the same oomph or range of emotions of the original “Onye sɔɔmi”.
The closest I can come to describing “Onye sɔɔmi” for non-Ghanaians is that it falls somewhere between the N-word and the F-word but it has more flair and emotions than both words.
Having spent two years living in Kaneshie, a predominantly Ga community, I managed to get some understanding of this enigmatic phrase. However, I think no one who isn’t a Ga can fully appreciate the joys of “Onye sɔɔmi”.
I will attempt to catalogue some of the various situations in which “Onye sɔɔmi” can be and has been used.
Onye Sɔɔmi Standing Ovation:
Every afternoon in Kaneshie, men of all ages would gather under trees to play Drought. Sometimes I would visit one of the game venues to enjoy the spectacle. Any time one player was in a position to take three or more of his opponent’s pieces; he would alert the spectators and count aloud as he took the pieces. With each count, the spectators would shout “Sɔɔmi!” After the pieces were taken and all the “Sɔɔmis” said, everyone would clap and start discussing how good the move was.
I also remember one time I was at video center watching an FA Cup match between Arsenal and Aston Villa when Alexis Sanchez scored a really stunning goal. The goal led to a spontaneous eruption of joyous “Sɔɔmis” and each time the goal was shown, the “Sɔɔmi” was longer and more dramatic.
I came to the conclusion that when it was used as a sign of admiration, the “Onye” was dropped and just the “Sɔɔmi” was enough.
Onye Sɔɔmi Salutations:
A stranger in Kaneshie or any Ga community for that matter could be forgiven for thinking “Onye sɔɔmi” was some form of greeting. Every morning’s serenity was shattered by what sounded like happy “Onye sɔɔmis”. Friends shouting them at each other, irritated people shouting them at dawn preachers and random people just shouting them because they could.
Often, but not always, “Onye sɔɔmi” is accompanied by a hand gesture that is sort of like a thumbs up sigh but with the thumb moving up and down. One thing you should know is that you can’t go interfering in friendly “Onye sɔɔmi”. If you are not friends, it is just a very offensive insult.
Onye Sɔɔmi Chain Reaction:
One thing I noticed about “Onye sɔɔmi” is how one shout of it leads to many. Recently, I was in traffic on the N1 when two drivers got into some sort of misunderstanding. They suddenly stopped side by side with no regard for other road users and started exchanging heated “Onye sɔɔmis.” This led to other drivers becoming irritated and they too started shouting “Onye sɔɔmi”. It was an Onye sɔɔmi buffet interjected with load honking and a few other choice swear words in other languages.
Qualified Onye Sɔɔmi:
Sometimes “Onye sɔɔmi” is not enough and I would hear people add other words for impact. I remember hearing Onye sɔɔmi kakalika (cockroach), Onye sɔɔmi 2 by 4 (why 2 by 4 I will never know), Onye sɔɔmi chin gom (chewing gum) and a few other inexplicably qualified ones. I have no idea what informs these ones but I came to accept that no one but a Ga can really appreciate the intricacies of “Onye sɔɔmi”
Insulting Onye Sɔɔmi:
When used as an insult, the “sɔɔmi” is often dropped and just the “Onye” is used. I never really got to fully understand the insult part. I remember a woman in the house I lived who constantly insulted her son by saying “Onye sɔɔmi”. It didn’t really make sense to me since she was the Onye in this case but as I said, only a true Ga can really appreciate the joys of Onye sɔɔmi.
Onye Sɔɔmi Chronicles:
My first clear funny “Onye sɔɔmi” incident occurred when I was in class 5. Of course before then I myself had used it a few times but none of those were memorable.
I was in class 5 and I along with some kids were attending our first French class. We were learning to conjugate the verb “etre”. The teacher called each of us to read what he had written and needless to say, we struggled.
One guy was called to read “nous sommes”. The poor guy, who already had problems reading in English, had no idea what to say. The teacher encouragingly helped by pronouncing the first word, “nous”. The guy then confidently said “nous sɔɔmi”. This led to the class bursting into laughter which in turn made the teacher very angry.
In conclusion, you should know that “Onye sɔɔmi” is not for everyone. Before you can trade friendly “Onye sɔɔmi” with anyone, you should have previously established a relationship with the person. Anything apart from that and you can expect a very angry reaction.
Go ahead and enjoy your “Onye sɔɔmi” but be circumspect and do it in moderation.
— Lush (@lushrabbi) August 11, 2015
ps: Onye Sɔɔmi is pronounced "Own yeah Sore-me" the more "ɔ", the longer you stretch the Sore