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South African Languages - South African English Slang

Speaking Sefrican


Friends sitting on grass and studying, South Africa
GILKIS - Damon Hyland/Gallo Images/Getty Images

If you are going to be traveling around South Africa you would do well to learn a bit of the local lingo: South Africa has 11 official languages, but you could start by learning a little South African English slang or 'Sefrican'. Given the country's rich linguistic heritage, it has also Afrikaans (Dutch), Zulu, Xhosa and a few other influences.

Knowing even a few of these words could help to break the cultural ice. Take, for example, the case of renting a car, or catching a minibus taxi -- when in Rome, and all that – you are going to need to know a little bit about how the place works.

Tomaato - Tomayto

At petrol (not gas) stations you do not pump your petrol, because there are petrol jockeys to do it for you ... and pump your tyres (not tires), check your water and oil, and clean your windscreen, all for no extra charge. You should tip between R2 and R5 though (of course you pay for any oil used). Like the English (we were still a colony when the automobile was invented) we say bonnet (hood), boot (trunk), and so on. And we drive on the left-hand side of the road.

When traveling in  a minibus taxi, you have to shout 'Robot!' if you want to get off at the next traffic light, or 'shot left'/'shot right' to get off at the next road to left or right. And so on to some basic Sefrican question-and-answer dialog:

Sefrican Phrases

Ag shame – oh, sorry for that. Q: I've injured myself, which is the way to the nearest hospital? A: Ag shame! Just round the corner, after the robot (see 'robot').

Babelas – hangover. Q: Howzit (see 'howzit')? A: Jirra (see 'jirra') man, I've got such a babelas.

Bakkie – a pick-up. Q: Have you got wheels? A: Ja, I've got a lekker (see 'lekker') kwaai (see 'kwaai') bakkie.

Biltong – dried, spiced meat. Q: Did you remember the snacks for the match? A: Ja (see 'ja'), I've got a packet of billies (biltong).

Braai – a barbeque. Q: What are we going to eat before the game? A: Come on over, we're having a braai.

China – friend; although embraced fully by Sefricans, it is of London Cockney origin. Q: Who's that oke (see 'oke')? A: He's no oke, he's my china. However, 'china' is quite old-school skate (see 'skate') talk. More hip these days is 'bru' (from the Afrikaans broeder - pronounced brooder - or brother). It's our version of 'bro' and is generally more familiar than 'china'.

Donga – a rut, pothole or deep erosion gully. Q: Can your bakkie (see above) make it across that donga? A: Ja-aa, this is a kwaai (see 'kwaai') bakkie, not a car, you moegoe (see 'moegoe').

Gatvol – p*ssed off, tired of. Q: Wanna come watch the game at my place tonight? A: Nooit (see 'nooit'), I'm gatvol with all this running around and kicking balls and stuff.

Howzit – how are you, how's things? Q: Howzit? A: No, lekker (see 'lekker'). However, to complicate things, few black people are conversant with 'lekker' so you could say e-grand (grand).

Ja – yes. Q: Do you want to go out tonight? A: Oh ja!

Jirra - wow, heck, or hell. Q: Can I have a sluck (see 'sluck') of your beer? A: Jirra man, it's nearly klaar (see 'klaar')!

Lekker – anything nice or cool. Q: How was the jol (see 'jol') last night? A: No man, it was lekker (or 'kwaai').

Jol – (can be a noun or a verb) to party, or to go to a party, have fun, rip it up. Q: What's on tonight? A: We're going to a kwaai (see 'kwaai') jol.

Just now – sometime, any time, soonish. Q: When will we get to the stadium? A: Just now.

Klaar - finished. Q: Is there any beer left? A: No, it's klaar.

Kwaai - strong, powerful or really cool. Q: Are you feeling strong? A: Yes my china (see above), I'm kwaai.

Moegoe – an idiot. Q: Can I have a sluck (see 'sluck') of your beer?. A: Nooit (see below), my china (see above), do you think I'm a moegoe?

Nooit - no, never. Q: Can I have a sluck (see 'sluck') of your beer? A: Nooit, my china (see above), do you think I'm a moegoe (see above)!

Now-now – some time soon, understood to be sooner than 'just now' (see above). Q: When will we get to the stadium? A: Now-now.

Oke – male person. From the Afrikaans outjie, for friend (pronounced okie, not from Oklahoma). Q: Is he your china (see above)? A: Nooit (see above), he's just some oke.

Robot – a traffic light. Q: Where is the stadium? A: Turn right at the next robot.

Safe – good, well. Q: Howzit? A: Safe my china (see above).

Skate - a rough person, usually an unemployed drinker. Q: Is that dirty oke (see 'oke') your china (see above)? A: No, he's just some skate.

Sluck - sip or slurp. Q: Can I have a sluck of your beer? A: Jirra (see above) man, it's nearly klaar (see above).

Takkies – sneakers. Q: What you wearing to the jol (see above) tonight? A: Ag, just some jeans and takkies.

Voetsek – _ _ _ _ off (from Dutch, it's complicated). Q: Can I have a sluck (see above) of your beer? A: Voetsek!

Vuvuzela – local soccer horn. Q: Jirra, what's making that awful, noise? A: It's the vuvuzela, my bru (see 'china' above).

When in South Africa, have a jol, my china.

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