South African English Is Lekker!
South Africans speak English, that doesn't mean you'll always understand us.
Our robots are nothing like R2D2, just now doesn't mean immediately, and babbelas
is not a shampoo.
SA English has a flavour all its own, borrowing freely from Afrikaans - which
is similar to Dutch and Flemish - as well as from the country's many African
languages, with some words coming from colonial-era Malay and Portuguese immigrants.
Note: In many words derived from Afrikaans, the letter "g" is pronounced
in the same way as the "ch" in the Scottish "loch" or the
German "achtung" - a kind of growl at the back of the throat. In
the pronunciation guides below, the spelling for this sound is given as "gh".
abba - Carry a child secured to one's back with a blanket. From the Khoi-San.
amasi (pronounced um-ah-see) - A popular drink of thick sour milk. From the
isiZulu. An alternative name is maas.
apartheid (ap-art-hate) - Literally "apart-ness" in Afrikaans, apartheid
was the policy of racial separation, and the resulting oppression of the black
majority, implemented by the National Party from 1948 to 1990.
ag (agh) - Generally used at the beginning of a sentence, to express resignation
or irritation, as in: "Ag no man! What did you do that for?"
babbelas (bub-buh-luss) - A hangover.
bagel (bay-gell) - An overly groomed materialistic young man, and the male
version of a kugel.
bakgat (buck-ghut) - Well done, cool, awesome.
bakkie (buck-ee) - A pick-up truck.
bergie (bear-ghee) - From the Afrikaans berg, mountain, originally referring
to vagrants who sheltered in the forests of Cape Town's Table Mountain and
now a mainstream word for anyone who is down and out.
biltong (bill-tong) - This South African favourite is dried and salted meat,
similar to beef jerky, although it can be made from ostrich, kudu or any other
bioscope - A cinema or movie theatre, originally a defunct international English
word that has survived longer in South Africa because of the influence of the
biscuit - In South Africa a cookie is known as a biscuit. The word is also
a term of affection, as in "Hey, you biscuit".
bliksem - To beat up, hit or punch - or a mischievous person.
blooming (blimmin) - A variation on very, as in: "That new bakkie is
bobotie (buh-boor-tee) - A dish of Malay origin, made with minced meat and
spices, and topped with an egg sauce.
boerewors (boor-uh-vors) - Literally, farmer's sausage. A savoury sausage
developed by the
Boers - today's Afrikaners - some 200 years ago, boerewors is South African
food at its most traditional.
boet (like book, with a t) - A term of affection, from the Afrikaans for brother.
boma (bow-mah) - An open thatched structure used for dinners, entertainment
bonsella - Surprise gift, something extra, or a bribe. From isiZulu.
bosberaad (borse-bah-raad)- A strategy meeting or conference, usually held
in a remote
bushveld location such as a game farm.
braai (br-eye) - An outdoor barbecue, where meat such as steak, chicken and
boerewors are cooked, served with pap and bredie.
bredie (brear-dee) - A traditional South African mutton stew, first brought
to the country by Malay immigrants. It now refers to any kind of stew.
bru (brew) - A term of affection, shortened from Afrikaans broer, meaning "brother".
An example would be "Hey, my bru, howzit?"
bunny chow - Delicious and cheap food on the go, bunny chow is curry served
in a hollowed-out half-loaf of bread, generally sold in greasy-spoon cafés.
Perfect for eating on the side of the road while backpacking across South Africa.
bushveld (bush-felt) - Taken from the Afrikaans bosveld ("bush field"),
the bushveld is a terrain of thick scrubby trees and bush in dense thickets,
with grassy groundcover between.
café (kaf-ay, kaff-ee or kayff) - The ubiquitous small neighbourhood
convenience store, often found on street corners and stocking cigarettes, cold
drinks and newspapers.
china - To most people China is the country with the largest population in
the world, but to a South African it can mean something entirely different.
