Introduction to South Africa

A couple of pointers for first-time visitors or home-sick expats.

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 and very cold.   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 now..” or – a sense of resignation: “Ag, I’ll have some more mieliepap then.”   It can stand alone too as a signal of irritation or of pleasure.


Donner – A rude word, it comes from the Afrikaans “donder” (thunder). Pronounced “dorner”, it means “beat up”.   Your rugby team can get “donnered” in a game, or your boss can “donner” you if you do a lousy job.


Eina – Widely used by all language groups, this word, derived from Afrikaans means “ouch”.  Pronounced “aynah”. You can shout it out in sympathy when someone burns his finger on a hot mielie at a braai.


Hey –  Often used at the end of a sentence to emphasise the importance of what has just been said, as in “Jislaaik boet, you’re only going to stop a lekker klap if you can’t find your takkies now now, hey?”   It can also stand alone as a question.  Instead of saying “excuse  me?” or “pardon?” when you have not heard something directed at  you, you can say “hey?”.


Isit?  –  This is a great word in conversations.  Derived from the two words “is” and “it”, it can be used when you have nothing to contribute if someone tells you at the “braai”: “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 “Isit?”.


Jawelnofine – This is another conversation fall back word.  Derived from the four words:  “yes”, “well”,  “no” and “fine”, it means roughly “how about that.” If your bank manager tells you that your account is overdrawn, you can say with confidence: “Jawelnofine”.


Jislaaik –  Pronounced “Yis-like”, it is an expression of astonishment. For instance, if someone tells you there are a billion people in China, a suitable comment is:  “Jislaaik, that’s a hang of a lot of people, “hey”.”


Klap –  Pronounced “klup” – an Afrikaans word meaning smack, whack or spank. If you spend too much time at the movies at exam time, you could end up catching a sharp “klap” from your pa.  In America, that is called child abuse.  In South Africa, it is called promoting education.


Lekker –  An Afrikaans word meaning nice, this word is used by all language groups to express approval.  If you see someone of the opposite sex who is good-looking, you can exclaim : “Lekk-errrrr!” 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 big tyres, as in “Where did you get those lekker fat tackies on your Volksie, 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.   If you are invited over for a “dop”, be careful.   It could be one or two sedate drinks or a blast, depending on the company you have fallen in with.   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.


Sarmie –  This is a sandwich.  For generations, school-children have traded “sarmies” during lunch breaks.  If you are sending kids off to school in the morning, don’t give them liver-polony “sarmies”.  They are the toughest to trade.


Bakkie –  This word is pronounced “bucky” and it is a small truck or pick-up (ute to the Aussies).   Young men can take their “cherrie” (girlfriend) to the drive-in flick in a bakkie but it is not always an appropriate form of transport because the seats usually don’t recline and you may be forced to watch the film.


Howzit –   This is a universal South African greeting, and you will hear this word throughout the land.  It is often used with the word “no”. as in this exchange” “No, howzit?”. “No fine”.  “Isit?”


Mrs. Ball’s Chutney –  We don’t know if the lady ever existed, but if she did she has earned a place of honour in the South African kitchen history. Chutney, of course, of Indian origin and is pickled fruit prepared with vinegar, spices and sugar.  South Africans are known to eat it with everything, including fried eggs.


Now, now –  In much of the outside world, this is a comforting phrase: “Now, now, don’t cry, I’ll take you to the bioscope tomorrow.” But in South Africa this phrase means a little sooner than soon.  “I’ll clean my room “now, now”, Ma.”   It is a little more urgent than “just now” which means an indefinite time in the future.


Tune Grief –  To be tuned grief is to be aggravated, harassed.   Be selective about using the term.  For example, if your bank manager calls you in for an urgent chat about your overdraft, you should avoid saying: “Hey listen, you’re tuning me grief, man.”  That would be unwise and could result in major tuning of grief.   There are variations.  You can say about your boss: “This oke is tuning me uphill.”


Boet –  This is an Afrikaans word meaning “brother” which is shared by all language groups.  Pronounced “boot” as in “foot”, it can be applied to non-brother.  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 either with someone you hardly know – it will be thought patronising.


Pasop –  From the Afrikaans phrase meaning “watch out”.  This warning is used and heeded by all language groups.  As in: “Your ma hasn’t had her morning coffee yet Boet – so “pasop” and stay out of her way.”  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 donder (or donner) –  Literally, kick, shoot and thunder in Afrikaans, this phrase is used by many English speakers to describe action movies or any activity which is lively and somewhat primitive.  Clint Eastwood is always good for a skop, skiet en donner flick.


Vrot –  Pronounced “frot”.  A wonderful word which means “rotten” or “putrid” in Afrikaans, it is used by all language groups to describe anything they don’t really like.  Most commonly it describes fruit or vegetables whose shelf lives have long expired, but a pair of “tackies” (sneakers) worn a few times too often can be termed “vrot” by unfortunate folk in the same room as the wearer.  Also a rugby player who missed important tackles can be said to have played a vrot game – but not to his face because he won’t appreciate it.  We once saw a movie preview with this headline:  “Slick Flik – Vrot Plot”.


Graze –  In a country with a strong agricultural tradition, it is not surprising that farming crops up (pun intended) in general conversation. This to graze, means to eat.  If you are invited to a bioscope show, you may be asked:  “Do you want to catch a graze now now?”


Catch a tan –  This is what you do when you lie on the beach pretending to study for your matric exams.  The Brits, who have their own odd phrases, say they are getting “bronzed”.  Nature has always been unkind to South African schoolchildren, providing beach and swimming pool weather just when they should be swotting for the mid-summer finals.  If you spend too much time catching a tan at exam time, you could end up catching a sharp klap from you pa.  In America, that is called child abuse.  In South Africa, it is called promoting education.




10 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    boendoe said,

    Hehe, Dellie! En wat van “ja-nee”?! Ons is ‘n funny nasie, is ons nie? 😀

  2. 2

    sonstudio said,

    Hey, jy tune ons ‘n lekker storie hier.

  3. 3

    Eben said,

    Gie gie Jaaaa Dellie .. ons taal is darem uniek nê!! dis wonderlik, glo nie daar is ‘n taal met meer kultuur as ons s’n.


  4. 4

    Roer said,

    Dis lekker as ons vir onsself kan lag! Baie goed.

  5. 5

    Kobus said,

    Hard gelag vir tuning me uphill. Hoop dit gaan goed 😉

  6. 6

    neykie said,

    LOL @ dellie- goeed gesê Dellie

    Geniet jou dag

  7. 7

    attie said,

    Dellie ek het geniet om dit alles te lees, maar daardie kennisgewing op die hek het my lekker laat lag. Ai, ons mense het darem die vermoë om snaakse goed aan te vang.

  8. 8

    feetjieland said,

    Lekker lag ek nou!!! Baie goeie posting!! Lekkerrrrrrrrrrrrr man!

  9. 9

    dirkltjie said,

    Lekker vir die Afrikaners! Ek geniet ook jou “Pasop vir die Hond” bordjie!

  10. 10

    Johan Swarts said,

    skop skiet en donder…hehehehehehe

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