Talk the talk: A-Z of South African slang

South Africanese at it’s most expressive

Vivienne Hambly, Friday 26 February 2010 writes:    Don’t know your babbelas from your tekkies? Learn how to make yourself understood at the World Cup 2010 with our indispensible guide:

Drawing from 11 official languages – with English, isiZulu, isiXhosa and Afrikaans – being the most dominant, South Africa’s slang reflects the country’s diversity, history and the rapid socio-political change the nation has experienced since 1994. Here’s how to make yourself understood when you visit. Let us know if you have any more of your own to add.

Stay at Liz at Lancaster Guest House

Get the most out of your Johannesburg visit! Liz Delmont, owner & on-site manager is the right person to give you the low-down & point you in the right direction. Johannesburg In your Pocket describes her as “a maven on all things Joburg”. The guesthouse notice board is constantly updated with her recommendations on how best to spend your time in the city!

Ag (a-ch). Exclamation similar to the English urgh. Pronounce the Afrikaans “g” as you would “ch” in loch. “Ag, no man! He’s missed a sitter!”
Amasi (a-mar-si). Or simply maas. Traditional drink made from soured milk. It can be drunk on its own or served with phutu – plain cooked maize meal – and sugar for breakfast.
Babbelas (bub-a-lars). Hangover – usually rather a bad one. From the isiZulu word for hangover isibhabhalazi. “Hello, hello. Great party last night. How’s your head? Are you a bit babbelas?”
Bra (brah) or bru. Nothing to do with underwear at all, but an informal term for “my friend” or “mate”, deriving from “brother”. ‘He’s my bra but that team he supports is rubbish.” Bru stems from the Afrikaans for brother, broer.
Chips! Chips!. Nothing you’ll find in the kebab shop around the corner but an expression of alarm or warning. “Chips! Chips! He’s off-side”
Doing a Bafana (bah-fah-nah). To demand more money for average service. Derives from the reputation of the weak South Africa side, the Bafana-Bafana, which has yet to make it beyond the first round of a World Cup. “A tip? You’re doing a Bafana!”
Diski (dis-ky). Football in township slang. “I love diski. I watch as many games as I can.”
Dwaal (dwahrl). To not be paying attention, or for one’s mind to wander. Derives from the Afrikaans meaning “to wander”. “I got lost in Moses Mabhida Stadium; I was in such a dwaal I didn’t look at the signs.”
Eish (ay-sh). An isiZulu and isiXhosa expression good for everything from resignation, to exasperation, to pleasant surprise. “Eish! I can’t believe they’re playing so badly,” or, “Eish! That goal was incredible. Think this could be our year.”
Eina (ay-nah). Ouch or sore. Afrikaans, but possibly from Khoikhoi before that. “Eina! Did you see where that ball hit him?” or “Is your head eina?”
Fundi (foon-dy). An expert or knowledgeable person, from the isiZulu and isiXhosa word for teacher, umfundisi. “Eh? You’re bit of a fundi on the stats then, aren’t you?”
Gatvol (gut-foll). Fed up and irritated. Literally meaning in Afrikaans “hole full”. Pronounce the “g” as the Scottish “ch” in loch. “We’ve been here for hours and this queue isn’t going anywhere. I’m gatvol.”
Gogga (gog-ga). Any insect or creepy crawly. Pronounce the “g” as the Scottish “ch” in loch. “Did you see that gogga in the hotel room the morning? It was walking away with my shoes.”
Howzit?. Common informal greeting that is a contraction of “how is it?'” More of a greeting than a specific enquiry. “Hey! Howzit man? I haven’t seen you since the Confederations Cup.”
Hayibo (hi-ie-boh). Expression of disbelief or irritation. “Hayibo! Ferdinand? Captain?”  [from isiZulu ‘definitely not’]
Isit (iz-it). An exclamation of surprise, similar in meaning to “is that so?”. “Isit? Really? I didn’t know Beckham’s first match for England was against Moldova.”
Jawelnofine (yar-well-no-fine). Means anything from “yes” to “ok, yes, but I think you’re being an idiot”. “Jawelnofine. Stay out until 4am tonight but remember we’re flying to Port Elizabeth at 8am tomorrow.”
Jol (jorl). From the Afrikaans meaning “to party” or “to have a good time”. “C’mon bru, we’re going jolling tonight.”
Laduma! (la-do-muh). He scores! Shouted at every goal and originates from the isiZulu for “it thunders”. “It’s in! It’s in! Laduma!”
Kif. Geat, good. “That was such a kif game. I’m so glad we came.”
Koeksister (cook-sister). Confectionary similar to Indian gulab jamun made of plaited, risen dough deep-fried and dipped into ice-cold sugar syrup. Brought to South Africa by Malay workers, the name derives from the Afrikaans koek (cake) and sissen (to sizzle), after the sound the hot dough makes upon meeting the cold syrup.
Lekker (lack-er). From the Afrikaans meaning great or good – an expression of approval. “Lekker man. You have a jersey signed by Steven Pienaar? Very cool.”
Makarapa (mak-ah-rah-pah). Highly decorated headgear worn by football fans – fashioned out of hard hats and customised to match team colours. Makarapas have their roots among migrant labourers working on Johannesburg’s gold mines.
Mampara (mum-pa-ruh). Fool or idiot, suspected to be Sotho in origin. “Hey, Rooney! Stop behaving like such a mampara.”
Muti (moo-ti). Medicine, from the isiZulu muthi. “I need to get some headache muti; I’m seriously babbelas.”
Now-now. Reference to something that will happen soon, usually within a few minutes but also within in a couple of hours. “We need a goal and it’s coming now-now. “
Oke (oak) and ou (oh). Bloke or guy, from Afrikaans. “I couldn’t see that penalty; that oke in front of us was standing up.”
Pasop (pus-orp). Watch out. “Pasop! Carry on and you’ll get a red card.”
Quagga (kwa-gh-uh). An extinct species of zebra (Equus quagga) that once habituated the Cape but was hunted out in the 1800s. Pronounce the Afrikaans “g” as you would “ch” in loch. “Bafana-Bafana? Win the World Cup? You’re seeing quaggas, mate.”
Robot. Traffic light. “There are hawkers selling great caps near the robot.”
Shibobo (she-bor-bor). To nutmeg an opponent and make a fool out of them. “Heh! Look at that shibobo.”
Skollie (skor-ly), skelm (skeh-lim) and skabenga (ska-beng-ga) Criminals or people up to no good. “Did that skollie pinch your wallet?’ or “What a skabenga – he’s headbutted him.” “Bunch of skelms!”
Tekkies (tack-ies). Trainers. “Hold on, I’ll just grab my tekkies.”
Taxi Sometimes a car, but usually refers to mini-bus taxis, which are used throughout South Africa. Taxis are not always roadworthy and can be driven dangerously.
Ubuntu (oo-boon-to). Southern African philosophy with the central tenet that a person is a person because of other people – no man is an island. Ubuntu was central to the post-Apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission. From the isiZulu word for goodness. “I gave away my tickets in the spirit of ubuntu.”
Vuvuzela (voo-voo-zeh-la). A long, plastic horn blown loudly at every football match in South Africa and thought to have been modelled on an antelope horn. No self-respecting football fan should be without one.
Wena (where-nuh). You, from isiZulu. “Hey wena. Would like a beer?”
Wors (vors). Traditional Afrikaans sausage now eaten by everyone. Flavoured with spices such as coriander and chilli, the full name is boerewors, which translates directly as farmers’ sausage. A wors roll is a length of wors in a white bread roll, topped with onions, mustard and tomato sauce. You may also have pap (cooked maize meal) and wors with a tomato and onion sauce.
Xhosa (korsa). South African tribe dominant in the Eastern Cape province. The letter “x” is pronounced with a click emanating from the sides of the mouth, as if you were clicking at a horse. “My friend Lusanda is Xhosa; she speaks isiXhosa.”
Yebo (yeah-boh). Yes, yeah. “Yebo – I’ve got the match tickets in my pocket, don’t worry.”
Zakumi – the official World Cup mascot. Designed by Andries Odendaal, Zakumi is an anthropomorphised leopard with green dreadlocks. His name comes from “ZA”, the code for South Africa, and “kumi”, which means 10 in various African languages.


