Stories and Traveltips

ID #4928

South African Visitors Survival Guide, South Africa.

Useful words and expressions not found in dictionaries:

Ag:  A most useful soueffricanism. Pronounced “ach” as in the German “achtung” or the Scottish “och”.  Used to start a reply to a tricky question, as in “Ag, I don’t know”. Alternatively, to express a feeling of resignation, as in: “Ag, I’ll have some more pap then”. It also stands alone as an expression of both irritation and pleasure.

Babbelas:   It sounds vaguely Biblical. Nothing could be further from the truth. It describes that awful “morning after” feeling.

Bakkie:  Pronounced “Bucky”, it is a small pickup or truck.  Young men take their “cherries” to the drive-in flick in a bakkie but this is hardly appropriate as the seats do not recline and you may be forced to watch the film. In retrospect, I now realise why they are always parked facing the wrong direction!

Bell: A telephone call, as in: “Give me a bell at home”. An appropriate word given who invented the telephone, it probably comes from the ringing sound emitted by telephones in the old days.  Today they sound like crickets, but nobody says: “Give me a cricket at home”. That would have a completely different meaning that I will not get into here. Used interchangeably with “tinkle”.

Biltong:  Dried, salted meat that is made from beef, ostrich, antelope or anything else too large to consume at one sitting (rhino, giraffe, etc) Expatriate South Africans are often heard to say: “What I really miss most is the biltong, man”.

Blooming:  Pronounced “blimming” Roughly equivalent to “helluva” as in: “Ag, that pap I had at the braai made me blooming sick” A slightly more polite way of saying “bladdy” which is, in turn, a corruption of the English  “bloody”

Boet:   A term borrowed from Afrikaans meaning “brother” Pronounced “boot” as in shoe, it is often applied to non-relatives.  A father might refer to his son as “boet” and friends use it to refer to one another as well. Sometimes the diminutive “boetie” is used.  Do not use either with someone you hardly know – it will be thought patronising. The expression “Jaaaa Boet” is another way of saying: “I have heard that one before” “You can’t fool me” It actually means “No Boet”

Boerewors:  Known simply as wors, this spicy sausage is South Africa’s principal contribution to world culture. Every weekend it sizzles on countless backyard braais. Used on an enormous scale, it probably contributes to global warming as well. A literal translation from Afrikaans meaning “farmers sausage” Wherever they go, South Africans take their borewors along with them.  One can now get boerewors in the most unlikely places. Like Hong Kong.

Braai:  It is the first thing to which you will be invited in South Africa. A backyard barbecue, it takes place irrespective of the weather. So you will have to go even if it’s raining and hang of a cold. At a braai your will be introduced to mieliepap. Read on…

Broek:  Frequently used in its diminutive form, “broekies” It is a pair of pants and can mean either regular shorts or undergarments for both mean and women.  In other words, one can wear broeks under one’s broeks. It is sometimes used thus: “Her dress is so bladdy short you can see her broeks” There is a popular children’s chant: “What’s the time/Half past nine/Hang your broekies on the line” A cowardly person is referred to as a “bangbroek” (scaredy pants). One wonders how Onderbroek Spruit, on the N3 between Durban and Johannesburg got its name.

Café:  A generic term to describe convenience stores, it is pronounced “caff”, “cayf” or “kafee”.  Traditionally run by persons of Greek, Portuguese or Asian ancestry. A good place to buy smokes, biltong or Alka Seltzer you need after trying pap at the braai. Don’t buy pies from the warming oven. They have been kept warm for weeks and will kill you stone dead within minutes.

Cherrie: Girlfriend or sweetheart. Not used in polite company. For instance, it is not appropriate to telephone your girlfriend’s home and say to her parents: “Is my cherrie home yet, hey?”

Deurmekaar: Pronounced “dear-mu-caar.” Bamboozled, puzzled, confused. If it happens to be one of those days and you explain it thus: “I am all deurmekaar today,” everyone will understand.

