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.

South African flag with South African expressions
Flag of South Africa — Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Here are a few of these South Africanisms, 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:

The Languages

From Babbalas to Yebo

An Ode to Lekker and Kak

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