Learn to Speak South African

This is a list of words saffers (South Africans) use regularly, particularly English, Afrikaans, or Eng-Afr bilinguals. I am quite nervous about how I’ll cope when I eventually start traveling. Looking through this list convinces me that no non-South African will ever understand the words coming out of my mouth unless I make a concerted effort.

Please note: South Africa has 11 official languages with many dialects and varieties. This is not even including all of the languages spoken in SA. “South African” is not a language, just a funny term used to refer to the amalgamation of slang from a bunch of languages. The terms in this list are predominantly from Afrikaans.

A

Aangenaam ‘n kenis – Pleasure to meet you. Formal greeting. Usually accompanied with a firm handshake.
Arvie – afternoon
Ag man – oh man
Aweh – (ah-weh) used to acknowledge something or greet someone.
Amped – excited
All of a skielik – All of a sudden

B

Bobotie – a traditional food with yellow rice, mince and spices
Babbelas – hangover
Bakgat – used to describe something good. “Dit was bakgat!”
Bakkie – pickup truck
Bejags – totally insane. PE slang. “Is jy bejags in jou kop?”
Biltong – hard, dry meat
Biscuit – cookie
Bliksem – expression similar to “Heck!” Also used as a synonym for “hit.” For example. “Ek gaan jou bliksem.”
Bitter Koud/Blerrie Koud – very cold
Boer – white farmer
Boerewors – a highly seasoned traditional sausage made from minced or pounded meat
Boerie – Boerewors roll. Similar to a hotdog.
Boetie – brother
Bokkie – girl (can be viewed as derogatory and sexist by some)
Bra – buddy, mate, friend
Bru – buddy, mate, friend
Braai – barbeque
Befok – A South African and particularly Cape Town word for really good! Can also be used to describe someone crazy. Contains the F word in Afrikaans, so use at your discretion. “That was totally befok!”
Bergie – homeless person
Bill – restaurant check
Baas – boss
Bakvissie – a giggly teenage girl
Bail – to leave. Variety of terms used to mean the same thing. “bail, fade, chuck, chaila.”
Betty – a pretty girl
Buggered – tired
Blimmin – exclamation similar to “damn.”

C

Cell – mobile phone
Chommie – buddy, mate, friend. To be friendly. “He was chommie with me.”
China – buddy, mate, friend
Cherry – pretty girl, usually belonging to someone. “My cherry.”
Choon – song (tune)
Chow – eat
Cozzy – swimming costume
Chick – girl (can be viewed as sexist by some)
Check – look.
Chips
– look out. french fries. crispy potato chips.

D

Dik Bek – thick mouth. To be upset or miserable about something.
Doss – sleep, nap
Dorpie – small town
Dagga – weed, pot, ganja
Dinges – things
Donder – beat up
Doos – derogatory term for female genitalia. Often used to describe someone who is acting like an idiot.
Dof – stupid
Dop – alcoholic drink
Dik – thick. If someone is dik. If you are full after a meal.
Duidelik – clear
Dankie – thank you
Dwaal – mentally lost. zoned out. “in ‘n dwaal.”
Dwars – “You’re being dwars.” Others. Deliberately confused.
Dak nat gooi – house warming
Daarsy
– silent ‘r.’ There we go.
Droewors – dried meat.

E

Eina – ow
Eish – expression of awe, similar to “wow”
Ek se – I say
Entjie – cigarette, generally the stump of the cigarette that people smoke.

F

Fundi – expert
Fed-up – finished, done with it, over it
Flip – exclamation. Gee wiz.

G

Gatsby – style of deli sandwich very similar in content and method of preparation as a hoagie in the USA.
Gesuip – drunk
Graze – to eat
Gomgat – bumpkin, redneck
Goof – if you’re in Durban this means taking a swim. If you’re in Cape Town it means to smoke weed
Gooi – throw
Gatvol – finished, done with it, over it
Gelukkige Verjaarsdag – Happy Birthday
Gogga – bug, beetle, insect

H

Highway – freeway
Howzit/Howsit – How are you? A good reply is a repetition of the word, “Howsit? Howsit!” Generic friendly greeting.
Hundreds – great. “How are things here? Hundreds! Great.”
Hectic – heavy, intense

I

Isit/ izzit – is it? generic phrase, similar to “really?”
In sy moer – messed up. “That guy was in sy moer in.”

J

Ja – yes
Jags – horny
Ja-nee/Ja-no/Ja-no-well-fine – Yes no. Generically means “ok.” We don’t really know what the last one means but we enjoy using it a lot anyways.
Just now – variable meaning, time reference. Similar to “in a bit”
Jislaaik – Jesus. Exclamation
Jol – party. Also used to mean a great time. “Dit gaan a jol wees.”

K

Kombi – Volkswagen mini-bus
Kwaai – standard usage means “angry.” Colloquially means something similar to “hectic.”
Kak – shit
Kief – cool (kiff)
Kiesche – Port Elizabeth slang. Means buggered. Tired.
Klap – slap
Keen – eager, interested

L

Laaitie – lightie. A young boy.
Laduma – yelled when someone in soccer scores a goal
Larney – fancy, upper class, posh
Lekker – nice
Lank – very (not to be confused with Afrikaans “lank” which means “long”)
Las – a hassle, annoyance
Lift – elevator
Lights out – to punch someone so hard they pass out. “I’ll punch your lights out.”