Dingis:  Pronounced “ding-iss” it is another word for a thingy or whatchamacallit. Including “that” whatchamacallit.  Frequently used in IT circles, when a computer engineer tells his co-workers: “Put that red dingis next to the green dingis and it will make the blue dingis work.  They understand one another perfectly.

Doll:  A term of affection between males and females, it is used mostly in the Johannesburg area. A corruption of  “darling”, it is used thus: “Your turn to take out the rubbish, doll”. “But I took it out last time, doll” “Well take the bladdy thing out again, doll”

Donner: From the Afrikaans “donder” (thunder).  Pronounced “donner” it means to “beat up”. Rugby teams are frequently “donnered” during a game, and your boss may get the “donner in” with you if you do a lousy job. Beat a hasty retreat is someone says this to you.

Dop: Two meanings, one good, the other bad.  A dop is a drink, a cocktail, a sundowner, a noggin. When invited over for a dop, be on your guard.  It could be one or two sedate drinks or a blast, depending on the company you keep.  The other means to fail, as in: “ I dopped Standard Two (Grade 4)” If that were true you probably would not be reading this.

Dumpy: You may drink your dop out of a dumpy, an appropriately named small, fat beer bottle. In rural areas they are used to build garden walls, embedding them in cement like bricks.

Dwaal: A useful word pronounced “dwarl” It describes the confused state you may be in after too many “dops”.   If uncertain as to whether to put your shoes or socks on first, you are in a dwaal.  If lost when taking a spin in your car, you might turn to your companion and say: “We are in a bit of a dwaal”.

Eina: Widely used by all language groups, it is an Afrikaans word meaning “ouch” Pronounced “aynah,” it is shouted out in sympathy when someone burns their finger on the braai.

Gatvol:  Pronounced “ghut-foll” It is a widely used, somewhat rude word that is difficult to translate into English as it refers to parts of one’s anatomy. It means “fed up” and is useful to express one’s frustration or irritation. But be careful where you use it. Dont tell your boss: “Listen, I am gatvol with you and I am gatvol with this job”. You could end up joining the ranks of the unemployed, in which case you will be gatvol with life.

Graze: In a country with strong farming traditions, it is not surprising that farming words “crop up”. To graze means to eat. If invited to a bioscope show, you might respond by saying: “Let’s graze first and then check the flicks” 

Hang of:  Same as the American “heck of”, as in: “I have a hang of a headache” or “I had a hang of a good time at the braai”

Hey: Used at the end of a sentence to emphasise the importance of what has been said, it can also be used as a question. Instead of saying “excuse me?” or “pardon me?” one can say ”hey?” instead.

Howzit: A universal greeting used instead of  “How are you”

Isit?  Used when you have nothing whatsoever to contribute. An appropriate response when someone at the braai happens to mention that: “The Russians will succeed in their bid to become capitalists when they adopt a work ethic and respect for private ownership”

Jislaaik: Pronounced “yis-like,” it is an expression of astonishment.  For instance, when informed that there are a billion people in China, an appropriate response would be “Jislaaik, that’s a hang of a lot of people, hey?”

Just now: Pronounced “Jist now” it means eventually, sometime or never. If someone says he will do something just now, it could mean in 10 minutes or tomorrow. Or perhaps never.

Klap:  Pronounced “klup” it is an Afrikaans word meaning smack, whack or spank.  If you spend too much time watching movies during exams, you might catch a sharp klap from your old man.  In America, it is called child abuse. In South Africa, it is called positive reinforcement.  An AAK is the acronym for an “attitude adjusting klap”

Lekker: An Afrikaans word meaning nice, it is widely used to express approval. Seeing someone attractive of the opposite sex, a suitable exclamation would be “lekkerrr” 

Mrs Ball’s Chutney:  It is uncertain whether such a lady ever existed. But if she did, she has earned a place of honour in South African culinary history.  Of Indian Origin, it is fruit pickled with vinegar, spices and sugar. It is eaten with everything, including fried eggs.  Good on boerewors, Vienna sausages, slap chips and so on…

Naartjie:  The Afrikaans name for a tangerine and, according to Eric Rosenthal, it comes from the Indian  “Tamie Nartie”, a citron. Not a citroen – that is a car. Naartjies are easy to peel and their pips are wonderful for spitting contests during big break.

