Speaking South African

more than a year ago

South Africa has 11 official languages: Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Southern Sotho, Swati, Tswana, Tsonga, Venda, Xhosa and Zulu. Most South Africans speak more than one language, but city life happens in English. In addition to the official South African languages, Joburg is also home to a babel of language communities from across the globe.

While English is the lingua franca, cultural diversity has created a South African language of its own. Key words include:

Aweh Awesome
Babalas Hangover
Bakkie Pick up truck
Biltong Like beef jerky, just much better; also made from venison
Bobotie Spice mince meat baked with an egg-based topping
Boerewors Sausage made with minced meat and spices. Sometimes served as a boerie roll (hot dog style in a bread roll with relish)
Born-frees Children born after the advent of democracy in 1994
Braai Both the act of coal-grilling meat, and the event at which it is eaten
Bro or Boet Brother, meaning friend
Coloured Refers to an ethnic group whose origins are mixed, European and African
Dagga or Zol Marijuana
Eita Hello
Eish! Exclamation of surprise or wonder
Howzit How are you?
Ja Yes (originally Afrikaans, pronounced "ya")
Jaiva to dance
Jissis Boet - Yeah man for example; "Jissis boet, I'm gonna smash those weights at the gym."
Jol To go out on the town, to party
Just now Any time in the near future, from two minutes to many hours. Now now is more immediate and usually means something will happen imminently.
Lanie A boss or smarty pants
Lapa An outdoor area, usually covered
Lekker Tasty or cool
Mahala Free of charge
Marogo A spinach-like dish
Monkeygland sauce A fruity, tangy meat sauce (don't worry there's no monkey in it!)
Mzansi A Zulu word meaning South, used to refer to South Africa
Pap A stiff porridge made with maize-meal and best served with a tomato-and-onion gravy or a meat stew. It is a South African staple
Pashash Slang for 'cool'
'Plastic?' When someone asks you this question they want to know if you want to buy a plastic bag in which to carry your shopping
Prego Popular Portuguese dish served in many cafes. A white bread roll usually made with a piece of grilled chicken (or occasionally with beef) and spiced tomato sauce
Robot Traffic light
Sawubona A greeting in isiZulu
Sharp! Great!
Shisa nyama A braai, often found outside a butcher's shop
Sho't Left A stop close by, derived from South African taxi commuter lingo
Skorokoro A scrap car, or something worn beyond its years
Skyf A smoke
Spaza shop An informal convenience store
Tekkies/Takkies Athletic shoes
Tokoloshe A mischievous evil spirit
Tsotsi Someone up to no good
Walkie Talkie Boiled, seasoned and grilled chicken feet and heads
Yebo Yes (in Zulu)

(Photo: Felt cushion by Iwasshot in Joburg:)


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