A Handy Guide to Speaking South African

Have you ever wondered what the hell South Africans are talking about? Do you get lost when you are told to park your bakkie at the shebeen and have a dop? Never fear! Help is here! [Scroll down for list of slang words]

This handy glossary contains words used in South African mainstream English (that means, it’s in the Oxford English Dictionary, you just never noticed it), as well as slang and other words that crawled over from South Africa’s many languages.

South Africa has eleven official languages (AfrikaansEnglishNdebeleNorthern SothoSothoSwazi,TswanaTsongaVendaXhosa, and Zulu). [Please note that when it’s indicated that a word has been taken up into all mainstream languages, it means you’ll find it’s definition in the dictionary for all eleven official languages. That includes the Oxford English Dictionary]

Cover of "The Oxford English Dictionary (...

While most slang in South Africa is as a result of the cross-polination of languages, there are many original coinages as well, some of which you’d find below.

A few words from the  Khoisan languages (spoken by the Khoi and San Bushmen) have been taken into mainstream Afrikaans, and some are commonly used by speakers of all languages. Some words, like buchu, dagga and eina even made it into the Oxford English dictionary. Most of the Khoisan languages are endangered or extinct, with  Khoekhoe (quarter of a million speakers) remaining the only one in widespread use.

This list is by no means complete (although it’s updated occasionally). It’s merely a guide to help you understand the meaning of some words commonly known to South Africans, and often used even when speaking English.

Pronunciation (pron.) help is provided in accordance with a general English tongue, so if you say it the way you usually do, you should come close. In some languages, especially Afrikaans, the ‘g’ is often pronounced with a phlegm-inducing, throat-scraping guttural sound, like a Welshmen or an Arab with a terrible cold. This is indicated with a double ‘g’ (gg). If only one ‘g’ is present, stick to normal English phonetics.

 

Force the wors

(Image courtesy of ST Communications )

Ag (pron \agg\ like the German Achtung) can be used to start a reply when you are asked a tricky question to indicate uncertainty, as in ‘Ag, I don’t know’, or to indicate a sense of resignation, as in “Ag, I’ll have some more mieliepap then.” It can also stand alone to indicate irritation or pleasure.

Ag Man (pron. \Agg\) – oh man; ag as the Afrikaans equivalent to “oh”, man pronounced as in English

Ag Shame/Shame (pron. \Agg\ \Shame\) –how cute (“Is that your baby? Ag shame”); an expression of empathy, much like “I’m so sorry for you” (Marie: “My dog died.” Suzie: “Ag shame.”) – ‘ag’ is not necessary, it only adds emphasis

Aikôna (pron. \eye-caw-nah\) – not on your life / never / no [from a variety of African languages]

Aitsa (pron. \eye-t-sah\) – is usually used when exclaiming agreement like you would when saying “sweet!”, “nice!”, “lekker!”, and “got it! (of Khoisan origin)

Akubekuhle (pron. \aako-beck-hooleh\) – meaning cheers, to cheers a drink or thanks in Zulu

Aluta Continua – the struggle continues (was the rallying cry of Samora Machel’s FRELIMO movement during Mozambique’s war for independence, later taken up by the South African anti-Apartheid movement.) [From the Portuguese phrase ‘A luta continua, vitória é certa’ meaning, ‘The struggle continues, victory is certain’]

Amandla! power (popular chant at protests and gatherings, usually call and response, with a lead calling out ‘amandla’ and the crowd calling out ‘awethu’, meaning ‘to us’  in response) ‘amandla awethu’ can also mean ‘power to the people’ [of Zulu and Xhosa origin]

An’ All – and so on; can also mean ‘et cetera, et cetera’ [from ‘and all’]

Asijiki (pron. \ah-see-gee-key\) – there is no turning back, also used to imply that there will be no backing down. [from isiZulu]

Askies (pron. \aah-skees\) – sorry; excuse me; I beg your pardon [from the Afrikaans word ‘ekskuus’)

Ausie/Ousie (‘ausie’ pron. \auhw-see\; ‘ousie’ pron. \oh-see\) – ‘woman’ in various African languages; term used by white people to refer to a black maid or domestic worker (‘ousie’ denotes the Afrikaans appropriation) [not to be confused with Aussie (pron. \Ozzie\) which means Australian]

Authi (pron. \auhw-tee\) man, guy in various African languages

Awe/Aweh (pron. \ah-weh\) – howsit; hello; A slang way of greeting someone; (“Awe, my bru!”); also said in excitement (“Aweh, my boss said I can go home early today.”) [most common in Cape Town]

Ayoba (pron. \ah-yaw-bah\) – expression of excitement, it is good

Baas – boss (from the Afrikaans word for ‘boss’)

Babbelas/Babelaas (pron. \bah-buh-laas\) – commonly used Afrikaans word for hangover (of Zulu origin)

Bakgat (pron. \buck-ggaht\) – cool; expression of appreciation for something very well accomplished

South Africa’s favourite bakkie – The Nissan 1400 (RIP)

Bakkie (pron. \buck-key\) – utility truck, pick-up truck, now a mainstream word in all South African languages; can also refer to a small container [from the Afrikaans word for a small container]

Bek (pron. \back\) – derogatory term for mouth (Afrikaans: an animal’s mouth); hou jou bek – “shut up, shut your trap” (literally” “hold your [animal’s] mouth”). This translates well into British English as “Shut your gob.”

