South African ‘isms

by oneafrikan on March 12, 2005

Read ’em and weep ;-)


Ag (pronounced ach as in the German achtung). This is generally used at the beginning of a sentence, either to express resignation – as in: “Ag well, I guess that’s just the way it is” – or to indicate irritation, as in: “Ag no man! What did you do that for?”


Babbelas (pronounced bub-buh-luss). Babbelas refers to a morning-after hangover. Picture Van (see below) stumbling into work late, looking pale and holding his hand to his forehead. When asked what the matter is, he answers: “Jislaaik china, I dopped 20 dumpies last night and now I have a hang of a babbelas.” Translation: “Gee, my friend, I drank 20 small beers last night and now I have a terrible hangover.”

Bakkie (pronounced bucky) – This commonly used word refers to a small pick-up truck. An example would be: “We’ll use my bakkie. Then we’ll be able to load everything at once.”

Bell – This comes from the Afrikaans “bel”, meaning to call on the telephone. In the South African context it is used as follows: “I’ll give you a bell when I get home.” Translation: “I’ll phone you when I get home”.

Biltong (pronounced bill-tong) – This South African favourite is dried and salted meat, similar to beef jerky, although it can be made from ostrich, kudu, beef or any other red meat.

Biscuit – In South Africa, a cookie is known as a “biscuit”. It can also be used as a term of affection, usually between men, as in “Hey, you biscuit”, while putting your arm around your friend’s neck.

Bloody (pronounced bladdie) – Used as a variation of very, as in: “It was bladdie difficult.”

Blooming (pronounced blimmin) – Another variation on very, as in: “That new building is blimmin big.”

Bobotie (pronounced buh-boor-tee) – This dish is of Malay origin and is made with minced meat and curried spices. An egg sauce is poured on top of this and then baked.

Boet (pronounced like book) – “Boet” is the Afrikaans word for “brother”. Once again it is used as a term of affection, as in: “This guy is my boet!” Beware, however, when a huge Neanderthal says to you: “Hey boet, don’t tune me grief.” Then it is probably time to leave.

Braai (pronounced br-eye) – This is the popular South African version of a barbecue where meats such as steak, chicken and boerewors (boo-ruh-vorss) are cooked on an outdoor grill. Boerewors is a traditional spicy South African sausage made of beef or lamb and is also referred to as wors (vorss). Chances are that you will also be introduced to pap en sous (pup en soase) at a braai. Pap is boiled maize meal, and sous is the gravy it is covered with, usually featuring tomato and onions.

Bru (pronounced brew) – A term of affection used among men, meaning “brother”.

Bredie (pronounced brear-dee) – This refers to a traditional South African dish, first brought to the country by Malay immigrants. It is a type of stew (usually mutton).

Buck – This does not necessarily refer to a wild animal. South Africans often use the term to refer to their currency, as in: “I only have 10 bucks on me”, meaning “I am only in possession of 10 rand”. (The plural of rand does not become rands).


Caf̩ (pronounced kaf-ay, kaffee or kayff) РThis refers to the ubiquitous small convenience store, often found on a street corner and stocking items such as cigarettes, cold drinks, bread and milk.

Car words – South Africans put petrol in their cars, not gasoline. Trunks are referred to as boots, while hoods are called bonnets.

China – To most people China is the country with the largest population in the world, but to a South African it can mean something entirely different. “China” is a term of affection meaning good friend, as in “This oke’s my china”. It is a term used in casual conversation, and would not be appropriate in more formal surroundings.

Cooldrink, colddrink – This is the common term for a soda. Ask for a soda in South Africa and you will receive a club soda. Coca-Cola is a colddrink or cooldrink, as is Pepsi.


Deurmekaar (pronounced deer-muh-car) – This Afrikaans word is used to mean confused, as in “He’s a bit deurmekaar”, meaning he can’t think straight and constantly makes mistakes.

Dinges (pronounced ding-us) – Used when someone can’t immediately remember the name of a person or object. For instance: “When is dinges coming around?” or “Please pass me the dinges behind you”. Comparative words are “whatsizname” or “whatchamacallit” or “a thing”.

Doek (pronounced like book) – A head scarf worn to protect a woman’s hair on a blustery day. Also popularly worn by domestic workers when cleaning the house.

Doll – This colloquialism is popular among kugels in Johannesburg’s northern suburbs and is an expression of affection, usually between female friends, as in: “Hi doll, where have you been? I’ve missed you.” It can be used interchangeably with “dollface”.

Donner (pronounced dorner) – From the Afrikaans word “donder”, meaning thunder, but used to mean beat up. Example: “I’m going to donner that ou.” Translation: “I am going to hit that man.”

