July 9, 2012

My 43 Favorite South-Africanisms

This blog post was inspired by my blogger friend Nikki from Durban. Or, rather, soon to be ex-Durban. Upon her imminent departure from South Africa, she posted a few of her favorite South African expressions and pronounciations on Facebook, and the response of everyone else's favorites was overwhelming.

Here are a few of them, in no particular order:


  • Izzit? - As response to, say, someone telling you "I bought a new car yesterday." Anywhere else in the world you'd reply with "Really?" or "Did you?" but here in South Africa it's always "Izzit?" I initially thought I'd never be caught saying that, but of course I say it all the time now.
  • Howzit?! - How are you, usually answered with Good'nYouuuuu?
  • Shame - Hard to describe that one. Almost like the word "like" said by an American teenager. It simply fits in everywhere, and often. "The Springboks lost? Shame." Or "Shame, she was so cute singing that song in front of the school."
  • Robot - If you're new to South Africa, you'll have to learn that one quickly if you ever want to understand the directions people give you. I've written about robots elsewhere
  • Just Now and Now Now - I've written about that one before too. Of course I now use it liberally myself and you know what? It feels like going to confession. Instant forgiveness for the fact that you might not actually do what you promised to do "just now."
  • Tomaahto sauce - What goes on your french fries, otherwise known as ketchup. Can't believe my children now say that all the time. 
  • Agaiiin - Rhymes with rain (Learning my English mostly in America, I had always wondered about "The itsy bitsy spider" and why it rhymed so badly, but now I know; by the way, saying "America" instead of "The United States" is also very South African). 
  • Shedule - Spelled schedule but pronounced as in "shell." Simply awful, if you ask me.
  • Diarise - To put something on your schedule. 
  • Yurr - Stands for "year" but rhymes with "fur." 
  • Eish! - Substitute any of the following: No shit! Dang! Holy Cow! Ouch! You're kidding! Bummer! No f*cking way! Oh well. Geez! 
  • Haibo - Similar to Eish. 
  • Ballbox - Athletic cup. As in "Eish, that's a big ballbox." Still haven't decided if their enormous size here reflects ego or physics.
  • Side - Sports team. As in "The South African side totally smashed the English side in rugby today." 
  • That side - Over there. 
  • Durbs - Durban 
  • Ag - Pronounced with that guttural sound at the back of your throat. As in "Ag man, leave me alone."
  • Gatvol - I've had it.
  • Indaba - Conference, meeting.
  • Tinkle - If someone promises to "give you a tinkle" it is nothing obscene; they just might want to call you; or, rather, phone you. 
  • Bakkie - Pickup truck. Often seen loaded sky-high with someone standing on the back holding it all together while it is navigating Joburg traffic. Also refers to the covered kind, which is almost always the magical edition, kind of like Hermione's purse if you're a Harry Potter fan, letting out twenty people when you know there should only be room for five. 
  • Lekker - Good, yummy, sexy, cozy, cool. 
  • Stunning food - Yes, food can also be lekker but more often it is stunning.
  • Mealie - Corn-on-the-cob, while we're talking about food. 
  • Koeksister - A syrupy deep-fried sweet that quite frankly I find kak (see below). 
  • Kak - Pretty much the opposite of lekker. Literally referring to excrement.
  • Hectic - Not so much as in "I had a hectic day running errands" but "It was hectic man, bullets flying all around me, I thought I was gonna die." 
  • Ma man, ma boy, ma angel, ma bru - SO South Africa. 
  • Make a plan - Ditto. ASwell - As in "I'm going to have the salad and I'm going to have to soup ASwell." Not sure why there is such an emphasis on AS but you'll always spot a South African when you hear this. 
  • Sis man - kind of like Eish. 
  • Braai - The weekend domain of the South Africa man with a beer in his hand. Otherwise known as grill or barbeque, but it's not just a noun or a verb, it's a lifestyle. 
  • Veld - Open countryside, grass. All of which gets burned in the winter and most of which collects as ashes on my patio furniture. 
  • Must I? - Should I, as in "Must I take out the trash now?" 
  • Fetch - As in "If you take the kids to rugby practice, I will fetch them later." 
  • Diviiiiiiiine! - If lekker or stunning don't do it justice, it is probably divine. 
  • Flipping - When they don't want to say bloody or the other f-word. 
  • Epic - Memorable? Not sure exactly... 
  • Yebo - Yes. 
  • Jaaaa - Also yes. 
  • Yeese - When they actually say the word yes. 
  • Ipromiseyoooooou - As in "...and then we had dinner and Ipromiseyooooou it was the must diviiiiiine boerewors I've ever had."
  • Imustsay - Similar to above.
  • Pleasure! - You are welcome.


Thanks again, Nikki, for collecting most of these. May you use them often, and fondly, in your new life! I"m sure there are some I left out, so please, everyone feel free to chime in.

See these other posts on South African expressions and language:
Languages
From Babbalas to Yebo
An Ode to Lekker and Kak

20 comments :

Anonymous said...

You left out "Jislaaik" - expression of profound surprise or irritation. Mostly used by Afrikaans speakers of a certain age.

Sine said...

Yep, heard that one and had no idea how to spell it. Thanks!

Stephanie said...

