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Southern Africa Travel Guide

South African slang

The lingua franca in South Africa and most of its surrounding countries in English. But people who have visited the region will confirm there is an distinctly “South African” language. You are very likely to hear at least some of the words below... And now you know you shouldn't be afraid when you read there are “robots ahead” and you will know what your "china" means when he invites you for a "dop" on the "stoep".

ag –
an exclamation similar to “oh” as in “ag man” (com’on, man) or “ag shame” which is a way of expressing pity.
ayoba -
slang for ‘cool’ or an expression of excitement if used in combination with “yo”. You will hear it a lot in the streets of South Africa as it was used in popular ad for a cell phone (that is a mobile phone by the way) company.
babelaas/babbelas – (having) a hangover.
Bafana Bafana – Literally “Our Boys”, nickname for the South African national soccer team;
bakgat – cool, well done.
bakkie (“bucky”) – pick up or utility truck;
bill – commonly used word for the “cheque” in a restaurant. “Can we have the bill please?”
biltong – dried meat snack, jerky
Bokke, boks, springboks – nickname for South Africa’s national rugby team;
bokkie – sweetheart, darling
boerewors – literally farmer sausage, typically South African spiced sausage, very popular at “braais”.
braai – (to) barbecue, a very popular South African past-time.
bru/bra/boet – a male friend, buddy
bundu – the wilderness, bundu bashing is getting away from the city, going into the wild.
bunny chow – half a loaf of bread filled with curry, very popular meal in Durban
cafe (“caffy”) – not a place to have a cup of coffee but rather a “corner shop”;
cellphone – mobile phone
chemist – does not only refer to people in lab coats but is most commonly used referring to a pharmacy or drugstore.
chips – both used for crisps and French fries (then sometimes called “slap chips” which literally means “weak chips”).
china – a very dear friend, “Howzit my china?”. In Zulu the word “chana” or “umshana” (nephew) is used in a similar way
chaila – time to leave. It’s time to chaila or chaila time.
chommie/chomma – a friend, buddy. “How’s your chommie Andrew doing?”
circle – roundabout or traffic circle. “Follow the main road to the circle, then turn left.”
coloured – South Africans from mixed back ground. A majority of the population in the Western Cape and Northern Cape are coloured – mostly of Malay, European and Khoisan origin. Please note the word doesn’t have the offensive connotation it has elsewhere in the world.
dagga – Marijuana, an illegal substance in southern Africa!
dam – refers to both a dam and a water reservoir;
dankie – close to “donkey” in pronounciation, means “thank you” in Afrikaans – also used by speakers of other languages. Baie dankie (“buy a donkey”) is thank you very much.
dinges (dung-is) – “thingamabob, what’s his face…
dop – an alcoholic drink, also used as a verb (dopping or to dop) meaning drinking (alcohol). “He had way too many dops”.
dorp(ie) – small town, hamlet.
droe wors – a popular thin, dried sausage snack – similar in taste to biltong but resembles a thin boerewors. Eaten dry and without heating…
dronkie – drunkard
drukkie – a hug. “Give me a drukkie)
dobbel – gamble (literally throwing dice)
eina – Commonly used exclamation of pain. When a South African hits himself on the fingers with a hammer you won’t be likely to hear him say “ow” or “ouch” but “ei-na” (possibly in combination with some profanities).
eish – expresses resignation. “What do you think of your team’s most recent performance?” The answer could be “eish, I don’t know”.
erf – a plot of (farm) land
fundi – an expert from umfundi, a Zulu word for learner. In Swahili it refers to people with a skilled profession
fynbos – it literally means “fine bush” but the highly diverse shrubs typical to the Cape Floral Kingdom have no English translation. “The hiking trail takes you through the fynbos”.
gatsby – a popular long chip roll the size of a French loaf, with a variety of fillings. Mostly eaten in and around Cape Town, serves a few “chinas”.
gatvol – Afrikaans word for being fed up, having had enough. Also used in combination with English. “I’m gatvol of his antics.”
globe – light bulb.
gogga – commonly used word for insect or bug, of Khoisan origin. “My room was fully of goggas this morning.” G is pronounced as the ch in Loch Ness.
gogo – Zulu word for grandmother or a way to address an elderly lady.
hhayibo! – “no way” or “wow”.
howzit, how’s it – how are you or hello
indaba – meeting, convention or conference. “The convention centre is hosting an international cardiology indaba”.
is it, izzit – “oh, ok” or “really?”
inyanga – traditional healer, herbalist, also known as a sangoma
ja – yes
jassus – “geez”
jirre – from the Afrikaans word “Here” meaning “Lord”;“oh lord”, or “oh my god”.
jislaaik! – wow!
jol – a party. Tonight we are going to have a jol!
just now – I will call you back “just now” – in anywhere between a few seconds and never.
