South African Slang: the Highlights

Girl with two small children
Playing with some local kids in the Langa Township

By Brooke Axness

Though English is dubbed the main language of commerce here in South Africa, there are still times (and by that I mean most times) that I find myself wondering what the heck was just said to me. The accent and slang used by the natives here makes things a bit confusing for both of us. I have accepted the fact that my coworkers think I have a hearing problem due the insane amount of times I ask “what?” when they speak to me. Though I have gotten used to it, I sometimes still find myself getting tripped up by the slang they use. Here are a few of my favorites that I run into on a daily basis:

Howzit

So this term isn’t the hardest one to figure out, however, its constant use made me think throwing it on here is a must. Howzit basically means what it says: “How is it?” In my experience, it seems like more of a greeting than an actual question to be intricately answered. I have actually become quite fond of this slang term. Maybe I’ll have to start using it in the States!

Shame

Okay so this word is used ALL THE TIME. It means the same as it would in the US but unless you live in the South I don’t think it is really a popular word in your vocabulary. In SA, the word is used to express sympathy in a light, not too serious way. For instance, when I came back from my shark cage diving trip and I told my colleague that I didn’t see a single Great White, she just laughed and responded with,  “Shame, Shame Brooke. You are quite unlucky!”

Keen

Another popular slang term that I have picked up on is their use of the word keen. In America, we definitely have this word though it is used in completely different context. Here it seems to mean that they are down for an idea or suggestion. “I’m keen on hiking up Lion’s head with you.”  I find it adorable when natives use this term, as if I don’t love the British-ish accent enough already.

Braai

Braai is a term referring to a barbeque. People here take major pride in making the best braai-ed chicken, bee, etc. The braai master is essentially the one who does all the grilling of the meats. We went to famous braai restaurant called Mzoli’s a week or so ago. At this restaurant they serve the meal family style, putting all the meats and side dishes in the middle so everyone can pass around what they want.

Now/ Just Now/ Now now

These terms are still confusing to me even though they are used very often. Just now, now now, and now all have different meanings. They all basically have to do with the ever-real concept of South African Time. Coming from an American standpoint, we pretty much have the same meaning for all of those words.

  • Now- Now means eventually (maybe) in the South African world. If you’re like me you can see how mind-shattering that is considering it’s the complete opposite of what we know the term now to mean. When a SA says they are going to get you the papers now- it could mean in a few hours, next week, or even never honestly. Ahh, have to love Africa time.
  • Just Now- This term pretty much means later. When someone tells you they’ll get to your request just now, do not expect it to happen immediately. Though it does rank faster than now, it still will take some time to get what you need.
  • Now Now- This is the term that means shortly. It is the one you hope to hear if you are urgently waiting on something to get done.

*Brooke Axness, a native of Fort Dodge, IA, is a sophomore majoring in biology and global health studies at the University of Iowa. This summer she is interning abroad at a hospital in Cape Town, South Africa on the Connect-123 program.

Keywords: 

Author: