Tuesday, 18 June 2013

An introduction to South Africa for foreigners - Part 1 - Language

An introduction to South Africa for foreigners - Part 1 - Language
18 June 2013

Imagine arriving on Southern African shores and soil and being unfamiliar with our ways.  We do lots of things differently here.  Things you might find foreign and strange.  Firstly, before I start to explain some of our customs and traditions, perhaps it is best if I explain some of our language anomalies.  Because truth be told there are quite a few.

Perhaps this habit of having strange sayings and the like, is due in part to sunny South Africa being blessed with eleven official languages.  Yip, you heard me - eleven.  Quite a lot, I'm sure you'll agree.  And nine of those eleven languages are African.  Then we’ve also got Afrikaans, which stems a bit from German, Dutch and Flemish.  Then there is also a huge Portuguese speaking community in our fair country, heralding from other countries up north.  As well as a rather vast Indian community too.  And as for our English?  A language that most in our country understand?  Well our English is very liberally dotted with American too.  Thanx to the modern marvels of television.  Not forgetting the bits of British English we've adopted thanx to TV too.  And so our unique sayings are a marvellous blend of all of these seemingly mismatched language bits, all joining up and forming a new whole.  Giving birth to words and sayings that only we understand. 

And so if you're a foreigner visiting our fair lands, please allow me this opportunity to explain:

Lekker - is a word which indicates awesome, fantastic and fabulous too.  Though sadly none of these adjectives quite encapsulates the true meaning of the word "lekker" as well as the word "lekker" in itself.  Can one explain "lekker" by saying that it is just such a "lekker" word?

A braai - it's not quite a barbeque.  As that sounds a bit too civilised and brings to memory a posh gas "braai" contraption.  A proper braai incorporates wood (mainly Rooikrantsz), or Charcoal Brickets and Blitz.  Other prerequisites are any of the following:  lamb chops, pork rashers, pork chops, steak, chicken, the occasional sosatie, sometimes mielies, snoek (if you're into your fish) and if you're particularly lucky, a spot of crayfish.  Further requirements are also a braaier drinking beer and lekker music in the background.

When we talk about a robot - what we're actually referring to is a set of traffic lights.  Not an animated, animatronic, bionic creation.

Eish - is an expression used to express satisfaction.  Sometimes disgruntlement.  Occasionally being foolhardy.  Also frustration.  In fact, you can pretty much use it for anything and depending on the circumstances, fellow South Africans will understand your meaning clearly.  You can also use the word to acknowledge something you can’t change, like, “Eish, this cue at the bank is long”.

Chop – now I am particularly partial to the word chop.  Or as some might choose to spell it, “tjop”.  Not only does it refer to delectable cuts of lamb meat, most often prepared on a braai (please see reference above).  It also refers to an idiot.  Maybe even lovingly and not too condescending.  Perhaps depending on the person you’re referring to at the time.  For example, I might say to my Grantie, “You chop!  You forgot to get Blitz for the braai” (please see reference above).

Ja-Nee - now this one is really rather hard to explain. It doesn't mean "yes", nor does it mean "no". So why use the two together? Who can quite explain where it all began.  It sort of expresses agreement.  But unenthusiastically. 

Babbelas or babbie – this term refers to having a hangover.  Usually a serious one.  The type, where the glare from your glass of orange juice, causes an ache just behind your eyes. 

Nooit! – now technically, “nooit” means never.  However it is also loosely used to indicate disbelief.  Example, “That guy used a candle to start his braai (see reference above)”.  To which he might get a reply of, “Nooit!”.  Please note that the word, “nooit!”, is usually accompanied by an exclamation mark.

Coconut – contrary to popular belief, the word coconut, is usually not used to refer to a large hard shelled fruit.  It does in actual fact mostly refer to black children, adopted and raised by white families.  As they might be dark on the outside, based on looks alone.  But in terms of their culture, values, language use, etc. they’re actually white on the inside.

Yebo! – yebo means “yes”.  And similar to the word, “Nooit!”, the word, “Yebo!” is also always accompanied by an exclamation mark.  It is a happy sound.  A word of consent.  Of agreement.  Of affirmation.

Moegoe – real dim-witted eejits are called Moegoe’s.  It’s not really a swear word, and is therefore pretty pc, still the intent is not really.  It indicates being foolish.  And possibly a bit s-l-o-w.

