This was an e-mail sent to me by the head of the journalism department at Tshwane University of Technology in Pretoria:
South African lingo explained to a foreigner
Jawelnofine: This is another conversation fallback 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.”
Is it?: 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: “Is it?”
Jislaaik: Pronounced “Yiss-like”, it is an expression of astonishment. For instance, if 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!.”
Klap: Pronounced “klup” – an Afrikaans word meaning thump 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 Dad. In America, that is called child abuse. In South Africa, it is called promoting education. It’s what you do to the guy who gave you the hot mieliepap.
Lekker: 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. You might, however, get a klap.
Tackies: These are sneakers or running/tennis shoes. The word is also used to describe automobile or truck tyres. “Fat tackies” are big tyres, as in: “Where did you get those lekker fat tackies on your Volksie (VW), hey?”
Dop: 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. When you get invited to a braai, you will inevitably be asked to bring your own dop. 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.
Sarmie: 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. Definitely not lekker.
Bakkie: 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.
Howzit: 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.”
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 a little sooner than soon: “Ill clean my room now now, Ma.” It is a little more urgent than “just now” which means an indefinite time in the future.
Tune me 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 (guy) is tuning me uphill.”
Boet: 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 patronising and you’ll probably get ‘donnered’, hey.
Pasop: 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. Vrot : 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 worn a few times too often with unwashed feet 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. Pasop: We once saw a movie review with this headline: “Slick Flick, Vrot Plot.” However, it is mostly used to describe the state of the drunk boets at the braai who finished all their dop.
Graze: 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 very 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 Dad.
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. You can, however, rock up at a braai providing you’ve brought your own dop.
Scale: To scale something is to steal it. A person who is “scaly” is not nice, ie a scumbag, and should be left off the Christmas party invitation list. If he does rock up, don’t give him any pap, donner him, boet, and scale all his dop, hey!.
QED: Here Endeth the Lesson From Oom Eric. Wednesday, 8th August 2007
One response to “South African lingo explained to a foreigner”
I met you at the Science Journalism conference in Pretoria. Your list of words is so funny. Love it. Lekker!!!!!