Dop – This is used to indicate a drink, usually alcoholic, as in: “Can I pour you a dop?” Alternatively, it can mean failure as in: “I dopped the test.”

Dora – To drink or party (usually alcohol).

Dorp – The term used to describe a small (probably very small) town, often on the platteland (country).

Dummy – South Africans call pacifiers “dummies”, as in “Put the dummy in the baby’s mouth, that should keep him quiet.”

Dumpie – A South African beer served in a brown 340 ml bottle. An example of usage is: “Hey bru, throw me a dumpie.”

Durbs – Nickname for the city of Durban. Johannesburg is called Jo’burg, Joeys or Jozi, Port Elizabeth is PE, and Potchefstroom is referred to as Potch. Cape Town is just Cape Town or the Afrikaans Kaapstad, which is sometimes changed to Slaapstad, a slur meaning “sleepy town”. It is also known more respectfully as the Mother City.

Dwaal (pronounced dwarl) – Used to indicate a lack of concentration or focus. Say a friend is talking to you but your mind is elsewhere. When the friend finishes speaking and looks at you as if expecting an answer, your response would be: “Sorry, I was in a bit of a dwaal. Could you repeat that?”

Alternatively a dwaal could mean you are lost and wandering around aimlessly. An example: “I couldn’t remember how to get there, so I drove around in a dwaal for a while before I found the right turning.”


Eina! (pronounced ay-nuh or ay-nar) – A short, sharp expression meaning “ouch” [indicating pain]. Alternatively used to mean sore, as in: “That cut must have been really eina.”


Fixed up – Meaning, “That’s good”. Example: “I’ve booked a table for seven o’clock. Let’s meet at the restaurant.” The reply: “Fixed up.”

Flog – No whips implied. South Africans use flog to mean sell, as in “I’ve had enough of this old car. I think it’s time I flogged it.”

Frikkadel (pronounced frik-kuh-dell). A traditional South African meatball.


Gatvol (pronounced ghut-foll) – Taken from Afrikaans, this means “fed up”, as in “Jislaaik china, I’m gatvol of working in this hot sun.” Translation: “Gee, my friend, I’m fed up with working in this hot sun.” Usage advisable in informal situations only.

Gherkin – A small pickled cucumber, often sliced thinly and used in salads or on hamburgers.

Gogga (pronounced gho-gha or gho-gho) – Said out loud this word closely resembles the noise made when clearing one’s throat or gargling. It refers to an insect or bug, particularly one that might look fearsome but is really harmless.

Graze – Grazing usually implies the eating habits of herbivores, but in South Africa it can also be used in reference to food, as in: “Let’s grab some graze before we go out.” Used by friends in informal situations.


Hang of – Another alternative to very or big (see bloody and blooming), as in: “It’s hang of a difficult” or “I had a hang of a problem”.

Hap (pronounced hup) – Hap means bite, as in “Take a hap of this”.

Hey – The popular expression “hey” can be used as a standalone question meaning “pardon” or “what” ? “Hey? What did you say?” Alternatively it can be used to prompt affirmation or agreement, as in “It was a great film, hey?”, or as an expression of surprise – “Hey! What was that?” “Thanks, hey”, is also pretty common.

Howzit – A traditional South African greeting that translates roughly into “How are you?” or “How are things?”


Is it (pronounced as one word: izit) – An expression frequently used in conversation and equivalent to “is that so?” It is sometimes used to express mild surprise. For example: “Lucy had a baby boy today”; the reply: “Is it?” It is also a useful conversation-filler when there is nothing meaningful to add, as in: “We won our match today” – “Is it?”


Ja-wel-no-fine (pronounced yar well no fine) – A mix of Afrikaans and English, this is similar to the rhetorical expression “How about that?” It is used to express surprise and a sense that things aren’t really fine but there’s not much you can do about it. For example, having been caught speeding, your reaction on seeing the size of your traffic fine might be: “Ja-wel-no-fine.”

Jislaaik (pronounced yis-like) – This is an expression of surprise, as in: “Jislaaik, I can’t believe that I won the national lottery!”

Just now – If a South African tells you they will do something “just now”, they mean they’ll do it in the near future – not immediately. For example, the appropriate reply to “Why don’t we go shopping now?” if you wish to go a little later is: “No, let’s rather go just now.”


Kaalvoet (pronounced carl-foot) – Stolen from Afrikaans, this means barefoot and is more widely used on the platteland than in cities.

Koki (pronounced koh-key) – A coloured marker or felt-tip pen.

Kombi A minibus. (Derived from the Afrikaans word “kombimotor”)

Koppie (pronounced kor-pie) – A small hill. During the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902, it was a favoured tactic of the Boers to lie in ambush on koppies, waiting for British units to pass below before attacking them from above.