China means good friend, as in "This oke's my china". It's one of
the few Cockney rhyming slang words to survive in the country, coming from "china
plate" = "mate".
chommie - Friend, from the English chum.
cooldrink, colddrink - This is the common term for a soda, such as Coca-Cola.
Ask for a soda in South Africa and you will receive a club soda.
dassie - The rock hyrax, a small herbivore that lives in mountainous habitats
and is reputed to be the species mostly closely related to the elephant.
The name comes from the Afrikaans das, meaning "badger".
deurmekaar (dee-oor-muh-car) - An Afrikaans for confused, disorganised or
stupid, as in "He's a bit deurmekaar.
dinges (ding-us) - A thing, thingamabob, whatzit, whatchamacallit or whatsizname: "When
is dinges coming around?"
doek (like book) - A head scarf worn to protect a woman's hair.
dolos - Interlocking blocks of concrete in an H-shape, with one arm rotated
through 90º. The dolos is a South African invention used to protect seawalls
and preserve beaches from erosion. The name comes from an Afrikaans word for
the knuckle bones in an animal's leg. The plural is dolosse.
donga - A natural ditch resulting from severe soil erosion. From the isiZulu
donner (dor-nuh) - Beat up. From the Afrikaans donder, meaning thunder.
dop (dawp) - An alcoholic drink: "Can I pour you a dop?" It can
also mean failure: "I dopped the test."
dorp - A small town on the platteland.
droewors (droo-uh-vors) - Dried boerewors, similar to biltong.
dummy - A baby's pacifier.
dumpie - A South African beer served in a brown 340ml bottle.
Durbs - The city of Durban.
dwaal (dwarl) - Lack of concentration or focus: "Sorry, I was in a bit
of a dwaal. Could you repeat that?"
eina (ay-nuh or ay-nar) - Ouch! Can also mean "sore".
eish (aysh) - Used to express surprise, wonder, frustration or outrage: "Eish!
That cut was eina!"
Fixed up - Used to mean "that's good" or "sorted". Example: "Let's
meet at the restaurant." The reply: "Fixed up."
flog - No whips implied. South Africans use flog to mean sell, as in "I've
had enough of this old car. I think it's time I flogged it."
frikkadel (frik-kuh-dell) - A traditional meatball.
fundi (foon-dee) - Expert. From the Nguni umfundisi, meaning teacher or preacher.
fynbos (fayn-baws) - "Fine bush" in Afrikaans, fynbos is a vegetation
type unique to the Cape Floral Region - a Unesco World Heritage Site - made
up of some 6 000 plant species, including many types of protea.
gatvol (ghut-foll) - Taken from Afrikaans, this means fed up, as in "Jislaaik,
china, I'm gatvol of working in this hot sun." Translation: "Gee,
my friend, I'm fed up with working in this hot sun."
gogga, goggo (gho-gha or gho-gho) - Insect, bug. From the Khoikhoi xo-xon.
gogo (goh-goh) - Grandmother or elderly woman, from isiZulu.
graze - Eat.
hang of - Very or big, as in: "It's hang of a difficult" or "I
had a hang of a problem".
hanepoot (haa-nah-poort) - A sweet wine made from the muscat blanc d'Alexandrie
hap (hup) - Taste, bite, as in "Take a hap of this".
hey - The popular expression hey can be used as a standalone question meaning "pardon" or "what" - "Hey?
What did you say?" Or it can be used to prompt affirmation or agreement,
as in "It was a great film, hey?"
homelands - The spurious "independent" states in which black South
Africans were forced to take citizenship under the policy of apartheid. Also
known as bantustans.
howzit - A traditional South African greeting that translates roughly as "How
are you?", "How are things?" or simply "Hello".
indaba (in-daa-bah) - A conference or expo, from the isiZulu word meaning "a
matter for discussion".
inyanga - A traditional herbalist and healer.
is it (as one word: izit) - An expression frequently used in conversation
and equivalent to "Is that so?"
ja (yaa) - Yes.
jawelnofine - Literally, "yes, well, no, fine", all scrunched into
a single word and similar to the rhetorical expression "How about that?"
jislaaik (yis-like) - An expression of outrage or surprise: "Jislaaik,
I just saw Elvis!"
jol (jawl) - A versatile word with many meanings, including party, disco,
having fun, or just thing.