Bergie(s) (pron. \behr-ggey\) – originally referring to vagrants who sheltered in the forests of Table Mountain; now a mainstream word for a particular subculture of vagrants, or homeless persons, especially in Cape Town. When used as slang refers to anyone down-and-out [from Afrikaans word ‘berg’ meaning ‘mountain’),

Beskuit (pron. \buh-skate\) – rusks (a dry biscuit or piece of rebaked bread) [from Afrikaans]

Biltong – dried, seasoned meat, similar to jerky

Bioskoop/Bioscope (bioskoop pron. \bee-ooh-skoowp\) – cinema; movie theatre – originally a defunct English word that survived longer in South Africa because of the influence of the Afrikaans word, ‘bioskoop’

Biscuit – used as a term of affection when a person does something good – Claudia, you biscuit!!

Bladdy – damn (eg. I can’t believe the bladdy referee gave that penalty)

Blesser – sugar-daddy; an older man sponsoring the expensive lifestyle of a young woman

Bliksem (pron. \bluhk-suhm\) – strike, hit, punch; also used as an expression of surprise/emphasis (rude). It derives from the Dutch word for “lightning”, and often occurs in conjunction with donner. Used as a curse in Afrikaans: Jou bliksem! (You bastard!) Used to curse that Bliksem

Bobotie (pron. \buh-boo-tea\) – a spicy traditional Malay mince with an egg custard topping, served with yellow rice and raisins.

Boer – literally “farmer” in Afrikaans; English-speaking people use the word to indicate an Afrikaans farmer, especially in a derogatory way, like “country bumpkin”, “boorish”; but Afrikaners use it with much pride, indicating a person with a deep love of the soil of Africa, a provider of food. boere (the plural form) can also refer to the police

Boeretroos – coffee (literally ‘farmer’s comfort’) [from Afrikaans]

Boerewors (boerie) – spicy South African farmers’ sausage, used as a mainstream word in South African English

Boet/Boetie (pron. \boot\ \boot-tea\) – boet is used to mean friend, boetie is used to mean friend in a patronising way [from Afrikaans; boet means brother, boetie means little brother]

Bokkie – a small buck in Afrikaans, or affectionate name for a girlfriend/boyfriend (my bokkie), as a mistranslation of the English ‘dear’ (‘deer’ means buck; ‘dear’ is a term of affection)

Boom (pron. \boowm\) – Literal translation is “tree” but is commonly used to refer to marijuana

Bosberaad (pron \boss-buh-raahd\) – strategy meeting held outdoors, for example in a game reserve

Boykie/Boitjie (both pron. \boy-key\) – meaning a young white male who is cool in the high-school stereotype kind of way. Sporty and tanned, uses a lot of slang. [From English “boy” and the Afrikaans diminutive “-tjie”]

Bra – Afrikaans slang word for male friend – “dude” in English

Braai (pron. \br-eye\)  a Barbecue [from Afrikaans for barbecue; mainstream word to mean barbecue in all South African languages]

Braaivleis (pron. \br-eye-vlase\) – The meat for a braai; A braaivleis fire refers to the fire for a braai. [from Afrikaans]

Brak – mongrel dog, can also refer to brackish water

Bring en Braai – a barbecue where everyone is required to bring their own meat (also see Shisa Nyama)

Bru (pron. \brooh\) – A term of affection see also “bra” and “boet”, shortened from Afrikaans broer, meaning “brother”. An example would be “Hey, my bru, howzit?”

English: Maurocenia frangularia tree. Juvenile...

Buchu (Maurocenia frangularia)

Buchu/Boegoe (pron. \boo-ggoo\) – a heather-like South African shrub, cultivated for its essential oil; name applied to a range of medicinal plants (of Khoisan origin)

Buck – the main unit of currency: in South Africa the rand; usage became popular due to the range of antelope found on South African coins

Bunny Chow – type of food, made with a hollowed out loaf of bread filled with a curry stew

Café/Cafe (pron. \caffie\) – convenience store; corner store

Chaile/Tjaila (pron. \chai-lah\) – time to go home [chaile of Zulu origin; tjaila Afrikaans use variant spelling)

Charf – flirt, (e.g., check that china charfing my chick)

Charo (pron. \chah-roo\) – a person of Indian origin

Checkers – Township slang for a plastic bag [from branded plastic bags by the Checkers supermarket chain]

Cherry/pl. Cherries – Girl(s); girlfriend(s)

China – friend / mate (eg. ‘Hoezit, my china?) – [From Cockney rhyming slang (mate – china plate) alternatively, from the Bantu word umshana, shortened to shana]

Chiskop – Township slang for a shaved head (denoting the hairstyle); a person with a shaved head

Chizboy – Township slang for a person from a wealthy family; one who dresses like he’s wealthy

Chommie/Tjommie/Tjomma – friend; buddy (‘How are you, my chommie?’) [from the British English term ‘chum’]

