Getting around in South Africa as a foreigner can be very daunting as we speak a very particular dialect called Souf Effrican.
In order to make the language a little more understandable to newcomers, read on – and feel free to distribute this Guide to Speaking South African.
BRAAI: What is a braai? It is the first thing you will be invited to when you visit South Africa. A braai is a backyard barbecue and it will take place whatever the weather.
So, you will have to go even if it’s raining like mad. At a braai you will be introduced to a substance known as mieliepap.
AG: This is one of the most useful South African words. Pronounced like the “ach” in the German “achtung”, it can be used to start a reply when you are asked a tricky question, as in: “Ag, I don’t know.”
Or a sense of resignation: “Ag OK, I’ll have some more mieliepap then.” It can stand alone too as a signal of irritation.
DONNER: A rude word, it comes from the Afrikaans “donder” (thunder). Pronounced “dorner”, it means “beat up.” A team member in your rugby team can get donnered in a game, or your wife can donner you if you come back from a braai at three in the morning.
EINA: Widely used by all language groups, this word, derived from the Afrikaans, means “ouch.” Pronounced “aynah”. You can say it in sympathy when you see your friend the day after he got donnered by his wife.
HEY: Often used at the end of a sentence to emphasize the importance of what has just been said, as in “You’re only going to get donnered if you come in late again, hey?”
It can also stand alone as a question. Instead of saying “excuse me?” or “pardon me?” when you have not heard something directed at you, you can always say: “Hey?”
IZIT? This is another great word to use in conversations. Derived from the two words “is” and “it”, it can be used when you have nothing to contribute if someone tells you something at a braai.
For instance, if someone would say: “The Russians will succeed in their bid for capitalism once they adopt a work ethic and respect for private ownership.” It is quite appropriate to respond by saying:”Izit?”
JA WELL NO FINE: This is another conversation fall-back. Derived from the four words: “yes”, “well”, “no” and fine”, it roughly means “OK”.
If your bank manager tells you your account is overdrawn, you can, with confidence, say: “Jawelnofine.”
KLAP: Pronounced “klup” – an Afrikaans word meaning smack, whack or spank. If you spend too much time in front of the TV during exam time, you could end up getting a “klap” from your mother. And to get “lekker geklap” is to get motherlessly drunk.
LEKKER: An Afrikaans word meaning nice, this word is used by all language groups to express approval. If you enjoyed a braai thoroughly, you can say: “Now that was lekk-errrrrrr!” while drawing out the last syllable.
TACKIES: These are sneakers or running shoes. The word is also used to describe automobile or truck tyres. “Fat tackies” are really wide tyres, as in: “You’ve got lekker fat tackies on your Vôlla, 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.
When invited for a dop, be careful! It could be one sedate drink or a blast, depending on the company.
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.
SAAMIE: This is a sandwich. For generations, school- children have traded “saamies” during lunch breaks. In South Africa you don’t send your kid to school with liver-polony saamies. They are impossible to trade!!
BAKKIE: This word is pronounced “bucky” and can refer to a small truck or pick-up. If a young man takes his “girl” (date) in a bakkie it could be considered as a not so “lekker” form of transport because the seats can’t recline.
HOWZIT: This is a universal South African greeting, and you will hear this word throughout the country. It is often accompanied with the word “Yes!” as in: “Yes, howzit?”. In which case you answer “No, fine.”
NOW NOW: In much of the outside world, this is a comforting phrase: “Now now, it’s really not so bad.” But in South Africa, this phrase is used in the following manner: “Just wait, I’ll be there now now.” It means “a little after now”.
TUNED GRIEF: To be tuned grief is to be aggravated, harassed. For example, if you argue with somebody about a rugby game at a braai and the person had too much dop (is a little “geklap”), he might easily get aggravated and say.: “You’re tuning me grief, hey!”.
To continue the argument after this could be unwise and result in major tuning of grief…
BOET: This is an Afrikaans word meaning “brother” which is shared by all language groups. Pronounced “boot” but shorter, as in “foot”, it can be applied to a brother or any person of the male sex.
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 it on someone you hardly know – it will be thought patronizing and could lead to you getting a “lekker klap”.
PASOP: From the Afrikaans phrase meaning “Watch Out!”, this warning is used and heeded by all language groups. As in: “The boss hasn’t had his coffee yet – so you better pasop boet”
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 DONNER: Literally “kick, shoot and thunder”, this phrase is used by many South African speakers to describe action movies.
A Clint Eastwood movie is always a good choice if you’re in the mood for of a lekker skop, skiet en donner flick.
VROT: Pronounced – “frot”. A expressive word which means “rotten” or”putrid” in Afrikaans, it is used by all language groups to describe anything they really dislike.
Most commonly intended to describe fruit or vegetables whose shelf lives have long expired, but a pair of old tackies (sneakers) worn a few years too long can be termed “vrot” by some unfortunate folk which find themselves in the same vicinity as the wearer.
Also a rugby player who misses important kicks or tackles can be said to have played a vrot game – opposite to a”lekker” game (but not to his face).
A movie was once reviewed with this headline:”Slick Flick, Vrot Plot.”
ROCK UP: To rock up is to just, sort of arrive (called “gatecrash” in other parts of the world). 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. For example, you can’t just rock up for a job interview.
SCALE: To scale something is to steal it. A person who is “scaly” has a doubtful character, is possibly a scumbag, and should rather be left off the invitation list to your next braai.
JA-NEE: “Yes-No” in English. Politics in South Africa has always been associated with family arguments and in some cases even with physical fights.
It is believed that this expression originated with a family member who didn’t want to get a klap or get donnerred, so he just every now and then muttered “ja-nee”.
Use it when you are required to respond but would rather not choose to agree or disagree.
PS. ”Because-Why” answers both questions all in one sentence – particularly in the Cape.
And South Africa actually has a National Braai Day!
Acknowledgement: Andre ‘The Big Positive Guy’ du Toit – Smile 90.4FM Presenter