Jozi (jo-zee) - The city of Johannesburg, South Africa's largest city, which
is also known as Joburg or Joeys.
Joburg on the move
just now - If a South African tells you they will do something "just
now", they mean they'll do it in the near future - not immediately: "I'll
do the dishes just now."
kasie (kaa-see) - Shortened form of lokasie, "location" in Afrikaans,
the older word for township - the low-income dormitory suburbs outside cities
and towns to which black South Africans were confined during the apartheid
khaya (k-eye-ya) - Home. From the Nguni group of languages.
kif - Cool, neat, great or wonderful. From the Arabic kayf, meaning enjoyment
knobkierie (k-nob-kee-ree) - A fighting stick with a knob on the business
end. From the Afrikaans knop ("knob") and the Khoi-San kirri or keeri,
koeksister (kook-sister) - A traditional Malay - and now also Afrikaner -
sweet, made from twisted yeast dough, deep fried and dipped in syrup. The right-wing
enclave of Orania in the Northern Cape even has its own statue to the koeksister.
The word comes from the Dutch
koek ("cake") and sissen, meaning "to sizzle".
koki (koh-key) - A coloured marker or felt-tip pen.
koppie (kor-pie) - A small hill.
kraal - An enclosure for livestock, or a rural village of huts surrounded
by a stockade. The word may come from the Portuguese curral ("corral"),
or from the Dutch kraal, meaning bead, as in the beads of a necklace - kraals
are generally round in shape.
kugel (koo-gell) - An overly groomed materialistic young woman, from the Yiddish
for a plain pudding garnished as a delicacy. A bagel is the male variety.
kwaito (kw-eye-toe) - The music of South Africa's urban black youth, a mixture
of South African disco, hip hop, R&B, ragga, and a heavy dose of house
kwela (kw-eh-la) - A popular form of township music from the 1950s, based
on the pennywhistle - a cheap and simple instrument taken up by street performers.
The term kwela comes from the isiZulu for "get up", though in township
slang it also referred to the police vans, the kwela-kwela. It is said that
the young men who played the pennywhistle on street corners also acted as lookouts
to warn those drinking in illegal shebeens of the arrival of the cops.
laatlammetjie (laart-lum-et-chie) - The youngest child of a family, born (mostly
by accident) to older parents and many years younger than its siblings. The
word means "late lamb" in Afrikaans.
laduma! (la-doo-mah) - A popular cheer celebrating goals scored at soccer
matches, from the isiZulu for it thunders.
lappie (luppie) - A cleaning cloth.
lekgotla (lek-ghot-lah) - A planning or strategy session.
lekker (lekk-irr with a rolling r) - Nice, good, great, cool or tasty.
Madiba (muh-dee-buh) - An affectionate name for former President Nelson Mandela,
and the name of his clan.
mal (mull) - Mad, from the Afrikaans.
mampara (mum-puh-rah) - An idiot, a silly person. From the Sotho languages.
mampoer (mum-poo-er) - Extremely potent brandy made from peaches or other
fruit, similar to the American moonshine. See witblitz.
Marmite - Trade name of a dark-coloured spread made from vegetable extract
and used on bread or toast.
mealie (pronounce mih-lih) - Maize or corn. A mealie is a maize cob, and mealie
meal is maize meal, the staple diet of South Africa, which is mostly cooked
into pap. From the Afrikaans mielie.
moegoe (moo-ghoo) - A fool, buffoon, idiot or simpleton.
mossie (morse-ee) - common name of the Cape sparrow, also applied to the house
sparrow, and sometimes used to refer to any small undistinguished wild bird.
muti (moo-ti) - Medicine, typically traditional African medicine, from the
Joburg's king of muti museum
Mzansi (m-zun-zee) - A popular word for South Africa.
naartjie (nar-chee) - The South African word for tangerine, Citrus reticulata.
nappy - A baby's diaper.
nca - Fine, beautiful. Pronounced with a downward click of the tongue.
nê (neh) - Really? or is that so? Often used sarcastically.
now-now - Shortly, in a bit: "I'll be there now-now."
oke, ou - A man, similar to guy or bloke. The word ou (oh) can be used interchangeably.
pap (pup) - The staple food of South Africa, a porridge made from mealie meal
(maize meal) cooked with water and salt to a fairly stiff consistency - stywepap
being the stiffest. Pap can also mean weak or tired.
papsak (pup-suck) - Cheap box wine sold in its foil container, without the
pasop (pus-orp) - An Afrikaans word meaning "beware" or "watch
pavement - South Africans walk on pavements and drive cars on the road (at
least that's the idea). The pavement is the sidewalk.
piet-my-vrou (peet-may-frow) - The red-chested cuckoo (Cuculus solitarus).
The name, an approximation of the bird's call, literally means "Peter
my wife" in Afrikaans.
platteland (plutt-uh-lunt) - Farmland, countryside. Literally flat land in
Afrikaans, it now refers to any rural area in which agriculture takes place,
including the mountainous Cape winelands.
potjiekos (poi-chee-kors) - Traditional Afrikaner food, generally a rich stew,
cooked in a three-legged cast-iron pot over a fire. The word means "little-pot
food" in Afrikaans.
puffadder - A viper or adder of the species Britis arietans. From the Afrikaans
rand - The South African currency, which is made up of 100 cents. The name
comes from the Witwatersrand (Dutch for "white waters ridge"),
the region in Gauteng province in which most of the country's gold deposits
robots - Traffic lights.
rock up - To arrive somewhere unannounced or uninvited. It's the kind of thing
friends do: "I was going to go out but then my china rocked up."
rooibos (roy-borss) - Afrikaans for red bush, this popular South African tea
made from the Cyclopia genistoides bush is gaining worldwide popularity for
its health benefits.
rooinek (roy-neck) - English-speaking South African, from the Afrikaans for
red neck, but without the connotations given the term in the US. It was first
coined by Afrikaners decades ago to refer to immigrant Englishmen, whose white
necks were particularly prone to sunburn.
rubbish bin (alternatively dustbin or dirt bin) - Garbage can.
samoosa (suh-moo-suh) - A small, spicy, triangular-shaped pie deep-fried in
oil. Originally made by the Indian and Malay communities, samoosas - known
as samosas in Britain - are popular with all South Africans.
sangoma (sun-go-mah) - Traditional healer or diviner.
sarmie - Sandwich.
scale, scaly - To scale something means to steal it. A scaly person is not
to be trusted.
shame - Broadly denotes sympathetic feeling. Someone admiring a baby, kitten
or puppy might say: "Ag shame!" to emphasise its cuteness.
sharp - Often doubled up for effect as sharp-sharp!, this word is used as
a greeting, a farewell, for agreement or just to express enthusiasm.
shebeen - A township tavern, illegal under the apartheid regime, often set
up in a private house and frequented by black South Africans. The word is originally
shongololo - Large brown millipede, from the isiZulu ukushonga, meaning "to
sjambok (sham-bok) - A stout leather whip made from animal hide.
skelm (skellem) - A shifty or untrustworthy person; a criminal.
skinner (skinner) - Gossip, from Afrikaans. A person who gossips is known
as a skinnerbek: "Jislaaik, bru, I'm going to donner that skinnerbek for
skinnering about me." Translation: "Gee, my friend, I'm going to
hit that guy for gossiping about me."
skollie (skoh-li) - Gangster, criminal, from the Greek skolios, meaning crooked.
skop, skiet en donner (skorp, skeet en donner) - Action movie. Taken from
Afrikaans, it literally means "kick, shoot and beat up".