Choc – township slang for R20 note

Choon – to tell someone something (“I choon you” – I tell you); could also mean a song [South African Indian origin] – Also see “tune”

Chop – a person behaving in a stupid or pathetic way (‘don’t be such a chop’)

Chow/Chowing – to eat; eating

Coconut – derogative term for a black person who is perceived to embrace white culture too much. Black on the outside and white on the inside (derogatory term used amongst city dwelling Black South Africans)

Cocopan – small tip truck on rails used in mines (from Zulu and Xhosa ‘nqukumbana’ meaning  ‘Scotch cart’)

A perfect example of a cozzie  (Model: Joelle Kayembe)

A perfect example of a cozzie (Model: Joelle Kayembe)

Cozzy – swim suit; swimming costume; bathing costume (applies to both male and female)

Dagga (pron. \dah-ggah\) – most common word for marijuana; Mainstream word in all South African languages (of Khoisan origin)

Dik bek (pron. \duh-k-back\) – sulking, pouting, grumpy, in a huff (literally: “thick mouth” (pout), with an image of puffed-out cheeks like a bullfrog)

Diskitownship slang for football (soccer)

Dof/Doff – stupid, daft (“Are you doff?”) [from the Afrikaans word ‘dof’ meaning ‘dim’]

Dolos/pl. Dolosse (pron. \daw-laws\) – ox knuckle-joint bones used in divination practices by sangomas [from Afrikaans]

Domkop – idiot (litrally dumbhead), similar to the German ‘dummkopf’ [from Afrikaans]

Donga – ditch or dried up waterway of the type found in South African topography. (From Zulu word meaning ‘wall’; this has become a mainstream word for such a feature)

Donner – to beat up; often used together with ‘bliksem’ [derived from the Afrikaans word ‘donder’ meaning ‘thunder’] (sometimes considered moderately rude)

Doos/Dose (pl) (dose pron. /doo-suh/) – literally the Afrikaans translation for ‘box’. Used in English, it’s a derogatory synonym for ‘prat’, ‘twat’ or ‘idiot’. Used in Afrikaans, it can also be vulgar slang for female genitals.

Dop – alcohol, a drink (‘Come and drink a dop with me’) / also means to fail a test or to fail at graduating (‘I’m gonna dop grade 6’)

Doss/Dossing – nap, to take a nap

Dorpie (pron. \door-pee\) – a town small in size

Droëwors (pron. \droo-a-wors\) – traditional Afrikaner dried sausage

Dronkie – drunkard [of Afrikaans origin]

Duidelik (pron. \day-duh-lik\) – cool, awesome, amazing (e.g. That bra’s car looks duidelik!) [from Afrikaans word ‘duidelik’ meaning ‘clear’]

Dwaal – lost or loss of concentration (e.g. I was in a dwaal and didn’t see the red robot)

Ek Sê/Eksê (pron \eh-k-seh\) – I say! (used at the beginning of a statement to get somebody listening to you) [from Afrikaans]

Eina! (pron. ‘ei’ as the ‘a’ in apron \ay-nah\) – ouch! used as a cry-out when experiencing physical pain, can also be used to express sympathy at another’s physical pain [of Khoisan origin; used as a mainstream word in South African English]

Eish! (pron. /aysh/ but also, less often, as /ish/) – A term of resignation; Used to express everything ranging from frustration to surprise to disapproval, but also just everyday acknowledgement of things you can’t change like “Eish, the traffic is bad today”. Heard frequently each and every day! Also used to indicate displeasure, for example: “Eish, what’s going on here?”

Entjie (pron. \eh-n-chee\) – a cigarette (e.g. Come smoke an entjie with me.) [Cape Town slang]

Fire Pool – a pool that looks exactly like a swimming pool, but is in fact a fire pool for fire fighting, used to scoop water from when your expensive thatch roof catches fire, because it’s more effective than a pump and a hose pipe. Most notably found at the Nkandla homestead of President Jacob Zuma.

Fong Kong – cheap and fake products that one can buy from vendors on the streets; sometimes used as a derogative term for an idiot or loser

Fundi (pron. \foon-dee\) – expert (From the Zulu word ‘umfundisi’ meaning teacher or preacher) – used in mainstream South African English [not to be confused with ‘fundie’ (pron. fun-dee), American slang for ‘Christian fundamentalist’]

Frostun/Forstan (pron. like ‘frost’ and ‘stun’ together) – township slang meaning ‘understand’ – Often used to mean a complete question as in ‘do you understand’ [mispronunciation of the Afrikaans word ‘verstaan’ meaning ‘understand’]

Gatvol (pron. \ggut-fawl\) – fed up, had enough. (Afrikaans – asshole-full)

Gesuip (pron. \ghe-sayp\) – Very drunk [from Afrikaans]

Gogga

Know your ‘gogga from your ‘gogo’. It could save your life.

