Local Lingo

Monday, 12 April 2010 14:41 Administrator

There are eleven official languages in South Africa - yes, eleven!! However, you don’t have to learn them all, as the lingua franca is English! But South African English is a strange mix – strongly influenced by Afrikaans especially, and other African languages. The following list of words and terms might help you understand us – though our pronunciation is something else, of course!


JOL to have a good time, to party – or as a noun, a party

BRU brother, a term of affection used among men!
BABALAS hangover

BISCUIT in South Africa a cookie is known as a biscuit. The word is also a term of affection, as in "Hey, you biscuit"

CHOW (to) eat

DAGGA marijuana

LEKKER nice, cool, pleasant, very good, tasty – a multi-functional adjective to describe almost anything good!

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."

MOFFIE gay, homosexual (male)

BAKKIE a pick-up van or truck, utility vehicle

BONSELLA surprise gift, something extra, or a bribe. From isiZulu

DOP a drink – literally a “tot”

SHAME! an exclamation meaning “what a pity!” or “how cute!”

HOWZIT? hello, hi – literally “how is it?”, but not anticipating an answer!

YO! hello, hi

JUST NOW sometime in the future – probably today sometime!

NOW NOW right now, immediately (almost!)

LARNEY smart, fancy, posh, high-class

OU / OKE guy, fellow, chap

AIKONA! never!, not a chance!

EINA! ouch!

EISH! used to express surprise, wonder, frustration or outrage: "Eish! That cut was eina!"


JA-NEE common way of starting a sentence - literally means "Yes-no", but comes to mean something like ""Well......"

YEBO yes, showing agreement

GAT VOL fed up - from the Afrikaans "arse-full!" - as in "I'm really gat vol of these mosquitoes!"

SHARP good, perfect - often doubled up for effect as "sharp-sharp!", this word is used as a greeting, a farewell, for agreement or just to express enthusiasm

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"

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."

FUNDI expert. From the Nguni umfundisi, meaning teacher or preacher.

IS IT? (as one word: izit) - An expression frequently used in conversation and equivalent to "Is that so?"

JA yes

KUGEL an overly groomed materialistic young woman, from the Yiddish for a plain pudding garnished as a delicacy. A BAGEL is the male variety


(AMA) BOKKE the South African rugby team, named after the SPRINGBOK, the national animal

BAFANA BAFANA the South African soccer team – literally “our boys, our boys”

PROTEAS the South African national cricket team, named after the PROTEA, the national flower

TAKKIE sports shoe, sneaker


ROBOT traffic light

PAVEMENT South Africans walk on pavements and drive cars on the road (at least that's the idea!). The pavement is the sidewalk

LIFT elevator

PETROL gasoline

BLACK TAXI a minibus taxi

BOTTLE STORE off-sales, liquor store

WAITRON gender-sensitive (!?) South African term for a waiter / waitress

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"



SARMIE sandwich

AMASI a popular drink of thick sour milk. From the isiZulu. An alternative name is maas.

BRAAI(VLEIS) barbecue – grilling of meat over coals, usually accompanied by consumption of much beer and wine – a South African social institution

BREDIE a traditional South African mutton stew, first brought to the country by "Malay" immigrants. It now refers to any kind of stew

BOBOTIE Cape “Malay” dish of minced beef, curry and dried fruit with a baked custard topping

KOEKSISTER a traditional "Malay" - and now also Afrikaner - sweet, made from twisted yeast dough, deep fried and dipped in syrup. The word comes from the Dutch koek ("cake") and sissen, meaning "to sizzle"

BUNNY CHOW snack peculiar to KwaZulu Natal region consisting of half a loaf of bread, cut out and stuffed with curry.

MIELIE head of corn - and MIELIE MEAL is maize meal, the staple diet of South Africa, which is mostly cooked into "pap". From the Afrikaans "mielie"

MAMPOER extremely potent brandy made from peaches or other fruit, similar to the American moonshine - also known as "witblitz" - "white lightning"!

MARMITE trade name of a dark-coloured spread for bread or toast, made from vegetable extract - Aussies have a similar passion for Vegemite!

SAMP / PAP ground maize meal made into a porridge - staple food of many South Africans, served with a vegetable relish

SNOEK a firm-fleshed, white line fish, best for smoking or braaing

KINGKLIP a firm-fleshed, white line fish – if you see it on a menu, have it!

PINOTAGE a unique South African wine cultivar, a cross between the Pinot Noir and Hermitage grapes

ROOIBOS indigenous South African herbal tea, low in tannins and caffeine – literally “red bush”

SUNDOWNER a drink (alcoholic, of course!) enjoyed at sunset

UMNQOMBOTHI traditional African sorghum beer

BILTONG dried meat of beef or game, salted and spiced – a must-taste South African snack

BOEREWORS spiced beef sausage – an essential item at a braai – literally “farmers’ sausage”

SPANSPEK cantaloupe, an orange-fleshed sweet 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

COOLDRINK 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

BOMA an open thatched structure used for dinners, entertainment and parties


DORP village, small town

STAD city

KOPPIE small hill – literally a “small head”

KLOOF gorge

VELD wilderness, undeveloped bush, raw countryside, open grassland

BUNDU bush, wilderness

CAFE ubiquitous small neighbourhood convenience store, often found on street corners and stocking cigarettes, cold drinks and newspapers

SHEBEEN informal bar or drinking hole, often illegal, usually in a black township

JOZI the city of Johannesburg, South Africa's largest city, which is also known as Jo'burg or Joeys

TOWNSHIP black “suburb”, under Apartheid usually sited at a considerable distance from the town centre and white residential areas


SANGOMA witchdoctor or diviner

INYANGA medicine man, herbalist

MUTI traditional African, non-Western medicine

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"

SPAZA small store (often part of a home) selling basic food and household items

LADUMA! a popular cheer celebrating goals scored at soccer matches, from the isiZulu for it thunders

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 Gaelic

VUVUZELA 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 noise"


KWAITO the music of South Africa's urban black youth, a mixture of South African disco, hip hop, R&B, reggae and a heavy dose of house music beats

KWELA 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


RAND South African currency since 1961 (when we withdrew from / were kicked out of the Commonwealth), named after the Witwaters-rand (“White waters’ ridge”), the massive gold-bearing reef on which the country’s wealth was based

APARTHEID system of racial separation institutionalised and codified in the “old” South Africa – literally “apart-ness” - implemented by the National Party from 1948 to 1990

RAINBOW NATION term coined by Archbishop Tutu for the multi-cultured, multi-lingual bunch that make up our wonderful country

MADIBA an affectionate name for former President Nelson Mandela, and the name of his clan

UBUNTU spirit of sharing,"what's mine is yours"- at the core of the world-view of Africans

COLOURED South African of mixed race (Dutch, Khoisan, slave) – under Apartheid, South Africans were classified as white, black, Asian or “coloured”

HOMELANDS reserves under Apartheid in which blacks were settled – the ultimate aim of “Grand Apartheid” was that there would be no black South Africans, only black citizens of the various ethnically-distinct homelands – re-absorbed into South Africa in 1994

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"It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end"

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"For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go, I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move"

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"Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointment by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sal away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover "

- Mark Twain

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