We often think of South Africa as a primarily English speaking country. Anglophones tend to view it as the linguistic “home away from home” in Africa. But that might be overstating the case. English is an official language in South Africa, but it is one of eleven. Let’s not forget Afrikaans, Zulu, Xhosa, Tsonga, Swati, Tswana, Southern Sotho, Northern Sotho, Venda and of course Ndebele. Got all that?
Don’t get us wrong, you’ll do just fine (or at least okay) with your mother tongue, which is to say you’ll be understood. But there’s also a high likelihood that you’ll have no idea what the hell is being said. That’s because even English speakers in South Africa use slang that comes from a whole handful of languages like Afrikaans and Zulu. In tandem with a pretty crazy (by our standards) accent, you may find yourself at a loss for words.
Being the gentlemen we are (scholars is too generous), we decided to throw together some South African slang for you, so you can describe your Shiraz with the utmost authenticity. They won’t sound good when you say them (we tried embarrassingly hard) but at the very least you’ll be prepared to pretend to understand these terms next time you come across a South African.
Here it is, a super short list of terms for you to try. Hint: we’ve discovered they’re easier after a glass or two:
aweh / awe (“aah-where”) – proclamation of awesomeness, appreciation or excitement. Can also be used as a substitute for ‘hello,’ ‘goodbye,’ or ‘yes.’
“Awe, got out of work early today bru.”
babelaas / babbelases (“bah-buh-loss”) – a killer hangover.
“Ag man, I’ve a swak babelaas…”
bakgat (“bahk-got”) – expression of appreciation for something cool, thumbs up, well done.
“That braai was rop boet, bakgat!”
befok (“beh-fock”) – really good, exciting, cool.
“That concert was befok.”
boet – male friend, bro, dude, man. Bru and bra are also used. Comes from broer meaning brother.
“Oy boet, howsit?”
choty goty (“choe-tee-go-tee”) – beautiful girl, a babe, stunner, smokeshow.
“Ay bru, check that choty goty…”
dop (“dahp”) – a drink, or to drink when referring to alcohol.
“Ay boet, come have a dop with me…”
“Awe, whatta dop! Love that shiraz.”
ek sê (“ex-ay”) – “I say!”
“Ek sê, boet! This braai’s rop.”
gesuip (“geh-soyup”) – intoxicated, super drunk, smashed, plastered. Comes from the Afrikaans word for an animal at a watering hole.
“Ek sê, I’m gesuip bru…”
hoesit / hoezit / howzit (“who-sit”) – slangified “how’s it going?” Typically used as less of a question and more of a greeting like “hello.”
lekker (“lack-ah”) – nice, good, great, awesome. Used in almost any context, though the literal meaning of the word is “tasty.”
“Awe, lekker bunny chow!”
pozzy (“paw-zee”) – house or home; place where one lives or hangs out.
“Bakgat, rop pozzy boet!”
rop (“rahp”) – radical.
“Rop braai, bru…”
sat (“sut”) – tired, dead. Alternatively, fed up, sick of.
“Ek sê, I’m too sut… Let’s vraai [go]…”
slow boat – spliff, joint, marijuana (what’s that?) cigarette
“Awe, boet… gie us a look at that slow boat…”
swak (“swahk”) – bad, just bad.
“Ek sê, your South African accent is too swak, bru.”
This is just the beginning. There are hundreds and hundreds of words you’ve never heard that are used interchangeably with English in South Africa. They’re all incredibly fun to say, and just as hard to pronounce correctly. So if you’re planning on taking a trip to Cape Town or thereabouts sometime soon, we advise you to study up. If you just want to break out some Afrikanerisms while you’re sipping on some of the country’s finest juice, you’re now a step ahead of the competition. Like we said, they speak English over there, but only kind of…