Common South African Expressions

What is a braai? It is the first thing you will be invited to when you visit South Africa. A braai is a backyard barbecue and it will take place whatever the weather. So you will have to go even if it's raining like mad and hang of a cold. At a braai you will be introduced to a substance known as mealiepap. Read further for an explanation of"pap".

This one of the most useful South African words. Pronounced like the "ach" in the German "achtung", it can be used to start a reply when you are asked a tricky question, as in: "Ag, I don't know." Or a sense of resignation: "Ag, I'll have some more pap then." It can stand alone too as a signal of irritation or of pleasure.

A rude word, it comes from the Afrikaans "donder" (thunder). Pronounced "dorner", it means "beat up." Your rugby team can get donnered in a game, or your boss can donner you if you do a lousy job.

Widely used by all language groups, this word, derived from the Afrikaans, means "ouch." Pronounced "aynah", you can shout it out in sympathy when someone burns his finger on a hot potato at a braai.

Often used at the end of a sentence to emphasize the Importance of what has just been said, it can also stand alone as a question. Instead of saying "excuse me?" or "pardon?" when you have not heard something directed at you, you can say: "Hey?"

This is a great word in conversations. Derived from the two words "is" and "it", it can be used when you have nothing to contribute if someone tells you at the braai: "The Russians will succeed in their bid for capitalism once they adopt a work ethic and respect for private ownership." It is appropriate to respond by saying: "Isit?"

This is another conversation fall-back word. Derived from the four words "yes", "well", "no" (q.v.) and "fine", it means roughly "how about that." If your bank manager tells you your account is overdrawn, you can say with confidence: "Jawelnofine."

Pronounced "Yis-like", it is an expression of astonishment. For instance, it someone tells you there are a billion people in China, a suitable comment is: "Jislaaik, that's a hang of a lot of people, hey."

Pronounced "klup" - an Afrikaans word meaning smack, whack or spank.
If you spend too much time at the movies at exam time, you could end up catching a sharp klap from your pa.
In America, that is called child abuse. In South Africa, it is called promoting education.

An Afrikaans word meaning nice, this word is used by all language groups to express approval. If you see someone of the opposite sex who is good-looking, you can exclaim: "Lekkerrr!" while drawing out the last syllable.

These are sneakers or running shoes. The word is also used to describe automobile or truck tires. "Fat tackies" are big tires, as in: "Where did you get those lekker fat tackies on your Volksie (VW), hey?"

This word has two basic meanings, one good and one bad. First the good. A dop is a drink, a cocktail, a sundowner, a noggin. If you are invited over for a dop, be careful. It could be one or two sedate drinks or a blast, depending on the company you have fallen in with. Now the bad: To dop is to fail. If you dopped Standard Two (Grade 4) more than once, you probably won't be reading this.

This is a sandwich. For generations, school-children have traded Sarmies during lunch breaks. If you are sending kids off to school in the morning, don't give them liver-polony sarmies. They are the toughest to trade.

This word is pronounced "bucky" and it is a small truck or pick-up. Young men can take their "cherrie" (g/friend) to the drive-in flick in a Bakkie but it is not always an appropriate form of transport because the seats usually don't recline and you may be forced to watch the film. This is never the purpose of going to a drive-in flick.

Frequently used in its diminutive form, "broekies", this is a pair of pants and can mean either regular shorts or undergarments for men or women. In other words you wear broeks under your broeks. You may hear the word used thus: "Her dress is so bladdy short you can see her broeks." There is a popular children's chant: "What's the time/Half-past nine/ Hang your broekies/On the line." A nervous person is sometimes referred to as a "bangbroek" (scaredy-pants).

This is a universal South African greeting, and you will hear this word throughout the land. It is often used with the word "No" as in this exchange: "No, howzit?" "No, fine."

A case where a brand name has become a generic term, a koki is a color marker of the "Hi-Liter" type. Whoever produces it, South Africans will call it a koki.

Mrs Balls' Chutney
We don't know if the lady ever existed, but if she did she has earned a place of honor in South African kitchen history. Chutney is, of course, of Indian origin and is pickled fruit prepared with vinegar, spices and sugar. South Africans are known to eat it with everything, including fried eggs.

Now Now
In much of the outside world, this is a comforting phrase: "Now now, don't cry - I'll take you to the bioscope tomorrow." But in South Africa, this phrase means an indefinite time in the future. "I'll clean my room now now, Ma." A person who says that they will be there "Now now" could arrive in five minutes or in several hours time.

Tune grief
To be tuned grief is to be aggravated, harassed. Be selective about using the term. For example, if your bank manager calls you in for an urgent chat about your overdraft, you should avoid saying: "Hey, listen. You're tuning me grief, man." That would be unwise and could result in major tuning of grief. There are variations. You can say about your boss: "This oke is tuning me uphill."

Boet [also "Bru" pronounced brew]
This is an Afrikaans word meaning "brother" which is shared by all language groups. Pronounced "boot" as in "foot", it can be applied to a non-brother. For instance a father can call his son "boet" and friends can apply the term to each other too. Sometimes the diminutive "boetie" is used. But don't use either with someone you hardly know - it will be thought patronizing.

See Boet or Bru

From the Afrikaans phrase meaning "Watch Out!", this warning is used and heeded by all language groups. As in: "Your mother hasn't had her morning coffee yet, Boet - so pasop and stay out of her way." Sometimes just the word "pasop!" is enough without further explanation. Everyone knows it sets out a line in the sand not to be crossed.

Skop, Skiet en Donder
Literally "kick, shoot and thunder" in Afrikaans, this phrase is used by many English speakers to describe action movies or any activity which is lively and somewhat primitive. Clint Eastwood is always good for a skop, skiet en donder flick.

Pronounced - "frot". A wonderful word which means "rotten" or "putrid" in Afrikaans, it is used by all language groups to describe anything they really don't like. Most commonly it describes fruit or vegetables whose shelf lives have long expired, but a pair of takkies (sneakers) worn a few times too often can be termed vrot by unfortunate folk in the same room as the wearer. Also a rugby player who misses important tackles can be said to have played a vrot game - but not to his face because he won't appreciate it. We once saw a movie review with this headline: "Slick Flick, Vrot Plot."

In a country with a strong agricultural tradition, it is not surprising that farming words crop up (pun intended) in general conversation. Thus to graze means to eat. If you are invited to a bioscope show, you may be asked: "Do you want to catch a graze now now?."

Catch a tan
This is what you do when you lie on the beach pretending to study for your matric exams. The Brits, who have their own odd phrases, say they are getting "bronzed". Nature has always been unkind to South African schoolchildren, providing beach and swimming pool weather just when they should be swotting for the mid-summer finals. If you spend too much time catching a tan at exam time, you could end up catching a sharp klap from your pa. In America, that is called child abuse. In South Africa, it is called promoting education.

Rock up
To rock up some place is to just sort of arrive. You don't make an appointment or tell anyone you are coming - you just rock up. Friends can do that but you have to be selective about it. You can't just rock up for a job interview or at a five-star restaurant. You give them a tinkle first - then you can rock up.

To scale something is to steal it. A person who is "scaly" is not nice, a scumbag, and should be left off the Christmas party invitation list.

to be continued...

copyright 2012