Now Now:   A comforting phrase in much of the civilised world, it means a little sooner than soon, as in: “I’ll clean my room now now, Ma” More urgent that “just now”

Oke:  A guy, chap or bloke. If you quite like someone, you might say “Ag, he is an OK oke”.  It is used interchangeably with “ou”

Pap: An important component of any braai. Pronounced “pup” it has the appearance, consistency and the taste of moist Plaster of Paris. Many pretend to like it. Eating pap is character building in the sense that one learns to stoically grin and bear adversity. The South African equivalent of grits, it leads to spiritual growth. Eating it is the culinary equivalent of flagellation.

Pasop:   From the Afrikaans meaning “Watch out”  Heeded by all language groups as in: “Your mother has not had her morning coffee yet, boet, so pasop and stay out of her way” Everyone understands that it represents a line drawn in the sand, never to be crossed.

Robot:  This word charms many visitors. Used instead of traffic light, it is pronounced “roh-bott” or “roh-boh”.  Which is used depends on your education and level of pretentiousness.

Rock up:  To rock up is to just arrive You do not 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 cannot just rock up for a job interview.  You must give them a tinkle first, and then rock up.

Rooibos (Red Bush): If you do not feel like a dop, ask for a cup of Rooibos.  A tannin-free herb tea made from the indigenous Cyclopia genistoides bush cultivated in the Clanwilliam area: Homesick South Africans increasingly find Rooibos in gourmet stores around the world.  They buy it even when they do not like it.

Rooinek:  A literal translation of the Afrikaans for “red neck” Different meaning to the term used in the United States. Rooinek is an expression used by Afrikaners to describe their English-speaking compatriots. It originated during the Anglo-Boer war when pink-faced British troops suffered severe cases of sunburn. This happened while lying face down for hours on end, noses in the dirt, pinned down by accurate rifle (Mauser) fire from well-hidden Boers.

Sarmie: A sandwich. For generations, school children have traded “sarmies” during lunch breaks. When sending kids off to school, do not give them liver-polony sarmies. They are the toughest to trade.

Scale: To steal. A person who is scaly is not nice, a scumbag, and should be left off the Christmas Party invitation list.

Shame: This can mean the opposite of its meaning elsewhere. When shown a baby, you might say “Ag shame” This does not mean that the baby is ugly – it means cute. If the baby were ugly, a more appropriate response would be: “Shame, hey?”  If the baby were truly hideous, it would be more appropriate to say “jislaak” The latter would not necessarily be appreciated, resulting in the father “donnering” you by giving you a sharp “klap”.

Skinnerbek: Gossip is one of life’s little pleasures. That is what a “skinner” is – a gossip.  A “skinnerbek” is someone who does it a lot, often without much regard for the facts.

Skollie:  A street thug or hoodlum. Sometimes used to affectionately describe a rogue.

Skop Skiet and Donner:  Literally “kick, shoot and thunder” Borrowed from Afrikaans and used to describe western movies.  Clint Eastwood’s films are usually good “skop skiet and donder” flicks.

Slap Chips: French fries, usually bought wrapped in newspaper from a café. Slap is borrowed from Afrikaans, and means “limp”.  The term comes from the habit of anointing chips with lots of vinegar that makes them go slap and which is, of course, the only way to eat them when young enough not to be bothered by such niceties as indigestion or cholesterol. More recently the nickname of a well-known rugby player.