Gogga (pron. \ggaw-ggah\) – bug or insect (of Khoikhoi origin)

Gogo (pron. gaw-gaw) – grandmother, elderly woman [from Zulu, ugogo]

Gooi (pron. ggoow-ee) – chuck or throw something

Goose – chick, cherry: a young woman or girlfriend

Graft – work (I’m grafting; ‘I’m at work’ / ‘I’m busy)

Graze – to eat, food (‘do you want to graze?’ / ‘let’s go get some graze’)

Guzzie – friend [from the Zulu word guz’lam]

Haw! (pron. \how\) – expression of disbelief, surprise [From the Zulu ‘hawu’]

Hayibo! (pron \hah-yee-boh\) – wow! really? Can it be?; expression of surprise (from Zulu, ‘definitely not’)

Hectic: Extremely, expression of amazement (e.g. I had to stand in a queue for 30 minutes to get my latte – Hectic bru)

Heita (pron. \hey-tah\) – a greeting, meaning “hello” or “hi”

Hey – Handy word used in a variety of contexts. It can be an interjection (e.g. Hey! What do you mean I have bad breath?); It can be a question, meaning “what” or “pardon”. It can be used to get attention (e.g. Hey you!); It can be used as an expression of agreement (e.g. It was nice to eat Indian food for a change, hey?)

Hoesit / Hoezit / Howzit – a greeting – derived from ‘How is it going?’ – contracted to ‘how’s it?’ – In English SA context, howzit is more a greeting of ‘hello’ rather than ‘how are you?’, similar to SA black slang’s “heita” or “ola”

Hundreds – excellent, good (As in 100%; for example: John: “Hey bru, howzit going?” Dominic: “I’m hundreds, boet.”)

Howzit varkie

(Image courtesy of ST Communications)

Indaba – from Zulu and Xhosa meaning ‘a matter for discussion’; can also refer to a gathering or meeting; used in mainstream South African English to mean ‘conference’

Isit? (pron. \izit\) the words “is” and “it” put together. Short term for “Is that so?” (For example: John: “Bra, I just found out I have a million dollars!” Charles: “Isit?”; Also, it can mean ‘really?’; sometimes used as an interjection to respond when you have nothing to contribute to the conversation, like ‘uh huh’.

Ja (pron. \yaah\) – yeah (literally “yes” in Afrikaans)

Ja-nee – an agreement, but not enthusiastically so; can also be a sarcastic agreement (like yeah, right) [From Afrikaans – Literal translation : Yes No]

Ja Wel No Fine – roughly means ‘how about  that?’ It indicates acceptance of a situation [Mixture of Afrikaans and English, derived from the four words ‘Ja’ (yes), ‘wel’ (well), ‘no’ and ‘fine’]

Jislaaik! (pron. \yis-like\) – an expression of surprise or astonishment, can be positive or negative. For instance, if someone tells you there are a billion people in China, a suitable comment is, “Jislaaik, that’s a hang of a lot of  people, hey?” [from Afrikaans, an euphemism for Jesus!]

Jo!/Yo! (pron. \yaw\; or as ‘yo’ in ‘yonder’) – an expression of surprise e.g., “Jo, that was rude” “Jo, you gave me a fright!”

Jol – to have fun, to party; can also refer to a disco, a party or a nightclub (“I want to dance, let’s go find a jol.”); sometimes used as a term that means to commit adultery, casual dating (but not to general casual sex) or just making out with someone (“John and Suzie jolled at my house last night.”); can also mean ‘to play’ (“Let’s go jol rugby.”) [shortened from ‘jolly’]

Just Now – interchangeable meanings which could be ‘soon’, ‘tomorrow’ or perhaps ‘never’; sometime in the near future or the near past, not necessarily immediately; expresses an intention to act soon, but not necessarily immediately, or expresses something that happened in the near past [from the Afikaans netnou with the same meaning] [also see ‘now now’]

Kaalgat (pron. \kaal-ghut\) – very naked (literally, naked hole) [from Afrikaans]

Kak (pron. \kah-k\) – shit; crap; rubbish, nonsense (vulgar), of very wide usage. Also used as a way of further expressing one’s feeling in language, for example, instead of “that girl is pretty” one can say emphatically “that girl is kak pretty!” [from the Afrikaans word ‘kak’ meaning ‘shit’]

Kassie (pron. \kah-sea\) – township slang for the township [from the Afrikaans word ‘lokasie’, meaning ‘location’]

Kettie – slingshot ( a small hand-powered projectile weapon)

Kierie — walking stick, cane [Afrikaans word of Khoisan origin]

Kiff, Kif, Kief – (adjective) wicked, cool, neat, great, wonderful [The word derives from the Arabic word ‘kif’ meaning pleasure or marijuana. This may also be related to the Afrikaans word for poison: gif. Coastal pot-smokers used the term to refer to Durban Poison: “Gifs” (locally-grown marijuana). The word evolved into kiff, an adjective or exclamation meaning “cool”, amongst English-speaking people on the east coast.]

Kiffness – the state of being kiff (see kiff)

Klap (pron. \klup\) – to smack, whack or spank; like a bitch-slap (“He got klapped in the bar”) [From Afrikaans]

Knobkierie (pron. \knob-key-ree\)  a short stick with a knobbed head, used as a weapon by South African tribesmen [used in mainstream English; from knob + kierrie (from Nama the word kieri, suggested by the Afrikaans word knopkierie]

Koeksister (pron. \cook-sister\) – delicious, syrupy deep-fried dough plaited into knots [from Afrikaans]

Kombi – a minivan

Kort-kort – Regularly

Kraal – enclosure for livestock [from Afrikaans via Portuguese “curral”.]

