The 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.
Piet: Ok but just now, those okes are first going to have a fat indaba about what to braai.
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.
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