South Africanisms as understood by me so far – kind of

Because there is yet no Luxe guide to South Africa (I truly hope someone is working on one pre-World Cup – if not for the humble Durbs for Jozi and Cape Town at least) I have had to find my own way amongst the plethora of terms that the locals use that are uniquely South African.

Growing up in Australia you are exposed to fairly large and fairly even amounts of British and American culture – primarily through TV so you generally know pretty much what they are talking about when you meet someone from each of those nations. In fact when an English person and an American are having a conversation it is often handy to have an Australian on hand for any translation issues.

So South Africa is another country that has a lot of English speakers with some historical roots in England how different can it be?

It wasn’t until I had waited for 3 hours for someone who was coming ‘just now’ that I felt the need to investigate what other translated information I might have to have on hand for future conversations with the locals. There are plenty of sites that you can search for South Africanisms on – and their explanations are a little more concise than mine – which I guess are the Australian take on what I am trying to learn for my cultural integration.

Things I have found out so far, which I imagine is just scratching the surface.

Just now – could be anytime between five minutes and three weeks – seriously! When people say they will see you just now – in their mind they know what they mean but they may never tell you unless you ask.  When we first moved here the guy delivering the fridge told me he would be there just now – I raced over to the house – which was empty at the time, to make sure someone would be there, an hour later I decided to start measuring window frames for curtains I still don’t have and half an hour after that decided to call the number on the invoice – the person at the other end told me – they would look into it and call me back – just now…….half an hour later (the shortest interpretation of just now I have ever experienced) they called me back to say the guy would be there just now with the fridge – OK I said but you need to give me a time frame.  So I learnt my lesson for that the hard way really, but it will no doubt save me hours if not days in the years ahead.

Now now – theoretically immediately or right now – but this is Africa so don’t hold your breath

Howzit – greeting used, means Hello – how are you? To which you must ALWAYS respond with a similar greeting – for example



Fineanyoo? – this is the South African way of saying – Fine and you? It is all melded together and has a specific singsong sound when spoken (in Durban at least).

It is a response to Hello, how are you – or – Howzit

Fine thanks OR Fineanyou? (it doesn’t seem to be important to listen to what the other person says.

For example I like to experiment in the supermarket with the checkout staff

Me – Hello

Them – fineanyoo? Or Fine thanks

What they thought they heard me say – Hello / Howzit / How are you?

It can be quite amusing because every conversation starts with

Hello, how are you

Reponse to which is

Fineanyoo /Hello fine thanks

People tend to hear it or reply that way even if you don’t actually say it.  When you just front up to some sort of counter and launch into your request  / query or issue people look at you strangely until you revert / relent (tick appropriate) and ask them how they are.  Then you can get on with it.

Bakkie – pronounced bucky. These are known in Aus at utes and come in all shapes and sizes – used primarily for transporting goods and people – yet to find a total number of people you can fit in the back of a bakkie but its certainly a number north of 15 (thats the highest number I have counted while at a set of robots).  Bakkie’s are also used if you are going to have a braai at the rugby and obviously for an array of off-road driving.

Takkie – pronounced takkie – an ‘a’ sound rather than the u sound that is used for bakkie. Takkie’s were on the school uniform list I was perusing in Hong Kong prior to arrival in SA, Takkie’s – plain white – had to refer to an expert in South African language skills to find out that it meant sandshoes / runners / trainers / sneakers

Robot  – this is a traffic light. The first time you hear – go left at the second robot is quite a funny moment – especially if a six year old is there to say – there aren’t any robots in South Africa! (quite appropriately covering for his parent who had no idea how to find the said robots)

Braai – while directly translated this means a barbeque, I am not sure the direct translation does it justice. The Braai is a very serious business to South Africans and you don’t just chuck a banger on the braai (name for the apparatus as well as the event as in other English speaking societies). For starters there are no bangers (sausages) but there are boerewors  – that are long curly suspicious looking items – the SA sausage equivalent.