Kwaai (pron. \kwaeye\) – a homonym meaning – cool, excellent in slang or angry in Afrikaans

Kwaito (pron. \kwae-tow\) – popular genre of music, a mixture of South African disco, hip hop, R&B, ragga, and a heavy dose of house-music beats

Laaitie (pron. as ‘lighty) – a young person, usually a young male such as a younger brother or son

Laduma! (pron. \lah-doo-mah\) – outcry used when a goal is scored in South African soccer matches [from Zulu, meaning ‘it thunders’)

Lanie (pron. \lah-ney\) – An upper class person

Lank – lots/a lot; can sometimes be used in the context of ‘very’

Larney – fancy / designer

Lekker – great / tasty / good / nice; indicates anything pleasurable [from Afrikaans] used by all language groups to express approval. Food tastes lekker; skydiving is lekker; that woman is lekker (she’s sexy); that car is lekker (it’s a nice car)

Loose Draw  a cigarette; loose refers to loose cigarettes sold by street vendors, even though it’s illegal to sell cigarettes without the packaging, draw refers to the action of smoking

Loxion (pron. \lock-shion\)  – township slang meaning ‘the township’ [from the English word ‘location’]

Madala (pron. \mah-dah-lah\) – old man [from Zulu/Xhosa]

Mal (pron. \mahl\) – mad, crazy, insane [from Afrikaans]

Makarapa

Makarapas are essential to protect your chiskop, because Bafana Bafana strikers are moegoes and can never hit the target.

Makarapa (pron. \mah-kah-rah-pah) – a modified, decorated miners’ helmet used by South African soccer fans

Mamparra – cheeky, mischievous

Mara (pron. \mah-rah\) – but (eg. ‘mara why?’ – ‘but why?) [from the Afrikaans word ‘maar’ meaning ‘but’]

Mavuso (pron. \mah-voo-so\) –  the money given to a woman after she has spent the night with a man

Moegoe (pron. \moo-ggoo\) – a fool, idiot or simpleton

Moer (pron. /moor/) – hit [from Afrikaans] (mildly vulgar)

Moerse(pron. /moor-suh/) – big/huge [from Afrikaans] – generally acceptable, even in more polite conversations, although slightly vulgar

Moer-toe (pron. /moor-too/) – stuffed up or destroyed (my car is moer-toe) (mildly vulgar)

Moffie – male homosexual (sometimes derogatory) – Can be compared to ‘fairy‘ [from the Afrikaans word for a delicate woman’s glove, referring to the stereotypical ‘hand in the air’ mannerism perceived to be a homosexual trait]

Mos – Afrikaans, implies that what has been said is well known or self-evident (a formal part of grammar, the closest English equivalent would be “duh!”). “Ek drink mos tee.” (“I drink tea, duh!”).

Mielies/Mealies – maize / corn (mainstream word in all South African languages) [from Portuguese ‘milho’]

Mielie Meal – In sub-Saharan Africa, a relatively coarse flour (much coarser than corn flour or cornstarch) made from maize

Muti – the medicine prescribed by traditional healers; sometimes used as slang to mean any medicine [from Zulu ‘umuthi’ meaning tree]

Mzansi (pron. \mmm-zun-zee\) – slang name for South Africa [uMzantsi in Xhosa means ‘south’]

Naartjie (pron. \naah-chi\ or \nar-key\) – tangerine, mandarin, satsuma – any pealable orange-coloured citrus fruit with neat segments; used as a mainstream word in South African English; Often thrown at the TV when frustrated with referee decisions

Naught – never, no way, unbelievable [mispronunciation of the Afrikaans word ‘nooit’, meaning ‘never’]

Nca (pron. \n!aah\ a click sound, produced by sticking the tongue to the back of the top front teeth and flicking it downward, follows the ‘n’ sound seamlessly into the ‘aah’ sound) – good, nice, lekker (“The food was nca, my bru”; “That girl is nca”)

Nè? (pron. \neh\) – do you know what I mean/agree?, oh really?, is it not so?. From the French “n’es pas” meaning “Isn’t it?”. e.g. “Jy hou van tee, nè?” (“You like tea, not so?”) (informal). The South African English equivalent is “hey”, for example “Eish, its cold hey?”. [from Afrikaans]

Nee (pron. \nee-ah\) – Afrikaans for ‘no’

Nogal (pron. \naw-ggahl\) – of all things; term expressing a measure of surprise (often followed by ‘nè’, as in ‘nogal, nè?’) [from Afrikaans]

Nooit – never, no way, unbelievable! [from Afrikaans]

Now Now – an immediate but not literal declaration of impending action, may be past or future tense. [From the Afrikaans expression “nou nou”] [also see ‘just now’]

Nyaope – Street drug popular in the impoverished townships, made by mixing anti-retroviral AIDS drugs with various other ingredients, usually dagga (marijuana), heroin and crystal-meth.