Kos (pronounced kor-ss) – The Afrikaans word for food. Example: “That place has lekker kos.” Translation: “Wow, that restaurant serves good food.”


Lappie (pronounced luppie) – A cloth used for various cleaning purposes. It might be a kitchen cloth or the oil rag that your china is using while he works on his car.

Lekker (pronounced lekk-irr with a rolling r) – a very widely used Afrikaans word meaning nice.


Madiba (pronounced muh-dee-buh) – The name used by many South Africans when referring to former president Nelson Mandela. It is used affectionately, but is actually the name of his clan. It is so widely used that even the media refer to Mandela as Madiba.

Marmite – A popular savoury spread made from a salty vegetable extract and used on bread or toast. As popular among South Africans as peanut butter is with Americans.


Naartjie (pronounced nar-chee) – The South African name for a tangerine.

Nappy – A baby’s diaper, used as in: “John’s nappy needs to be changed.”

No way! – An expression of surprise and disbelief, as in “We won the game!” – “No way, I can’t believe it.” Also used as an expression of refusal, as in “No way! I won’t do it.”

Now now – This is not intended to comfort but means shortly, as in: “I will be there now now.”


Oke, ou or okey – A colloquial reference to a man, similar to “guy”, “chap” or “bloke”. For example: “Do you know that oke?” The word “ou” (pronounced oh) can be used interchangeably.


Pasop (pronounced pus-orp) – This Afrikaans word means “Beware” or “Watch out”. Depending on context it can mean different things. If a huge Neanderthal tells you to “pasop”, it is wise to leave.

Alternatively, it might be used when someone is moving a heavy object and is warning people to keep out of the way in case they drop it.

Pavement – South Africans walk on pavements and drive cars on the road (at least that’s the idea). The pavement is the sidewalk.

Platteland (pronounced plutt-uh-lunt) – Countryside where small towns or dorps are found. The term is taken from Afrikaans and literally means “flat land”. However, in English it could be used to describe areas of the Cape winelands, for example, which might be hilly or even mountainous.


Robot – South Africans refer to a traffic light as a robot. Sometimes they pronounce the word “row-bow”. An example of usage would be when giving directions: “Turn left at the second robot.”

Rock up – To arrive somewhere unannounced or uninvited. It’s the kind of thing friends do: “I was going to go out but then so-and-so rocked up at my place.” (You wouldn’t rock up at a formal occasion – chances are you would be denied entrance).

Rooibos (pronounced roy-boss) – A popular South African tea made in the Cape from the Cyclopia genistoides indigenous bush. Rooibos is an Afrikaans word meaning “red bush”. When people speak of rooibos they are referring to rooibos tea.

Rooinek (pronounced roy-neck) – Taken from Afrikaans, this translates as “red neck”, but does not mean the same as it does in the United States. It was first used by Afrikaners many decades ago to refer to Englishmen, because of the way their white necks would turn pink from sunburn. Today it is often used by Afrikaans speakers as a term of affection towards English speakers, as in: “Hey rooinek, how are you? I haven’t seen you for a long time.”

Rubbish bin (alternatively dustbin or dirt bin) – The name for a garbage can.


Samoosa (pronounced suh-moo-suh) – A small, spicy, triangular-shaped pie that has been deep-fried in oil. Made by the Indian and Malay communities, samoosas are popular with South Africans in general.

Sarmie – Colloquial term for a sandwich.

Scale – To scale something means to steal it. If someone is scaly then he or she is not a person that you would trust.

Skinder, skinner (pronounced skinner) – Gossip, as in: “Have you heard the latest skinner?” Someone who talks behind someone’s back is known as a skinnerbek.

Skop, skiet en donder (pronounced skorp, skeet en donner) – Taken from Afrikaans, this literally means “kick, shoot and thunder”. It is an expression used to describe a lively action movie – think Jean-Claude van Damme or Steven Seagal.

Skrik – This word means fright and will often be used as follows: “I caught a big skrik.” You’ll catch a skrik when there is a sudden noise behind your back or if a car veers in front of you on the highway.

Slap chips (pronounced slup chips) – French fries, usually soft, oily and vinegar-drenched, bought in a paper bag. “Slap” is an Afrikaans word meaning “limp”, which is how French fries are generally made here. If that’s not how you like them, be sure to order them “crispy”.

Slip-slops, slops – Sandals or rubber thongs worn to the beach. These usually have a thin strap between the big toe and the toe next to it. Not to be worn with socks!

Smokes – Slang for cigarettes, as in “What have I done with my smokes?”

Snoek (pronounced like book) – This is a popular fish delicacy or dish, often cured in smoke. If you’re lucky you may get to experience a “snoek braai” – a real South African treat.