A braai is generally quite a long event and involves copious amounts of drinks (may be alcoholic if you are an adult) – there are usually several courses of meats and accompaniments – generally it seems more complex than an Aussie bbq but is similar in that all the men stand / sit in one place and the women in another for the preparation and cooking phases (based on my limited experience so far).

Dagga – the mari-juana, you know, just in case you need to know

Lekker – good, nice, yummy – its all good.

Azwell – as well, which is how it is spelt here but it is definitely said as one word with a zzzz sound rather than an s.  It almost exclusively goes on the end of sentences, such as

I’m glad you said that, because we are also going to do that azwell (doesn’t seem needed after we are also going to do that – but is a comforting add on it seems in the spoken word)

Divine – pronounced anywhere from divine to divvvaaaaaiiiiiiine, depending on just how divine the item is. Divine is a more general term – meaning lovely, nice, good or obviously divine.

Shame – Shame or shame man are pronounced in a similar fashion to divine, depending on how much you mean it, depends on how much effort is put into the Shame / shaaaammmme.  

I have a headache

Oh – shame

My child broke his / her leg

Oh – Shhhaaaammmme

However it can also mean cute or sweet – sometimes

Get the idea?

Eish / Ish – difficult to explain – exclamation point, similar to Aiya in Hong Kong

Izit – is it. Not really a question more a statement, although sounds like a question (goes up at the end) – still really working that one out.  Used a lot in conversation – apparently if you don’t really have something to say in response to something someone has just said to you – you can use this

We went to the pool today


My mother is coming to visit today from Australia


Oke – just like bloke without the bl on the front and the same meaning

Ja – Yes, sure whatever – a bit like a cross between the German Ja and the English Yar

Boet – pronounced like foot (but with a b) means little brother but can also be a generalization to speak to anyone.  We have friends who call their youngest daughter boet, so we call her that that azwell and one day when we were out someone walking past called my son boet – I’m not boet he said – can’t you tell, she’s over there.

Car guard – while this has quite an obvious meaning but it is important to know the expectations so you do not risk your vehicle’s wellbeing in the car park or on the roads.  At the end of your parking time you give the car guard some coins if your car is still there and all the pieces are attached 😉

It seems a little unclear if you are paying to have your car protected from the car guard or someone else – either way it works well all around generally everyone is happy with the process.

I am still working on the etiquette of the car guard helping me put all my groceries into the car after quite a long visit to the supermarket vs running in to the ATM and requiring no assistance – should the amount be different or the same? 

There are some I have missed because I really still don’t understand them – will have a go at them some time in the future ;-), who knows there may be a Luxe guide by then to help us all through them.


6 responses to “South Africanisms as understood by me so far – kind of

  1. Tears in my eyes from laughing. I spent Saturday last with South Africans and they say ALL those things!

  2. Have you not come across ‘kak’ yet? My first two words – Lekker and Kak! (Both very useful)

  3. TO clarify: kak literally means “shit” in Afrikaans, and the use is very similar.
    However it’s significantly more socially acceptable (though far from entirely so) and
    has a much wider use. This may be rarer in Durb’s since Durb’s is not all that Afrikaans
    and this word has it’s origins in that language.

    The Afrikaans usage can range from a dismissive “gaan kak” to descriptive “ek voel kak”, I suppose
    you could say one is said while drinking and the other during the hangover the next day 😛

    Izit you got mostly wrong. It can be a simple polite inquiry, though this is rare. The meaning
    you picked up on comes down to a simple acknowledgement of a statement you made. Essentially it means
    “I hear what you say and I’ll keep it in mind.
    However a much more common usage (which you can quickly pick up by the tone) is sarcastic, it is
    most commonly used in a sense of “Oh really? Prove it !”

    • Thanks for that. I am after all only Australian, you need to give me some leeway on my translations. I still stand by my Izit and accept the addition of your explanation and shall listen more carefully in future. 😉

  4. Truthful words, some true words man. Thanks for making my day!

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