Nxa (pron. click sound produced by sticking the tounge against the back of the palate and clicking it, similar to the way one would urge on a horse) – a sign of disgust or disapproval, usually expressed while shaking te head (“Nxa, why did you do that?”)

Ou Ballie (pron. \oh bah-lee\) – Afrikaans slang for old man

Oke (pron. \oak\) – a guy / bloke (from the Afrikaans word ‘outjie’ – pronounced oa-key – meaning ‘young man’)

Onetime – of course, without delay; often used as a positive reply to a question

Oom (pron. \oowm\) – an older man of authority, commonly in reference to an older Afrikaans man (Afrikaans for uncle)

Ousie/Ausie (‘ousie’ pron. \oh-see\;‘ausie’ pron. \auh-see\) – ‘woman’ in various African languages; term used by white people to refer to a black maid or domestic worker (‘ousie’ denotes the Afrikaans appropriation of ‘ausie’)

Panga (pron. \pahng-ga\) – a bladed African tool like a machete – mainstream word in all South African languages [from Swahili]

Padkos (pron. \paht-cos\) – food for the road / journey

Pap (pron. \pup\) – traditional maize porridge similar to grits; Mainstream in all South African languages; also slang for ‘tired’ [from Afrikaans word ‘pap’ meaning ‘deflated’]

Pap en Sous (pron. \pup en sow-s\) – pap and sauce [in Afrikaans] (also see pap)

Pap en Vleis (pron. \pup en flays\) – pap and meat [in Afrikaans] (also see pap)

Pap en Wors (pron. \pup en vors\) – pap and sausage [in Afrikaans] (also see pap)

Paraat (pron. \pah-raaht\) – ready; often used in military term to signify readiness [from Afrikaans]

Pasop! (pron. pah-sawp) – watch out, heads up [from Afrikaans]

Peri-Peri – chilli pepper [Of Mozambican origin, from Portuguese ‘piri-piri’]

Phusa (pron. \poo-za\) – to drink alcohol

Plaas – farm [from Afrikaans]

Platteland – rural area, country (as in living in the country, as opposed to living in the city) [from Afrikaans]

Poephol (pron. \poo-pall\) – idiot, moron, doofus. (e.g. Did you see that poephol cut me off in traffic?) [from the Afrikaans word for arsehole/asshole]

Pofadder, a dorpie in the platteland.

Pofadder, a dorpie in the platteland.

Pofadder (pron. \pawf-ah-duhr\) – name of a small, remote town in the north western desert of South Africa, used to mean a remote, desolate place at the end of the earth or ‘in the middle of nowhere’; similar in usage to Timbuktu (“You won’t find a better deal anywhere from here to Pofadder”) [also Afrikaans for ‘puff adder’, the snake)

Pommie/Pom – derogatory term for a person from England (borrowed from Australia)

Posie/Pozzie – home – Afrikaans-speakers tend to use the first; English-speakers the second

Pull in – arrive (‘We pulled in at the shop’) Used for all forms of arriving, not just turning in with a car. You can also ‘pull in’ by foot. Can also mean ‘come over’, when you tell somebody to ‘pull in’.

Right now – Third meaning for now, this one means immediately or at least within the next 5 – 10 minutes

Robot – South African term for a traffic light (also used in mainstream English)

Rock Up – to arrive uninvited or unplanned

Rof/Roff (pron. \ruff\ -roll the r) – rough, especially do with character (e.g. You don’t want to mess with her bru, she’s roff enough to chew you a new poephol.); It can also indicate feeling under the weather, especially when hung over (e.g. Bru, it must have been a hectic jol last night because you look roff.) [from the Afrikaans word rof, meaning rough]

Rondavel (pron. \rawn-dah-vuhl\) – free-standing round building which usually has a thatched roof

Rooinek – (literally ‘red neck’) Afrikaner derogatory term for English person or English-speaking South African. Can sometimes be used endearingly. Derived in 19th century due to native British not being used to the hot African sun and getting sunburnt, especially on the neck. Almost the exact opposite to the American usage of “redneck“. It refers to being English, not to being backwoods.

Rooibos (pron. \roowi-bos\) – a tea made from the Cyclopia genistoides bush, can be found in every household in South Africa, sold as an exotic herbal tea to the rest of the world. [literally Afrikaans for red bush. Some international brands call it ‘red bush tea’. No self-respecting South African would ever call it ‘red bush’]

Saamie/Sarmie – a sandwich

Sangoma (pron. \sung-gaw-mah) – Southern African traditional healer or diviner. Traditionally, ‘sangoma’ only refers to a spiritual healer or diviner, while ‘inyanga’ refers to a medicine man (the one making ‘muti’ or herbla medicine’), but ‘sangoma’ has become the common word to refer to all types of witch doctors and traditional healers

Scale – to steal, to take something without someone’s knowledge

Scaly – used as an edjective to describe a scumbag (‘Joe is scaly’)

Scheme/Skeem/Skiem – to think that (e.g. “I scheme we should go home now”; usage evolved from the hyperbole “What are you scheming?” asked of a person deep in thought.)

Shame/Ag Shame (pron. \Agg\ \Shame\) –how cute (“Is that your baby? Ag shame”); an expression of empathy, much like “I’m so sorry for you” (Marie: “My dog died.” Suzie: “Ag shame.”) – ‘ag’ is not necessary, it only adds emphasis

Sharp/Shap/Sharp-sharp – good (usually said while showing the thumbs-up sign)

Shebeen

Have a dop at the shebeen.

Shebeen (pron. shuh-been) – illegal drinking-establishment (from Irish sibín), synonymous with speakeasy. In South Africa it refers in particular to unlicensed bars in the townships [a mainstream word in all languages]

Shisa Nyama/Chesa Nyama (pron. \shee-sah\ \n-yah-mah\) – a term used in many South African townships to describe an informal braai where friends come together near a butchery, to grill meat on an open fire. The site is usually provided by the butchery owner and only people who buy meat from the butcher are allowed to use the facility. [Shisa nyama is a isiZulu phrase and it literally means ‘burn meat’] (also see braai)

Shongololo/Shongalolo (pron. \shaw-ng-gaw-law-law\) – millipede (from Zulu and Xhosa, ukushonga, ‘to roll up’)

Shortly before long – direct translation of the Afrikaans term ‘kort voor lank’, which means ‘before long’

Shot – good / correct / thanks (depending on context). Example for the meaning ‘good’ or ‘correct’: Person A: What is 3+3?; Person B: six Person A: shot. – Example for the meaning ‘thanks’: Person A: I have bought you a drink; Person B: Shot

Sies/Sis – expression of disgust, disappointment, annoyance, as in: Ag, sies, man, that’s siff.

Siff (pron. \suhf\) – used to describe anything disgusting, horrible or ugly – “This milkshake is siff!”

Sisi (pron. \see-see\) – sister, often used to refer to a woman [from both isiXhosa/isiZulu words for sister, usisi and osisi (plural).

Sjambok – an ox-hide whip; taken into international English [from Afrikaans]

Skaftien (pron. \scuff-teen\) – lunch box

Skeef (pron. ‘ee’ like ‘ea’ in ‘hear’) – sideways, usually used as a way to look at someone oddly (e.g. Why are you looking at me skeef?); can also mean gay [from Afrikaans word ‘skeef’, meaning ‘crooked’ or ‘bent’]

Skeem/Scheme/Skiem – to think that (e.g. “I scheme we should go home now”; usage evolved from the hyperbole “What are you scheming?” asked of a person deep in thought.)

Skelm (pron. \skel-luhm\)  – crook, trouble-maker, cheater [from Afrikaans]

Skelmpie (pron. \skel-luhm-pee\)  – mistress, secret lover [from Afrikaans, diminutive form of ‘skelm’, meaning secretive]

Skinner (pron. \skuh-nuhr\) – gossip [from the Afrikaans word ‘skinder’ meaning ‘gossip’]

Skollie (pron. \skaw-lee\) – a gangster, to steal (from Greek skolios “crooked”, widely used in Cape Town, originally applied by Greek convenience-store owners to street-youths who shoplifted)

Skop, Skiet en Donner – literally “kicking, shooting and beating people up”. A colloquial description of an action movie of the more violent kind. (Think Jean-Claude Van Damme.)

Skorokoro (pron. \skaw-raw-kaw-raw\) – noun: run-down car with too many mechanical faults; adjective: worn and ragged beyond its years. [township slang]

Skothane/Izikothane (pron. \skaw-thaahn\; \ee-see-skaw-thaahn\) – township street culture in which impoverished youths wear expensive clothing and burn or destroy it to show off how much money they have. This is often done in gang battle style showdowns in which rival crews compete to show off their richness; sometimes used to indicate wasteful people, people who live lavishly)

Skrik – fright, to catch a fright [from Afrikaans]

Slap Chips (pron. \slup\chips\) – French fries

Slip Slops/Slops – flip slop sandals

Smaak (pron. \smaahk\) – to like another person or thing (“I smaak your car”) [from the Afrikaans word ‘smaak’ meaning ‘to taste’]

Soapie – a soap opera television show (like Days of Our Lives); sometimes used to refer to a situation full of drama (e.g. Relax, I don’t have time for a soapie.)

Soek (pron. \sook\) – to look for trouble with someone/to antagonise/to stir up trouble; eg. “You soeking with me?” [from the Afrikaans word meaning ‘to seek’]

Sommer (pron. \saw-muhr\) – for no particular reason, just because [from Afrikaans]

Spaza Shop/Spaza (pron. \spah-zah\) – an informal trading-post/convenience store found in townships and remote areas

Spruit (pron. \sprate\) – a small watercourse, typically dry except during the rainy season.

Stoep (pron. \stoop\) – verandah

Sosatie (pron. \soo-sah-tea\) – a kebab on a skewer, traditionally made from lamb, although now also used for all types of kebab – used as mainstream word in South African English [from Afrikaans]

Starter Pack – Township slang that refers to entry-level cars, especially models that are common the road and therefore less easy to spot as stolen. Thieves can ‘chop up’ the parts at an illegal ‘chop shop’ and used them for repairs on more expensive vehicles. (Origins: Terminology first used by mobile-phone companies to indicate the sim card for pre-paid phone accounts, but quickly adapted by car thieves and car hijackers.)

