Formerly 'Rambling with a cantankerous old mule"
One of the difficult things about writing this blog is the fact that I have such a global readership. I live in South Africa, but have friends and blog followers from across the globe. When I use words typical to South Africa I try to give the American or British equivalents but, never having lived in North America or England, I’m not sure I always get it right. And then, sometimes I don’t even bother. (Like with my blog a few days ago where I mentioned “bubble bath” which is apparently called “suds” in Australia.)
A couple of weeks ago I asked some of my foreign friends (most of whom happen to be Canadian, strangely enough) what they thought some of the strangest or funniest “South-Africanisms” were.
Here were their answers, with a few more thrown in for good measure (although I am sure there are many more!)
“Is it?” or “izzit?” is used where other English speakers would say “really?!” It very distinctly identifies one as being South African, and is particularly bad grammar. “Canada has the best farmer sausage in the world,” would say the Canadian. “Is it?” the South African would respond.
“Boet”, “Broer” or “Bru” which means “brother” in Afrikaans. An affectionate term for a friend. It’s like saying “bro” or “buddy”.
“Howzit?” directly translated, “How are you?” but much (much) more informally. In fact, it’s closer to “hello.” When we say, “howzit, bru?” we don’t really want to know. The stock standard answer is always, “good an’ you?” or simply “howzit” in return.
“Ag”. This would probably be used instead of “oh”, or just as a simple way of starting a sentence. Like if asked “Howzit?” (if one wanted to break from the norm) one could respond, “Ag, awlraait.” (Oh, alright.)
“Blerrie”: Very, awfully. (See below for use.)
“Ja-nee”, directly translated as “yes no”, which is completely ludicrous to a non South Africa, but makes complete sense to us. “It’s blerrie hot today, hey?” “Ja-nee.”
“Shame, man.” This is said when sympathising with someone. For example, if a friend just lost her job. “Shame, man” one would say (no matter whether to a man or woman). Another way of using the word: “Ag shame, your Schnauzer is so cute.” One of my Canadian friends apparently took this unfortunate South Africanism back to Canada with her, where she used it without thinking. “We don’t say shame. That’s not kind,” she heard a mother within earshot telling her child.
“Robot” is our word for “traffic light”. When someone mentions the robot being red it does not refer to an angry metallic humanoid.
“Koeksister”: A syrupy, deep-fried, plaited snack perfected by Afrikaner “tannies” (aunties).
“Eish!” could be substituted by any one of “dang”, “holy cow”, “you’ve got to be kidding”, “wow, that’s unfortunate” or other similar terms.
“Tinkle”. This isn’t what you think it is. If someone says they will “give you a tinkle” they’re merely saying they will call you.
“Braai”. I saw this described elsewhere as follows: “… the weekend domain of the South African man with a beer in his hand. Otherwise known as grill or barbeque, but it’s not just a noun or a verb, it’s a lifestyle.”
“Lekker”: Great, awesome, amazing, wonderful, nice or cool.
“Bakkie”. Also known as a pickup, truck, ute, or SUV. The Sunday Times website describes it best: “A two-seater light vehicle with an open rear cargo area. The rear is often used to transport an impossible number of workers who stare back at you in traffic and make you feel awkward and a bit guilty.”
And then, the one all my friends mentioned as being most typical of South Africans is the various uses of “now”.
“Now”: Eventually, maybe. Definitely not immediately. Like a teenager responding to when they’ll get around to doing the dishes. “I’ll do them now, awlraait!”
“Just now”: Later. Much later. Probably on the same day. Anything from five minutes, to an hour, to never. It can also refer to the past.
“Now now”: Shortly. When I find the time. If I remember. For example, when asked by one’s husband to call the mother in law: “I’ll give her a tinkle now now, dear.”