M

Monkey’s wedding – raining while the sun is shining
Mielie – corn
Mik – to fake-move towards something. To feint. “He was mikking for my chips.”
Ma se poes – such a generic Afrikaans derogatory phrase that it’s become a standard term. “Your mother’s genitalia” <– to put it lightly.
Mal – mad
Mamparra – an absolute idiot
Moegoe – similar to mamparra
Moerse – huge
Mos – Difficult to describe out of context. “He was walking mos down by the taxi-rank when that chick mos ran up to him.” A sort of filler word to add emphasis to a situation.
Moer – beat up “Om iemand to moer.” moermygesig – a face that wants to be punched

N

Naartjie – loose-skinned South African citrus fruit
Ne – a generic tag question, like “hey?”
Nogal – too, or as well
Nooit – never. Often used as an exclamation.
Now now – similar to “Just now.”

O

Ou – old
Ou Ballie – old man
Ou Toppie – old man. Term of endearment. Could refer to a family member, such as your grandfather, father, or father-in-law. Recently it was used to describe Neil Diamond’s performance in Cape Town. “Ou toppie’s still got it.”
Oke – a guy
Oom – uncle

P

Plakkies – sandals
Padkos – roadtrip food
Pap/mielie meal – maize meal (“pap” can also mean “limp” or “weak”)
Pavement – sidewalk
Plaas – farm
Plank – derogatory term for an Afrikaans person (there are many of these, such as rockspider and clutchplate)
Pomp – derogatory term for sex. Sometimes used as “Wat pomp?” as in “what’s happening?”

R

Robot – traffic light
Rad – used as a synonym for cool
Rock up – to arrive
Rondavel – traditional African-style house. Round or oval in shape made from materials which can be locally acquired such as stones, mud etc.

S

Sangoma – witchdoctor or spiritual healer. Traditional
Shongololo – centipede
Siff – gross
Skinder – gossip
Slap chips – thick french fries
Slip slops/slops – (see “plakkies”) sandals
Spaza shop/cafe – corner convenience store
Stoep – porch
Sosatie – kebab
Swak – used to generally mean, “unlucky” or “hectic.”
Sies – gross
Skeef – to look at someone in a way that they wont like, or so that they can see you disapprove of them or have a problem with them. To skeef someone.
Skelm – sneaky. Or to have a floozy/mistress. “I’m going to meet my skelm.”
Skraal – skinny
Skrik – To get a fright. To describe someone really ugly.
Smaak stukkend – to like something a lot (literally: taste to pieces)
Sorry – This does not actually mean sorry. We use it for virtually everything and everywhere. When we say, “excuse me,” we are generally about to pick a fight.
Stompie – last bit of a cigarette
Shame – used a lot by South Africans. Generally doesn’t denote pity, used more generically and more frequently, although in a similar standard context. “Shame, his hat fell off into the crowd.”
Skew – askew.
Sat (‘sut’) – satiated. Can apply to a situation that you are tired of or a meal.
Sommer net – just because
Suid Afrika – Afrikaans for South Africa
Saffer – A South African
Stoked – Excited. Similar to “amped.”
So ja – Used when starting a sentence that changes the subject or reverts back to a subject previously being discussed. Or used pretty much wherever you want really, depending on how truly South African you are. “So ja, as I was saying.”
T

Tannie – aunt
Takkies – sneakers
Toy-toy – protest dance done in the streets. Often done at times of excitement as well, such as during the Soccer World Cup.
Tokoloshe – In Zulu mythology, Tokoloshe is a dwarf-like water sprite or zombie. They are considered mischievous and evil spirits and are widely believed in.
Tsotsi – thief, criminal
Tune – to “kak someone out.” To tune someone. To berate someone.

V

Veld – field
Veldskoens/vellies – shoes often worn when walking through a field or long distance. Often made of animal hide/leather.
Voetsek – Go away. Bugger off
Vetkoek – traditional Afrikaner pastry. It is dough deep-fried in cooking oil and can be eaten plain or filled with mince or jam, depending on taste.
Vuvuzela – stadium horn, blowing horn. Approximately one metre in length, commonly blown by fans at soccer matches in SA. They require some lip and lung strength to blow and emit a loud monotone like a foghorn or an elephant.
Vasbyt – hang in there
Viva – hooray. “Viva, South Africa, viva!” Generally repeated twice in a sentence.
Vrot – when something goes off it is declared vrot. Rotten.

W

Wat Pomp – Made popular by an Afrikaans pop group, Die Antwoord, this simply means, “What’s happening?” or “What’s up?”

Windgat – a show-off

Y

Yebo – yes. Sometimes said as “yebo yes.”

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8 responses to “Learn to Speak South African

  • Collin

    You’re missing one between these two words:
    Plank – derogatory term for an Afrikaans person (there are many of these, such as rockspider and clutchplate)
    Pomp – derogatory term for sex. Sometimes used as “Wat pomp?” as in “what’s happening?”

    How can you call yourself an academic if you don’t fully present and document your work?

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    This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mo Sena, Kelly Quantrill. Kelly Quantrill said: http://bit.ly/9NYqos Learn to speak South African for the Soccer World Cup. #language #SA #soccer

  • Michael Meadon

    A lot of these aren’t SA specific: Biscuit, fundi, viva, etc. (The first is British, the second is international and the third was imported via the Cubans)

    • kelltrill

      Thanks for pointing these out. I’ll double check this and add some notes to them on Monday, although I won’t remove them completely because of their frequent use.
      It’s highly unlikely that the majority of these words will be unique to SA. The sociology of linguistics is such that we can essentially go even further and say that those words are not unique to the languages or countries you specified either. I’m more concerned with “South Africanising”, “South Africanisms” and borrowings than etymology. If that wasn’t the case the list would have about ten words in it if we were lucky.

  • Judy Dooley

    Could I use part of the information from your post above if I give a backlink in your site?

  • gloep

    First entry: ‘Aangename kennis’.

  • Shekinah Pereira

    Loved this! helped a bit when I was in SA

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