kombi – a minibus often used as a “taxi”, from the Volkswagen kombi van
kraal – a livestock enclosure.
kwaai – although it literally means “angry” in Afrikaans, it is usually used as “cool” or “great”. “he is such a kwaai guitar player”.
kwaito – popular music style that originated in the township with hip-hop, house and R&B influences.
laaitie (lighty) – a young person, typically male -like a son, young brother or nephews. “That boy is John’s laaitie”.
laduma – popular chant in soccer stadiums when a goal is scored
lift – both means elevator and a hitch hike
location (the,) – another word for township
lekker (lacker) – possible South Africa’s most favorite word, meaning “nice”, “pleasant”, “cosy”, “delicious” and anything that is positive. “ I had such a lekker day”, “the water is really lekker here”, “try this wine, it is so lekker”.
Main Road – the general name for the town’s High Street or Main Street;
matric – the final year of high school, celebrated with a matric ball which is similar to prom night.
mielie – maize, a mielie meal or pap is a traditional porridge, part of South Africa’s staple diet
mos – emphasises the obvious or known. Similar to “you (should) know” or “duh”.
muti – traditional medicine
Mzansi – from the Xhosa and Zulu word for “south” is a common reference to South Africa.
naartjie (nawr-key) – a tangerine. An Afrikaans word but used by all South Africans.
ne? – “isn’t it” or “You know?”
nogal – a surprised “actually”. “He did nogal do the dishes”.
now now – similar to “just now” – should mean “soon” but don’t hold you’re breath when someone tells you “I will be with you now-now”
oom – literally “uncle” in Afrikaans but also a respectful way of addressing an older man.
ou – plural “ouens” – the guy(s)
pap – maize porridge, sea mielie meal. One can also feel “pap”, which means you need to have your proverbial batteries charged
plaas – farm
Proteas – South Africa’s national flower of the fynbos species and symbol for many South African sports team – most notably the cricket team.
robot – a traffic light. So don’t be frightened when you read “robots ahead” written over the road
rondavel – traditional hut, typically with a thatched roof. The Three Rondavels are a mountain formation on the Panorama Route that resemble three of those African dwellings.
shame – an exclamation of pity or sympathy, often used in combination with “ag”. “Ag shame, you poor thing.”
shebeen – informal (but not necessarily illegal) bar in the townships, the word has an Irish/Gaelic origin. Many township tours include a shebeen visit where tourists can taste some homebrewed umqombothi
songololo – millipede, from the word “ukushonga” that means to roll up.
sies! – Yuck! Aw! Can also be used in a similar way as “Shame on you”.
skelm – word used for both a crook and a mistress or lover.
skinder (“scunner”), to gossip
skollie – a common word for a criminal, first used by Greek shop owners in the Cape who called their shoplifters “skolios” (crooked).
skop, skiet & donner – literally “kick, shoot and beat ‘m up”, a phrase used for action movies featuring the likes of Dolph Lundgren and Steven Seagal.
sommer – just because, without a reason. “He sommer came to me and gave me a klap (slap)”.
sosatie – kebab
spanspek – honey melon, cantaloupe
spaza – informal shop in townships, and rural areas
stoep (“stoop”) – verandah or porch, a favourite hangout spot;
sucker – mostly used for a lollipop or popsicle but yes, also in that other meaning…
takkies/tekkies – the common word for sneakers, trainers
tannie – aunty, a respectful way of addressing a mature lady;
taxi – in spoken language it mostly refers to a minibus taxi, very different from the “cab” or “meter taxi”.
torch – flashlight
township – informal settlement, mostly living areas created for black South Africans during the apartheid era with high poverty rates and lacking infrastructure.
toyi-toyi – a protest dance usually performed at marches and political rallies
tsotsi – gangster, title of an Award winning South African film;
Ubuntu – an African philosophy of humanity and kindness. The spirit of Ubuntu is usually described as being compassionate and open to fellow human beings;
umqombothi - homebrewed African beer;
veld – the open plains of grassland
vellies – or “veldskoene’, traditional outdoors shoes made from animal skin (vel).
wena – Zulu word for “you”, mostly used in the sentence “haw wean”, hey you.
yebo – Zulu word for yes. It is used in almost every meaning of the word, from a silent “yes, hello” when answering a phone to an excited “yebo yes!” when hearing great news.
yoh (or jo!) – an exclamation of surprise. When you tell your South African friend about your adventures on the road, he might answer with a surprised “yoh”… Similar to “get out” or “are you serious?”
zef – new popular word with unknown origin (some say from the Ford Zephyr) and meaning but it is mostly used for someone who dares to stand out from the crowd


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