Guide to South Africanisms: Part 1

By Simone Matus

While one of the main languages spoken throughout South Africa is in fact English, from the moment you step off the plane you will realize there are countless words or phrases that you’ve likely never heard used in quite that way before. Knowing the exact meaning of these phrases (and maybe even being able to incorporate them into your own vocabulary) can be key to your time abroad.

In summary, you won’t go five minutes in Cape Town without hearing one of the following South Africanisms:

Just now / Now now
The slightly counterintuitive phrases just now and now now don’t actually refer to something happening right now. They indicate sometime in the relatively near future; just now can mean any time in the next 5 – 15 minutes and now now can mean any amount of time from a few minutes to an hour or longer. You may also hear the mention of Africa time, or a more relaxed attitude to the time, and these two phrases are a great example of how South Africans classify any amount of time.

“I’m on my way, I’ll be there just now.” And arrives about 15 minutes later…

“I’m on my way and will be there now now” And arrives 2 hours later…

A braai, or barbeque, is one of the major South African pass times, like watching Rugby on a Saturday or Phuza Thursdays (bonus vocab: Phuza means a drinking session). South Africans love to braai, no matter the weather, and this normally means throwing boerewors (South African Sausage), lamb chops and a plathoender (Literally a flat chicken or spatchcock chicken) on the fire while enjoying a cold beer and watching the Rugby with a group of friends or family.

Howzit / Izit
Howzit is a universal South African greeting created from “How are you?”. Izit is the grouping of ‘Is’ and ‘It’ and can be used to contribute something to a conversation when you have nothing else to say or in place of saying “Really?”

Howzit? I haven’t seen you in ages!”

“The weather report says it will rain this weekend.” “Izit?”

Okes, Bru, Bra, Boet or China
These are all nicknames for what the majority of South African males call their friends – basically the ‘bro’ or ‘dude’ of present day South Africa.

“Howzit my China?”

Bru, you should have seen the chicks on the beach today, okes were staring!”

While to the rest of the world, shame is generally used as an expression of compassion, South Africans use the word for a variety of different situations: to say we’re sorry to hear about something or what we are hearing sounds like a horrible situation or that something is adorable or cute.

“I’m not feeling very well today.” “Shame, hope you feel better soon”

Shame, he sent me roses.”

Don’t Lie!
When someone is telling a story, a common response will be Don’t lie! and usually indicates something that is unbelievable or amazing (and not that the person is telling an actual lie.)

“This weekend I watch Orland Bloom filming in Cape Town.”, “Don’t lie! You’re so lucky.”

…, hey?
Hey is used at the end of many sentences in South Africa to indicate asking a question, to emphasise what is being said or to check that what is being said is correct. Many South Africans also use “Hey?” in the place or “Excuse me?” or “Pardon?”. Basically you can’t go wrong to throw in a quick hey at the end of most sentences.

“You took the keys from the table, hey?”

“It was you who went to that restaurant the other night, hey?”

Start working these terms into your everyday vocabulary right away!  And stay tuned for Part 2: An abridged South African dictionary!

Photo credit

Simone Matus

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