Stokvel  (pron. \stawk-fell\) – a type of credit union in which a group of individuals enter into an informal agreement to contribute a fixed amount of money to a common pool weekly, fortnightly or monthly. The money may be drawn either in total, or part of it on a rotational basis by the members to pay for major expenses.

Swak (pron. \swuk\) bad; exclamation of a wrong action (“I kissed John’s girlfriends” – “No, bra, swak”) [from the Afrikaans word ‘swak’ meaning ‘poor’ or ‘bad’)

Tannie (pron. \tah-nee\) – Afrikaans for aunt

Tekkies/Tackies – casual shoes; known sneakers in the US, or trainers in the UK; sometimes used to refer to automobile tyres (fat tackies refer to big wheels)

Tik (pron. \tuhk\) meth amphetamine; crystal meth – usually smoked through a glass pipe

Tjaila/Chaile (pron. \chai-lah\) – time to go home [chaile of Zulu origin; tjaila Afrikaans use variant spelling)

Tjommie/Tjomma/Chommie – friend; buddy (‘How are you, my chommie?’) [from the British English term ‘chum’]

TokolosheTokoloshe (pron. \taw-kaw-law-sheh\) – a dwarf-like water sprite in southern African folklore. It is considered a mischievous and evil spirit that can become invisible by swallowing a pebble. Tokoloshe are called upon by malevolent people to cause trouble for others. At its least harmful a tokoloshe can be used to scare children, but its power extends to causing illness and even death upon the victim. The way to get rid of him is to call in the inyanga (witch doctor), who has the power to banish him from the area.

Tops – excellent; the best

Toyi-Toyi – South African Zulu for protesting and dancing in the street; used in mainstream South African English

True as Bob/True’s Bob – it’s the absolute truth [from the Afrikaans saying ‘so waar as God’, literally ‘as true as God’, with God changed to Bob as an euphemism]

Tsotsi  (pron. \tzaw-tzee\) – a person who does no good, gangster, layabout

Tune – to give a person lip (“Don’t you tune me, china”); can also refer to music (“Play us a tune on the radio”; ” Play some tunes, bra”)

Ubuntu (pron. \ooh-boohn-tooh\) – compassion or kindness, humanity (I am because we are)

Umlungu (pron. \oom-loong-goo\) – white South African or the Boss (Baas) of the company [Xhosa word for the white foam that is left on the beach sand, once a wave has retreated back into the sea (foam is for unprofitable use)]

Umqombothi (pron. \Oom-kawm-boh-tee) a traditional African beer made from maize (corn), maize malt, sorghum malt, yeast and water.

Veld (pron. \felt\) – bush / grassland – used in mainstream South African English [of Arikaans origin]

Veldskoens/Vellies (pron. \felt-skoons\) – traditional Afrikaans outdoors shoes made from hide

Viva! – long live! [interjection from Portuguese “Viva”. Local use influenced from Mozambican usage during struggle for independence; commonly used during protests or mass gatherings while shouting slogans]

Voetsêk (pron. \foot-sek\) – go away / buzz off (e.g. Hey voetsêk man!) [Afrikaans for ‘get lost’, much like the British expression, ‘bog off’.]

Vrot (pron. \frawt\) – rotten, putrid (used to indicate something rotten, like vegetables, or to indicate a foul smell, can also be used to indicate that something was badly executed, e.g. ‘that was vrot, where did you learn how to play); can also mean blind drunk (e.g. Alan was so vrot last night the bartender had to drive him home  [from the Afrikaans word for ‘rotten’ or ‘rotting’]

Vry (pron. \fray\) – kiss, smooch

Vuvuzela (pron. \voo-voo-zeh-lah\) – a plastic stadium horn, used by soccer fans during matches in South Africa [of Setswana origin]

Wena (pron. \weh-nah) – you (often used to express anger – commonly used in a sentence “Haw wena!”) [from the isiZulu/isiXhosa word ‘wena’ meaning ‘you’]

What’s Potting? – whats happening?; What’s up?. This term  has no gardening connotation whatsoever.

Windgat (pron. \vind-ghat\) – a show-off, arrogant (e.g. ‘Those teenage boys are windgat in their dad’s new BMW.’)

Woes (pron. \voos\) – wild, extreme, crazy, (e.g. That chick’s so woes she’ll drink you under the table and sell your car to the skollies.)

Wors (pron. \vors\) – sausage [from Afrikaans]

Yebo (pron. \yeah-baw\) – Yes in Zulu

Yo!/Jo! (pron. \yoh\ or \yaw\ but abruptly) – exclamation of surprise, (eg. Yo, I didn’t think that you were going to drink that 11th dop)

Yussus (pron. \yuh-siss\) – expression of surprise, revelation or objection (eg. Yussus man, you don’t know what you’re bladdy talking about!

Zama trying your luck or taking a shot at fortune.

Zama Zama(s) – illegal miners who live underground in mine shafts, in dangerous conditions and darkness. Sometimes shortened to ‘a zama’ or ‘the zamas’

larny

(Image courtesy of ST Communications)

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5 responses to “A Handy Guide to Speaking South African

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