The Cloud Atlas Phrasebook: Your Guide to Yibberin’ the True True

Slate's Culture Blog
Oct. 25 2012 5:08 PM

The Cloud Atlas Phrasebook: Your Guide to Yibberin’ the True True

Zachry (Tom Hanks) and the demon Old Georgie (Hugo Weaving) in Cloud Atlas.
Zachry (Tom Hanks) and the demon Old Georgie (Hugo Weaving) in Cloud Atlas.

© Warner Bros. Pictures 2012.

Of all the intermingling plotlines in Cloud Atlas, perhaps the most daunting is the sixth and final one, which concerns a future tribe of Hawaii-dwellers called the Valleysmen, one of whom is played by Tom Hanks. What makes it daunting, even frustrating, is the Valleysmen way of speaking. The English of the future has become a post-apocalyptic pidgin, which is frequently difficult to understand.

Forrest Wickman Forrest Wickman

Forrest Wickman is a Slate staff writer. 

But you don’t have to sail into that future land unprepared. The best way to pick up a little Valleysmen would be of course to read the book, but in case you won’t have time to do so before you see the movie, we’ve cobbled together a guide. You’ll want to know that to judas, for example, means to betray, and that the Valleysmen of the Big I have a diresome tendency to add the suffix –some willy-nilly to all their adjectives. We focused on those parts of the lexicon that feature in the movie, but of course this glossary could be helpful to Old Un readers of the book as well.


Anyway, that’s enough of my yibberin’. But if you want to cogg what’s going on in the film, mem’ry a few of these phrases. Yay, that’s the true true.

babbit n. baby. I got the tenderlies like she was my own babbit slumbrin’ by me.

Big I n. the Big Island of Hawaii, home of the Valleysmen and the Kona. Savages on Big I norm’ly had more gods’n you could wave a spiker at.

cogg v. to know or recognize. I cogged for the first time there’n’then. I knowed why I shudn’t kill this Kona.

curio n. curiosity. But her answers didn’t quench my curio none, nay, not a flea.

The Fall - n. the apocalypse, 106 winters before the time of the Valleysmen, described as a period of flashbangin’. Back when the Fall was fallin’, humans f’got the makin’ o’ fire.

far-far ­– adj. very far. I cogged she was far-far from her own fam’ly’n’kin.

howzit  - interj. Valleysmen greeting similar to “How are you?” or “How’s it going?” Past Cluny’s Dwellin’ a bro o’ mine, Gubboh Hogboy shouted, “Howzit.”

judas v. to betray, sell out. Whatever Meronym’s cause for scalin’ this cussed mountain, I din’t b’lief she’d ever judas no Valleysmen.

Kona n. a violent tribe of cannibals, enemy to the Valleysmen, and its tribesmen. If I’d been rebirthed a Kona in this life, he could be me an’ I’d be killin’ myself.

mem’ry v. to remember. You’ll mem’ry I, Zachry, was curled in my hideynick in the Icon’ry.

minder v. to mind or care for. I’d the goats to minder.

nay adv. and n. no. Used also for emphasis, like the Biblical nay. I won’t answer nothin’, nay, so don’t ask no more.

Old Georgie – n.  A devil in the belief system of the Valleysmen, resembling a leprechaun in appearance. An’ ev’ryun knowed how he’d done a deal with Old Georgie.

Old Unsn. The old ones; the people of Earth who lived before The Fall. Old Uns s’vived the Fall b’yonder the oceans, jus’ like you, Zachry.

Prescient n. The survivors of the Fall, usually darker-skinned, who still wield pre-Fall technology. The Prescient’d got her spesh gearbag with her an’ I thanked Sonmi for that.

presh adj. precious. The whole true is presher’n’rarer’n diamonds.

scav v. to scavenge or steal. She’s scavvin’n’sivvyin Big Isle Smart what truesome b’longs to Valleys-men!

some suffix, similar to English –ful. Used in adjectives like diresome, scarysome, wondersome, politesome, lustsome.

sivvy v. to search. Why don’t you sivvy thru my gear again an’ thief my spesh Prescient Smart yourself?

Smartn., also adj. The futuristic technology held by the Prescients. It din’t need wind nor currents neither, ‘cos it was driven by the Smart o’ Old Uns.

Sonmin. The One Goddess of the Valleysmen. Used in phrases like by Sonmi, meaning by God, and thank Sonmi, meaning thank God. Valleysmen only had one god an’ her name it was Sonmi.

spesh adj. special. Makin’ ‘cusations against a spesh guest, it jus’ ain’t politesome, Zachry.

spiker n. A sharp weapon, such as a knife. Also v. to stab (esp. with a spiker). What he said next was a spiker thru my guts.

true truen. the truth, esp. in contrast with conventional wisdom. Then the true true is diff’rent to the seemin’ true? See also: the hole true.

Valleysmen - n. the more civilized, Sonmi-fearing tribe of post-Fall Hawaii. Meronym knows a lot ‘bout Smart an’ life but Valleysmen know more ‘bout death.

yibber v. to talk, jabber, or gossip. Also n. a rumor. Shut up your yibberin’ an’ sleep now.

yarnv. to tell a story. Most yarnin’s got a bit o’ true, some yarnin’s got some true, an’ a few yarnin’s got a lot o’ true.

yay adv. and n. Yes. Used also for emphasis, like the Biblical yea. Yay, but fleas ain’t easy to rid.



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