Thanks for the smile! :-) The must one kills me (and I don't like my three year olds using it so prevalently!) I always reply with should... On the 4th of July we had speak American day where the kiddos had to say fast not fawst, can't not cawn't, etc. :-) I've been meaning to write about the hectic use of hectic!

Anonymous said...

I have a few more to contribute

1.Sharp Sharp-it means ok and commonly used by Bkack Sourh Africans. It can also mean I agree with you. Next time you are in an Engen Garage try to use it there.

2.Oh My Word- for us rest of the world people it's always Oh My God or Oh My Gosh but here it's Oh My Word..

3.Engen Garage-when I was searching for a warehouse to let in Randburg few months, this real estate agent asked me to wait at the Engine Garage..I thought he was asking me to wait at an engine garage but wat he said was to wait for Jim at Engen gas or petrol station. Here it's just called garage!

Rgds
Peter Tan

nikkimoffitt said...

A great post - I think using some of these sayings yesterday in a furniture shop in Atlanta got me incorrectly identified as South African - about which I was slightly miffed. I do love 'its only a pleasure' - used frequently in Durban. I did also think 'I promise you' was a Durban specific saying but I see that its used quite broadly across the board.

My 5 year old insists on me calling her 'ma angel' but I don't think she hears the sarcasm - yet. Perhaps we can slowly let it slide after a few months here in the USA (or America as I like to call it) and insert a particularly southern expression there instead. Or not?! ;)

Sine said...

@Stephanie - I'm with you on cawn't and fawst, my girls are now saying that too. More so when they talk with each other.
@Peter - I can't BELIEVE I left out Oh My Word - that is SO South African. And yes, the garage with emphasis on the "ga" kinda threw me too at the beginning. Similar thing happened to me initially when people told me "have you checked out the new spa. There was a lot of talk about the spa and whatnot you could buy there, and it puzzled me to no end until I realized it meant Spar, the grocery store.
@Nikki - haha, I'm sure that won't happen to you again. Next time you come visit SA you'll be throwing y'alls left and right and call people honey and peanut and pumpkin but not ma angel.

Anonymous said...

When we were there to house hunt we finally had to start asking people to spell things. I have a Texas accent, so I had to spell for them as well.... Our driver kept saying sharp but it sounded like shop. I couldn't wait to see the spa....until I found out it was spar the the grocery store. I started unintentionally using the south African pronouncing yet with my Texan draw. My husband absolutely hated it and I didn't realize I was even doing it. Oh my word is a very Southern (USA) thing to say...so that is the one thing I will have down.

Sine said...

I also always thought it was shop! The thought of you with your Texas accent trying to sound South African makes me laugh.

Rebecca said...

You forgot 'kiff'! Meaning cool/great etc. :)

Dave said...

Took me most of day with the relocation agent to figure out that parking gods were not gods at all, but guards that protected your car when you went in the store. Oh, and that car you were riding in, a tee-yota, a famous Japanese manufacturer. Be careful though, when you almost run over a god in your tee-yota it is still not polite to "hoot" the horn.

Unrelated... heading to "America" in two weeks if anyone has a must have product that they want brought back.

Sine said...

Dave - hilarious! The Parking God. I hereby request permission to use this as a title for an upcoming blog post. Makes me want to start writing right away. And I forgot all about hoot. Have a great trip to the golden land of shopping - don't need anything at the moment as we're heading there in the near future as well, but I'm sure others here will gladly take you up on it!

Dave said...

Sure. Consider parking gods our family's little contribution to Joberg Expat.

Sine said...

@Dave - great!

I just remembered I forgot to add "ballbox" to the list. Even though I dedicated an entire blog post to it: http://www.joburgexpat.com/2012/02/whats-ballbox.html

Azaiah KH said...

I'm a South African and I just recently came across your blog. I find it fascinating that our version of the English language is unique and pretty different to American English. However even though you are right about our misuse of some words and phrases, please don't be disrespectful to our way of speaking. South Africa has 11 languages unlike the U.S. Or America as we call it and not everyone's first language is English. All these other languages have greatly influenced our English.

Sine said...

Hi Azaiah, thank your for your comment! I was not aware of being disrespectful at all, in fact the language is one of the things I like best about South Africa. All this blog post is meant to convey is how different South African English is, like you say. If it makes one laugh when reading this list, I'm sure it's a laugh of fondness and nothing else.

demure said...

I think you left out "Grudge"

(Where you pork your core)

Rosemary Gower said...

And what about Bliksem! Ive just moved to Sydney and man I miss all the South Africanisms!

Sine said...

Oh yes, Rosemary, bliksem, of course! One of my favorite words.

Louis Hollander said...

Oh my word, I literally almost wet myself laughing. And now, thanks to this forum, every single time I speak, I can hear myself sound exactly like what is described here. I am in Australia and I can see the people’s faces when you "gooi" a Saffer slang, that blank look of either amazement or confusion never ceases to amaze me. Well done, you made my year...

Sine said...

Louis - so glad I got you to laugh, that's the whole idea. I love going back to some of these old blog posts to get a good chuckle myself. If you're interested in more of the same, go to this link http://www.joburgexpat.com/search/label/Funny for all the blog posts I labeled funny, perhaps one or two will appeal to you:-)