Spanspek – The South African word for cantaloupe.

Standard – The equivalent of “grade” in the schooling system. The first two years of a South African child’s schooling are spent in Sub-A and Sub-B. Thereafter they progress to Standard One and eventually finish school after completing Standard Ten, which is also known as Matric.

Still – Often used to mean “on the other hand”, as in “Still … you never know.” It is also used in place of “nonetheless” or “regardless”. For example, when indicating that you plan to continue on a course of action even though you have been presented with various arguments to the contrary, you might say: “Still … it’s my choice and I’ll take responsibility for my decisions.”

Stroppy – Used to describe a difficult and unco-operative person.

Struesbob (pronounced s-true-zz-bob) – “As true as God”, meaning it’s the gospel truth. An example is: “I decided to bet just R10 at the horse races and, struesbob, I won R2 000.”


Tackies – Running shoes or sneakers. Used in conjunction with the word fat, as in “fat tackies”, it describes extra wide tyres. Example: “Look at the fat tackies on that motorbike!”

Tannie (pronounced tunny) – This Afrikaans word literally means “auntie”, but is used by Afrikaners as a sign of respect for any woman who is ten or more years older than themselves. If a tannie is described as kwaai (pronounced kwhy), it means she is aggressive and not to be trifled with.

Throw with – Used instead of the correct version “throw at”. For example, a South African might say: “I’m going to throw you with a stone”, meaning “I’m going to throw a stone at you.” This confusion arises because of the Afrikaans “gooi met”, which means “throw at” but translates directly as “throw with”.

Tinkle – If someone asks you to give them a tinkle, don’t be concerned. They are simply asking you to phone them.

To die for – An expression popular in the affluent suburbs of Johannesburg and Cape Town, denoting enthusiastic approval for an object or person. For example, “That necklace is to die for”.

Tom – Slang for money.

Tune grief – To cause trouble. If you are told not to “tune grief” to the huge Neanderthal, you are being advised not to aggravate and upset him. If you tell someone not to “tune me grief”, you are telling him not to look for trouble.


Van der Merwe (pronounced fun-duh-mer-vuh) – Van der Merwe is the butt of many a South African joke, much like Paddy is in Irish jokes. Sometimes he is just called “Van” (pronounced the English way).

Vrot (pronounced frot) – Taken from Afrikaans, this word describes something as rotten. For example, “This apple is vrot.”


Windgat (pronounced vint-ghut) – This means a show-off. Taken from the Afrikaans, it literally means “wind hole” and refers to a show-off blowing his own trumpet. Not to be used in polite conversation.

Happily appropriated for the common good from the South African Tourism Site

Has anyone got nog a bietjie to add?


Nice work, Gareth.

I am an Aussie living in Sweden and playing cricket with a couple of South African ex-pats. I came along this website looking for a description of the “izit”s they throw into their conversation.

I also picked up on that from Leo DiCaprio in Blood Diamond.

I’ll have to remember a few of the others on this site and throw them back at my mates some time :)

by Geoff on March 12, 2007 at 10:49 pm. Reply #

Hey, what about “sies”. Like “Sies man, that’s gross” – ew :P

by Jessica on June 21, 2007 at 8:06 pm. Reply #

What about?

* Bakgat – colloquial expression meaning OK
* Bioskoop = cinema
* Blerrie = bloody
* Can be able – favourite expression of politicians, simply meaning ‘can’, or
the reverse (more likely): “Cannot be able’
* Duchman = Afrikaner
* Eish! – an expression of surprise
* Fliek = motion picture/film
* Grand Cru – highly exgaggerated S.A. wine term
* Kaalgat – literally bare assed! But also in ‘kaalgat’ peach (from Afrikaans)
* Loopdop = one-for-the-road (from Afrikaans)
* Muthi = medicine (from Zulu)
* Plaas = farm (from Afrikaans)
* Pondok = house (from Malay)
* Regmaker = pick-me-up drink (from Afrikaans)
* Sjambok = whip (from Malay)
* Skemerkelkie = sundowner (from Afrikaans)
* Snot en trane = snot and tears (from Afrikaans)

by BB on August 14, 2007 at 4:00 pm. Reply #

I just deleted a comment by mistake, sorry!

by Gareth Knight on January 18, 2010 at 10:23 pm. Reply #

Thanks for a wonderful read Gareth – takes me back – I’m South African living in New Zealand for 11 years now and have not been home for a lank time so your blog had me laughing lekker. Not sure if I missed it in your list but have you got the word ‘kief’…one of my favourite SA words (I think it’s an SA word). I still use it here and everyone is like ‘huh’?


by Raymond Poultney on January 31, 2014 at 12:09 am. Reply #

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