Learn some South African slang – greet a South African today

Posted by on September 09, 2009

© Maksym Yemelyanov / Fotolia.comThe current UK release of the sci-fi / apartheid movie District 9 by Peter Jackson and Neil Blomkamp has brought South African English into the international spotlight. Stuck down near the bottom of the world, with a whole lot of animals, thousands of miles of coastline and not much between us and Antarctica besides whales and a few jackass penguins, South Africans have developed some odd linguistic idiosyncrasies.

We have 11 official languages as well as a few unofficial and a few extinct ones. A few South African languages even have clicks (notice the clicks in District 9’s alien language?). Those speaking South African English bring to it an amazingly rich collection of slang from their ethnic backgrounds and regions. While most South African slang is made up of adopted non-English words (e.g. from Xhosa, Zulu or Afrikaans), there are many standard English words which have taken on different meanings in South Africa. For example, a lift is an elevator and traffic lights are referred to as robots (it’s true!).

Since South Africans like to travel, you have probably bumped into some of us around the world and possibly even overheard some South African slang. See if you can follow the following exchange:

Piet: Howzit my china?
Sizwe: Hundreds, where you going hey?
Piet: To visit my connection, pull in.
Sizwe: Onetime.
Piet: Ok but just now, those okes are first going to have a fat indaba about what to braai.
Sizwe: Eish!

Let’s take a closer look.

Howzit my china? Hundreds.

Howzit (how is it) is a very common South African English greeting. China (meaning friend) is probably originally from Cockney rhyming slang spoken by British immigrants (china plate meaning my mate). Hundreds means good or fine (like a hundred dollar bill, or a hundred percent).

To visit my connection, pull in. Onetime.

A connection is a friend and to pull in is to come along. Onetime, meaning definitely, is used as a positive response to a question.

Just now, those okes are first going to have a fat indaba about what to braai. Eish!

The expression just now has always been a problem for South Africans when away from home. Counterintuitively, it means some time in the near future but not immediately (around 20-90 minutes). Just to confuse you, it can also refer to the recent past, ‘I was there just now‘. Okes (pronounced oaks) is a generic term for people. Indaba here means conference or discussion, from the Zulu meaning a matter for discussion, while braai is the South African word for barbeque (from the Afrikaans braaivleis, or cooked meat). Eish is a widely used word from township slang, expressing a few feelings ranging from frustration to surprise and disapproval, but also as an everyday acknowledgment of things you can’t change.

Do you have any other examples of South African slang? Let us know in the comments below.

Further reading:

South African Slang from Wikipedia

Read more about Global English.

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Comments (8)
  • ‘bru’ is a popular one i heard exchanged between men in Cape Town. I think it’s short for ‘brother’ perhaps. The word ‘lekker’ and ‘dangas/dungus’ were pretty recurrent in speech too. Not sure they’re considered slang though.

    Posted by mizenglish on 19th September, 2009
  • ‘takkies’ is the South African word for trainers and ‘plakkies’ is used for flip flops and a ‘bakkie’ is a pick up truck. ‘Muti’ is medicine (from Zulu) and a ‘fundhi’ (not sure of the spelling here) is someone who’s a bit of an expert in something.

    Posted by VallyP on 23rd September, 2009
  • I also like the combination English/Afrikaans expressions that are commonly used, like:
    “Let’s pay and ry” – meaning pay and go (‘Ry’ being Afrikaans for drive)
    “finish and klaar” – really finished (‘klaar’ means finished)
    There are others, but I don’t know how to spell some of them as I’ve only ever used them in speech in SA.

    Posted by VallyP on 23rd September, 2009
  • As ex-South Africans (20 years gone) it is amazing how easily we understand these exchanges still. Here are some other examples:
    ‘Jislaaik!’ Exclamation of surprise/pain, also ‘eina!’ Then there is one of my favourites: ‘Ja-nee’ which translated from Afrikaans is ‘Yes-No’ – usually used as a filler, a pause in conversation, and has no real meaning.
    An interesting phrase is ‘ Ja, well, no fine’ – another almost no meaning filler, said I think in consideration of something eg.
    Person 1 : ” Shall I pick you up then?”
    Person 2: ” Ja, well, no fine – catch you later.”

    Posted by Sue Pitt on 20th October, 2009
  • i like the exclamation yessirs!! (jesus!)
    and the affirmative es vaar (true that!!)
    i only know these very short ones,sumbudy please help me construct a sentence in afrikaans.oh!! and then i know es nee reg (its not good)
    es reg (its/is good)

    HATS OFF FOR ME!!!!

    Posted by ONX on 4th October, 2010
  • Hallo, hoezit ?

    Hoe het dit vandag met jou gegaan ?

    I say this all the time 🙂

    Posted by LieweHeksie1024 on 29th December, 2011
  • Seeing a breakdowns starts to make you think how we grew up in SA and how much I have dropped since moving to UK. One of the favourite terms from SA has to be “Sweet (schweet) like a lemon”.

    Posted by Doug on 18th November, 2013
  • Hosing myself means crying with laughter

    Posted by GG on 11th March, 2015
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