Slap Chips – this is a delicacy to many.  It refers to the slightly greasy potato strips or chips, deep fried and liberally dotted and sprinkled with brown vinegar and oodles of salt. 

Bunny Chow – this term refers to the practice of hollowing out a loaf of bread, or even half a loaf, and filling it with curry.  However, slap chips (refer to explanation above) or chilli con carne can also be used.

Skop, Skiet en Donner – this is a much loved term, and refers to action packed movies.  Think Die Hard, Lethal Weapon.  And sadly perhaps Jean-Claude Van Damme too.

Shot – this does in no way refer to violence, or gun terminology at all.  It is a way of saying, “Thanks”.  It also normally goes hand in hand, with the word, “bru”.  And so, most often the phrase used is, “shot bru”.  Please note that though the word, “bru”, might be linked to the word, “brother”, in this instance it is not.  It can be used on a friend, or even a random stranger that has helped you in some way.

Pozzie – your pozzie is your home.  Your place.  Your kingdom.  Your castle.  The place where you sleep at night, and hang your dressing gown up on a hook behind the door.

Gatsby – a Gatsby is a polony, chip roll, tomato sauce concoction and is mostly popular in the Western Cape.  Sort of an indigenous dish of sorts.

Lappie – this is a cloth, usually used in the kitchen.  Though there are certain variations.  A “was-lappie” is a facecloth.  A “nat-lappie” is a small wet cloth, used for doing the dishes.  A “jammer-lappie” is a small wet cloth, used for wiping hands – occasionally placed on the table whilst eating, should the need arise.  Particularly popular if you’re eating braai meat or ribs – messy meals indeed.

Lus – this is desire.  Not so much for a person, if you catch my drift.  It is usually desire to do something or have something, i.e. “I am so lus for some slap chips (see above)”.  Not to be confused with “las”, which is a mission or something you don’t feeling like doing.

Min – this indicates little, and the English language is often liberally dotted with it, even though it originates from Afrikaans.  You can say for instance that you have “min lus (please refer to explanation above)” for studying for your exams, which means you really, really, really don’t feel like it.

Laanie – a “laanie” is a fancy or smart person.  Often yuppies think they’re quite laanie with their smart cars.  It is rather derogatory.

Choon – this actually comes from the word, “tune”.  Which ironically has nothing whatsoever to do with tuning musical instruments.  It means to tell someone something.  As in, they must tune in to what you want to tell them.  Got it?

Swak – technically, in Afrikaans, this means weak.  But in SAfrican, it actually usually means that something is bad or harsh.  Not quite up to scratch.

Sharp – usually, people say, “sharp-sharp”.  This means goodbye and that something is great, as in really, really awesome! 

Awe – instead of saying, “hello” or “good day to you” (as if), people (especially teenagers), say “Awe” to each other.  It is the same as the “howzit” of our youth.

Cozzie – this refers to a swimming costume.

Bonehead, Clutchplate, Rockspider – there are a whole list of words, reserved, just for use to describe Afrikaans people.  These are but a few of them. The more polite ones if you wish.  I happen to know them all.  Why?  Well it's quite simple - I am in actual fact a proud Bonehead/Clutchplate/Rockspider.

Doff – this indicates extreme stupidity and also absentmindedness and forgetfulness, i.e. “It was so doff of me to forget that it was your birthday”.

Dop – this is used to refer to drinking.  I think that technically, it is a shot.  However it is used to indicate drinking of any manner.  And matter.

Just now, now-now – these terms loosely refer to time.  Unfortunately no one is actually sure how long this really means. 

Lift – in technical terms, some foreigners, might know this is an elevator.  However, we simply always call it a lift.  Why not?  That’s what it does.

Voertsêk – this is casual slang for bugger-off.  It is not quite as harsh as f-off.  Though it certainly means the same thing. 

Shongololo – this is actually a centipede.  Though I do suppose it applies to millipedes as well.  You know the type – little black wormie-type-things with like a gazillion legs.  What a marvellous, wonderful, fantastic word.

Lorrie and bakkie – so for easy reference, and to clarify matters, a lorrie is a truck.  Whereas a bakkie is a pick-up.  Though truck and pick-up don’t exactly have the same ring now do they?

Toyi-toyi – this is the very unique habit of protesting through song and dance.  I know – it’s like being happy angry?  Does that even make sense?  Hey, it works for us.