skrik - Fright: "I caught a big skrik" means "I got a big fright".
skrik vir niks - Scared of nothing.
slap chips (slup chips) - French fries, usually soft, oily and vinegar-drenched,
bought in a brown paper bag. Slap is Afrikaans for "limp", which
is how French fries are generally made here.
smaak stukkend - Love to bits. In Afrikaans smaak means like, and stukkend
smokes - Cigarettes.
snoek (like book) - A popular and tasty fish, often eaten smoked. If you're
lucky you may get to experience a snoek braai - a real South African treat.
sosatie (soh-saa-tee) - A kebab on a stick.
spanspek (spun-speck) - Cantaloupe, an orange-fleshed melon. The word comes
from the Afrikaans Spaanse spek, meaning "Spanish bacon". The story
goes that Juana Smith, the Spanish wife of 19th-century Cape governer Harry
Smith, insisted on eating melon instead of bacon for breakfast, causing her
bemused Afrikaans-speaking servants to coin the word.
spaza - Informal township shop.
spookgerook (spoo-ahk-ghah-roo-ahk) - Literally, in Afrikaans, ghost-smoked.
Used jokingly, the word means "mad" or "paranoid".
stoep (stup) - Porch or verandah.
stompie - A cigarette butt. From the Afrikaans stomp, meaning "stump".
The term picking up stompies means intruding into a conversation at its tail
end, with little information about its content.
stroppy - Difficult, uncooperative, argumentative or stubborn.
struesbob (s-true-zz-bob) - "As true as Bob", as true as God, the
takkies - Running shoes or sneakers. Fat takkies are extra-wide tyres.
tannie (tunny) - An Afrikaans word meaning "auntie", but also used
for any older female of authority.
taxi - Not a metered car with a single occupant, but a minibus used to transport
a large number of people, and the most common way of getting around in South
to die for - An expression popular in the affluent suburbs of Johannesburg
and Cape Town, denoting enthusiastic approval for an object or person: "That
necklace is to die for."
tom - Money.
toppie - Old man.
townships - Low-income dormitory suburbs outside cities and towns - effectively
ghettos - to which black South Africans were confined during the apartheid
Soweto, heartbeat of the nation
toyi-toyi - A knees-up protest dance.
tsotsi - A gangster, hoodlum or thug - and the title of South Africa's first
Oscar-winning movie. Although Will Smith thought otherwise at the awards ceremony,
the word is not pronounced "sossy".
tune grief - Cause trouble.
ubuntu - Southern African humanist philosophy that holds as its central tenet
that a person is a person through other persons. (See box on the right above.)
An ubuntu Buddhist in Ixopo
veld (felt) - Open grassland. From the Dutch for "field".
velskoen (fell-skun) - Simple unworked leather shoes.
vetkoek (fet-cook) - "Fat cake" in Afrikaans, vetkoek is a doughnut-sized
bread roll made from deep-fried yeast dough. Mainly served with a savoury mince
filling, it's artery-clogging and delicious.
voetsek (foot-sak) - Go away, buzz off.
voetstoets (foot-stoots) - "As is" or "with all its faults".
The term is used when advertising, for example, a car or house for sale. If
the item is sold voetstoets the buyer may not claim for any defects, hidden
or otherwise, discovered after the sale. From the Dutch met de voet te stoten,
meaning "to kick".
vrot (frot) - Rotten or smelly.
vuvuzela (voo-voo-zeh-lah) - A large, colourful plastic trumpet with the sound
of a foghorn, blown enthusiastically by virtually everyone in the crowd at
soccer matches. According to some, the word comes from the isiZulu for "making
windgat (vint-ghut) - Show-off or blabbermouth. Taken from the Afrikaans, it
literally means wind hole.
witblitz (vit-blitz) - Potent home-made distilled alcohol, much like the American
moonshine. The word means "white lightning" in Afrikaans. See mampoer.