South African Idioms and Phrases
South Africa is a diverse melting pot of languages and cultures. English is the lingua franca amongst the majority of the population and so many words and phrases have been adapted and changed to create some colorful expressions.
Here are a few you can use in your next trip to the rainbow nation:
This is the Afrikaans equivalent to “Oh man!” and is often used at the beginning of a sentence to express pity, resignation or irritation.
Example: “Ag, man!” / “Ag, no man!” / “Ag, shame man!”
Aikona – not on your life
[eye-koh-na] or [hi-koh-na]
A Zulu term used to express shock or disbelief when talking to friends or family.
Example: “Aikona, why did she do that?!” / “Haikona, when?! How?!”
Babbelas – hangover
This word is derived from the Zulu ‘ibhabhalazi’ and is used to describe a really bad hangover.
Example: “Eish, babbelas my bru!”
Biltong – seasoned strips of dried meat
Similar to beef jerky (but much tastier!), this is the spicy, cured snack eaten at rugby matches. It is usually made from beef, game and even ostrich.
Boet – brother
This term is usually used in reference to a male friend or companion.
Example: “Hey my boet, see you at the game tonight!”
Boerewors — spicy South African sausage
Meaning ‘farmer’s sausage’, this term describes a savory sausage that was developed by the Afrikaners approximately 200 years ago. Boerewors is usually ‘braaied’ and eaten on a hot dog roll with tomato sauce and mustard. Make sure you roll the ‘r’ when pronouncing this word.
Bra / Bru – friend
This term is commonly used to call a friend, pal or buddy.
Braai – a barbecue
Also known as a barbecue where steak, lamb chops and of course ‘boerewors’ is cooked on a grid over wood and flames. Add some salads, rolls and ‘melktert’ for dessert and you are set for a traditional South African braai.
This is a traditional South African Indian dish and usually consists of curry served in a hollowed-out half-loaf of unsliced white bread. It’s best when the bread is soft and fresh and the curry is extra spicy.
Eina! – ouch!
Usually expressed when someone experiences a sharp pain of some sort.
Eish! – an exclamation
[Ay-sh] or [ee-sh]
A Khoi term usually expressed when someone experiences surprise or shock.
Gatvol – fed up / had enough
Meaning ‘filled to the brim’ and is used to describe someone who is very angry or tired of the same thing happening over and over again.
Example: “I’m gatvol with that nonsense.” / “I’m gatvol that they keep losing all the time.”
Gogga – bug
The ‘g’ is pronounced as ‘ch’ in the back of the throat (think Scottish “Loch”) and is used to describe a bug or insect.
Hoezit /Howzit – How is it going? How are you?
A common greeting which is often used instead of “hello” and “how are you?” It combines the two phrases into a simple, “Howzit”, thereby saving time.
Example: “Howzit my bru!”
Is it? – Is that so?
A basic conversational word that can be inserted at various points in any conversation, meaning “oh, wow!” or “Is that so?” It can also be used when you don’t really feel like talking and don’t want to be rude but want to seem as if you’re listening.
Example: “Last week we went on a game drive! Sho my bru! We saw loads of antelope!” “Is it, hey!”
Ja, Nee – Yes, No
Often used in succession, these two words are used to express agreement or confirmation with someone or something.
Example: “Ja, Nee, I’m fine thanks.”
Jislaaik – an expression of surprise
This is usually said when trying to express surprise or wonder.
Example: “Jislaaik, you gave me a fright!”
Jol – party / to have fun
Similar to ‘kiff’ or ‘kief’, jol can be used in any context to express having a good time.
Example: “I’m going to a jol tonight!” / “I’m having a jol!” / “It was such a jol!”
Laaitie – a young male
This term is used to describe a male in his teens or early twenties.
Lekker – great / tasty
An Afrikaans word that has multiple meanings and which can be used in various contexts to describe many things from people to food to inanimate objects. It is used to convey the meaning of great, delicious, nice or fun. Make sure to roll the ‘r’ when pronouncing the word.
Example: “That new movie is lekker!” / “That bunny chow was lekker!” / “I’m lekker, bru!”
Now Now – immediately / soon
A confusing phrase for non-locals meaning sometime soon – sooner than just now but quicker than right now.
Example: “We’re going to the beach now now!” (But first we have to pack our swimming gear, stop at gas station and maybe get some snacks…).
Oom – older man of authority / Uncle
Used in reference to an older uncle or even someone who is not your uncle but in an authority position. Usually expressed with respect.
Padkos – food for the journey
Food that you will pack and take on the road – some sandwiches, drinks, chips, fruit and biltong and you have your padkos!
Sarmie – sandwich
A slang word for sandwich.
These are just a few that you can use when out and about in the rainbow nation of South Africa. I hope you enjoyed them and put them to good use ;)
Mi vida antes del Covid- 19 (IMPERFECTO) A-2
The Origins of popular English Idioms
Jen Mc Monagle