Eina – this indicates pain.  As in ouch.  Still it sounds nicer and somehow seems more descriptive.

Woes – to be woes, is to be really, really angry.  As in terribly irate.  However it can also refer to something or someone being unkempt.  And ever so slightly wild.

Vrot – this means rotten.  Fruit does not go off, it gets vrot.  The nicest thing about the word “vrot” is the way it makes your mouth pull, in a sort of disapproving “oh” as well as making your nose scrunch up at the same time.  It also indicates getting drunk and well and truly inebriated. 

Gogga – a gogga is a bug.  It is a multi-species word, as it can refer to insects, bugs and all manner of creepy crawlies.

Yoh! – another word, permanently attached to an exclamation mark.  It expresses disbelief and surprise. 

Stoep – this is a porch of a veranda, normally surrounding a house. 

Klap – though a klap, is technically a slap, the word “klap” denotes so much more.  It emulates the sound of a smack, and it indicates disapproving of something.  Quite often people express a desire to klap something or someone.  And though they don’t necessarily enact on this wish, merely expressing their wish to do so, is effective enough.

Jol – this is such a lekker word.  It is better than party or a disco.  More special than a get together.  It’s a letting down of your hair, throwing your name away and partying the night through.  Students tend to jol quite  a lot.

Ja – the word “ja” is about as South African as you can get.  It is used all the time.  And though it means “yes” it is one of the most used words in our culture.  It can also be used as a warning.  Normally accompanied by a wagging finger – always the index finger at that.

Boerewors – this is a blend of sausage meat and spices.  Usually cooked on a braai – finger-licking good.

Droëwors and Biltong – these are a true South African delicacy.  It is dried meat (most often beef strips) and dried sausage or boerewors (refer explanation above).  Beef jerky comes nowhere close to it.

Bergie – this refers to a homeless person.  A hobo if you like.

Pap – this is porridge, and can also refer to any cereal type of food.  Though it is usually used in reference to maize porridge and oatmeal porridges.

Fundi – if someone is a fundi, then it means that they are an expert in their field.  Truly knowledgeable.

Mielie – this is corn or maize.  A very typical accompaniment to meals.  Ground it can be made into a porridge of sorts.  Alternatively it can be eaten, “corn-on-the-cob” style.  Or creamy too.  Many, many options.

I have scratched but the tip of the iceberg.  There is still a whole pile of truly unique SAfricanisms out there.  And if a foreigner has any hope of understanding our land, then they have to acclimatise themselves to our language before the time.  Because if they don’t, they’ll be well and truly lost.

How else will they understand a simple few sentences like these?

I’m min lus to eat a Gatsby now.  I rather feel like having a lekker braai, with some mielies and boerewors too.  I’ll just quickly go in my bakkie to the shops just now, to get some pap to add to it.  The laanies like that type of thing.  I’m sure the guy at the shop will choon me which is the best one to buy.  I hope I don’t see any bergies outside, begging for money.  Or toyi-toying because of something or other.  Maybe I’ll get some droewors and biltong too.  We can sit on the stoep, and have a lekker chat about that jol we went to the other night.  Yoh!  I got so woes when that one guy wanted to choon us to leave, cause we were too vrot.  I almost felt like giving him a klap.  Who’s he telling us to voertsek?  He was quite a moegoe.  It was just as well we came to my pozzie instead.  We could have a lekker dop at my place instead, without being bothered by that chop.  Ja-nee.  We don’t need moegoes like him chooning us.  Eish, but did I have a babbelas the next day!  Nooit!  I felt very swak.  Yoh!  It was eina!  Luckily that bunny chow with slap chips settled my stomach sharp-sharp. 

See, explaining it all to you, was a tremendous kindness indeed!

Who said English was universal?

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  1. Lekker blog, Helene! I smaak it stukkend!

  2. Ha ha Helene, LMK!
    Sick post!!
    But that's another story!!

  3. Sharp-sharp Foef!! Ek is lus om by julle pozzie te hang dan kan ons lekker braai! Baie snaaks!

  4. Sharp-sharp Foef!! Ek is lus om by julle pozzie te hang dan kan ons lekker braai! Baie snaaks!

  5. Some awesome South Africanisms - the meaning of a lot of these SA slang words gets lost in translation!