Slip Slops: The rubber thongs or sandals that one wears to the beach. They are kept on your feet by a thin strap that causes blisters between your big toe and its partner.  Naturally one cannot wear them with socks and they should never be worn with a suit. Clothing styles are far more casual these days thanks to Madiba’s flair for colourful shirts on even formal occasions.  However, things are no so casual that slip-slops can be worn to work or to auntie’s funeral.

Spanspek:  Do not ask for a canteloupe when looking for this melon.  They will not have any idea what you are talking about. Translated as “Spanish Bacon” for some unknown reason. A great summertime snack with a glob of ice cream.

Standard:  What are known as grades in New Zealand and forms in the UK are known as standards in South Africa.  Children spend their first two years in Sub-A and Sub-B and then enter Standard One at about eight or nine. An old South African joke: “Standard Three was the happiest two years of my life”.  Standard ten is the final year of high school and is also known as matric.

Stroppy: Short for obstreperous. It means pugnacious, difficult, aggressive, having an attitude. Used in almost any level of conversation.

Takkies:  Sneakers or running shoes.  The word is also used to describe automobile or truck tyres. “Fat takkies” are broad tyres, as in “Where did you get those lekker fat takkies on you volksie (VW) from, hey?

Throw with:  An endearing phrase hated by schoolteachers but retained by generations of their students. It is often encountered thus: “She threw him with a ripe pawpaw” This does not mean that Party A also threw a pawpaw when she threw Party B somewhere. It means that Party A threw a soft pawpaw at party B. You of course know what a pawpaw is.  It is a fruit that pretends to have a flavour. Called papaya elsewhere.

Tinkle.  If someone asks you to give them a tinkle, it does not necessarily imply that you are being sexually harassed.  It may simply mean that they want you to phone them.

Tsk: Of unknown origin, it is a sound made by clicking the front of one’s tongue on one’s palate. Frequently, repeated quickly, as in “tsk tsk,” and accompanied by a shaking of the head from side to side. Used interchangeably with “Ag shame”.  A sympathetic gesture.

Tsotsi.  Pronounced ts-ot-ts-i. A township thug or gangster. 

Van der Merwe: Just as Paddy is a central figure in Irish humour and Hymie turns up in Jewish jokes, Van (Fan with a flat a) der (durr) Merwe (pronounced Merver) is the butt of South African jokes. Sometimes referred to simply as “Van” Real life Van der Merwe’s are probably irritated by the term but most seem to accept the situation with good grace.

o    In one typical story, Van plans to visit the USA and has heard that they drive on the other side of the road there. He happens to be travelling down to Durban prior to his departure. To get used to driving on the right hand side of the road, he practises on the way but gives up because “Its just too bladdy dangerous” 


o    Another one: “Did you hear about van der Merwe?  He spent the last three months up a tree with a baboon”  “Really? Male or female?” “Why male of course! There is nothing queer about Van der Merwe!”

Voetsak:  Of unknown origin, it means “get away” Normally used to chase away bothersome dogs.  Interestingly, it appears to be almost universally understood by them. I have used the term in the Greek Islands and in America with equal success. It is not polite to tell someone to voetsak. When used, someone often ends up getting donnered.

Vrot:   Pronounced “frot”.  A wonderful word that means “rotten” or “putrid” in Afrikaans.  It is used universally to describe anything you don’t like.  Most commonly used to describe fruit and vegetables whose shelf life has long expired. However, it can also be used to describe takkies that have been worn without socks a few times too often.  Rugby players that miss important tackles are said to have had a vrot game. Once saw a movie review with the headline: “Slick Flick, Vrot Plot”

Windgat: Pronounced “vint-ghut” Directly translated it means wind hole, and it means what it sounds like – gasbag, blowhard, windbag. This is not a polite term and should be used selectively and only when certain that the individual being described wont hear about it. Especially when he happens to be your boss, father-in-law, coach, professor, manager or minister. It is however a most appropriate description of most politicians.

With acknowledgements to the author, whoever you may be. AVSouvisit smiler


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Last update: 2014-02-28 22:34
Author: Alan McIver
Revision: 1.2

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