A few more additions from Liz:
Sissie  Respectful way of addressing a woman aged from late teens to middle age.  (Like sister)
Ma Respectful way of addressing a middle aged woman
Gogo Respectful way of addressing an elderly woman; Isizulu for Grandmother
uBaba Respectful way of addressing a middle-aged man N
Nkhulu Respectful way of addressing an elderly man
Aikona Never, not on your life
Ayoba – Expression of excitement
Biltong  Jerky in the US, only much better! This is specially prepared dried raw meat, made from beef, venison or ostrich
Black Diamond Member of the new wealthy black elite
Boerewors Farmstyle sausage or “wors”. (Literally, “Farmers Sausage”). It is consumed in vast quantities on braais all over the country
Bunny chow – type of food, made with a loaf of bread filled with a curry stew
Coconut – Referring to an African black person who has adopted white culture : ‘Black on the outside and White on the inside’. (Often derogatory term used amongst city dwelling Black South Africans)
Donga – ditch  (From Zulu, “wall”; this has become a mainstream word for such a feature.)
Fundi – expert (from Nguni ‘umfundisi’ meaning teacher or preacher) – used in mainstream South African English
Just now  A immense source of amusement for foreigners – it means “very soon”, “eventually”; or “never”. If someone says he will do something “just now” it could be in 10 minutes or tomorrow. Or maybe he won’t do it at all !
Haw! – pronounced ‘how’.  Expression of disbelief
Indaba – conference (from Zulu, ‘a matter for discussion’); has become a mainstream word in South African English
Inyanga – traditional herbalist and healer (compare with sangoma)
Jova – injection, to inject (from Zulu)
Kugel an overly groomed, materialistic woman (from the Yiddish word for a plain pudding garnished as a delicacy). Older-generation Jews coined this usage as a derogatory label for Jewish women who aspired to become part of the privileged English-speaking white community. Current usage, often humorously intended, applies the word to any nouveau riche women in South African society who appear overly groomed and materialistic. Bagel and bagel-boy occur as labels for the male counterpart of the kugel. — Compare the American-English term Jewish-American princess which has subtly differing connotations.
Kwaito – popular genre of music, a mixture of South African disco, hip hop, R&B, ragga, and a heavy dose of house-music beats.
Lekgotla or kgotla – planning session, or strategy (used mostly in official government papers, but even in papers written in English) (from Sesotho (le)kgotla – courtyard
Naartjie (Citrus reticulata) (Afrikaans)- tangerine, mandarin; used as a mainstream word in South African English
Oom – an older man of authority, commonly in reference to an older Afrikaans man (Afrikaans for uncle)
Park off  To chill out – sit down and relax
Pavement In South Africa this is the sidewalk
Shame  Very typical South African expression; also found amusing by foreigners. “Ag shame, look how cute that baby and “Shame, that’s really sad”.
Sharp!  Good/Yes/O.K   ‘Please keep me a place.’ ‘Sharp! Sharp’
Sangoma – traditional healer or diviner 
Shongololo (also spelt shongalolo) – millipede (from Zulu and Xhosa, ukushonga, ‘to roll up’) 
Slap as in ‘slap chips’ meaning limp, soft as in the the opposite of crispy  
Soapie – a soap opera
Shebeen – illegal drinking-establishment (from Irish sibín), synonymous with speakeasy. In South Africa it refers in particular to unlicensed bars in the townships, and has become a mainstream word. During the apartheid era laws prohibited non-whites from consuming any alcohol except traditional sorghum beer, and taverns selling ‘hard-tack’ became the centre of social activity
Spaza – an informal trading-post/convenience store found in townships and remote areas
Toyi-toyi – protest-dancing; used in mainstream South African English
Tsotsi – gangster, layabout, no gooder
Umlungu – white South African or the Boss (Bass) of the company; isiXhosa word for the white foam that is left on the beach sand, once a wave has retreated back into the sea.
Not slang but useful words:
Siyabonga We thank you (isiZulu) sea-ya-bonga
Ngiyabonga I thank you (isiZulu) nee-ya-bonga
Kealebogle  Thank you (SeTswana) key-alli- boch-le (boch as in Scottish loch)
Sawubona Hello greeting in Isizulu
Dumela Hello greeting in Setswana



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