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South African English

Sometimes some minute differences could make a big difference e.g. Americans confirm their participation and interest in a conversation with regular grunts and groans. This is not that common in South Africa. In conversation South Africans listen quietly and that may seem to you that they are not "fully" participating in the conversation.

You will notice that the English spoken in South Africa is much closer to the queen's English than to American English. After a visit to South Africa, your American friends will notice that you have been somewhere, because of the funny little things that you will insert in your language.

JUST NOW - The term just now used by a South African means in a little while or soon.
NOW-NOW - Now-now means immediately or very soon.
SO LONG - So long (as in "Put the kettle on so long") colloquially means in the mean time. This term is used to initiate an action until another can start. In South Africa you might hear the phrase, "You go so long. I'll catch up now-now."
IS IT - Instead of "really?" you will say "is it?" pronounced izit.
FLAT - We rent a flat and not an apartment and we call the elevator a lift.
CAR - We don't talk about an automobile or a motor vehicle, it's usually a car.
BONNET & BOOT - Yes, the bonnet is the hood and the boot is the trunk. We put our gloves in the cubbyhole.
FLICKER - Use your flicker to go round the corner ...
ROBOT - and stop at the robot, our word for traffic light.
SKIPPED - In casual conversation I will tell you how I skipped a light instead of running a light.
DICE - I want to race you, I'll say "Wanna dice?" So, if you have a hot rod V-8, you will tell everybody about who you diced today.
SCAPYARD - The other day I phoned the scrapyard to
SPARES - At the scrap yard he asked about some second-hand spares. In America it is a junk yard and you look for used parts.
SPANNER -  You throw a spanner in the works instead of a wrench.
PETROL - We buy petrol at the garage instead of gasoline at the gas station.
FLAT - We recharge a flat battery, not a dead battery.
ALUMINIUM - Take note of the word aluminium; the American spelling and pronunciation differs. In the USA the word is aluminum.
TAP - Africans never call a tap a faucet.
DAN - A dam in South Africa is a reservoir in the States. To refer to the dam, we speak of the dam wall. A reservoir in South Africa is the big concrete water tank on the hill.
DUMMY - About babies: a pacifier becomes a dummy.
PRAM - A stroller becomes a pram.
NAPPY - The baby wears a nappy and not a diaper.
SERVIETTE - At the table you ask for a serviette, not a napkin.
PAVEMENT - Downtown we walk on the pavement and not the sidewalk.
DIAGONALLY ACROSS - Please do not use the word kiddy or caddy corner to indicate directions. You will get some strange looks.
STICK - Instead of treating you to an ice-cream, we might say "I'll stick you for an ice-cream" or "I'll stand you to an ice-cream."
BUILDING SOCIETY - A Savings & Loan would be called a Building Society and a pharmacy is also a chemist.
CHEERS - We often say "cheerio" or "cheers" when we say good bye.
POSTAL CODE - The postal code is the your zip code and we post letters.
JERSEY - Our jersey is your sweater,
TISSUE - A tissue is a kleenex.
PLASTER - A plaster is a band-aid.
AUTUMN - Autumn is used instead of fall.
HOLIDAY - "We are going on holiday!" Most of the time we say holiday for a vacation.
TICKIE BOX - Older people still refer to a tickie box instead of the pay phone (if you can find one these days).
VELD - The word veld is used in our English. It refers to the open prairies or fields.
SORRY -  Instead of saying "I beg your pardon?" you will hear "Sorry?"
TEKKIES or TAKKIES - He has some sneakers on. Africans call the likes of Adidas or Nike, to Bata -- Tekkies.
CHIPS - This could refer to the potato chip in the USA or it refer to French fries.
BROEKIES - African way to speak of panties or underpants.
FETCH - I will fetch you at noon. In the US, it means to pick up (for a ride).
LIFT - Africans ask for a lift, rather than a ride; or you offer someone a lift, not a ride.
HOMELY - Homely in South Africa means 'cozy' and in America it means drab and ugly. Americans use 'Homey' for cozy.


Here are some pointers to save you major embarrassment. Never talk about a fanny, it's does not mean what you think, it's bad. And then don't be shocked when you hear damn or damn it. To South Africans it replaces darn it and heck. But, crap is not taken lightly, you might just as well have used the sh-word. Do not say, "I am stuffed" after eating too much. South Africans will understand it to be that you are pregnant. Rather say, "I'm satisfied thanks," or "I've had an elegant sufficiency thank you." A bugger is totally inappropriate and it is never used in good company. The Afrikaans word voertsek means to get lost if I have to put it mildly. I comes from Dutch voort zeg ik, meaning: 'forth say I', but the modern-day contraction is used to chase off a dog.

Common Slang Words:

•   Tune means to tell e.g. "What did he tune you when you told him he was fired?"

•   Chuck or pull relates to the performance of a car or bike (motorcycle) e.g "My new Kawa really chucks; I'll dice any of your buddies." Other than to discard, chuck also means to throw.

•   P.T. is the abbreviation for physical training, but it also means too much trouble e.g. "It takes too much p.t. to get my licence today, I'll get it next week."

•   Graze and chow are often used amongst college students e.g. "Let's go and graze." or "I'm really dik gechow." Dik is the Afrikaans word for thick, fed up, and satisfied. Dik is not a very polite word. The ge- prefix in the quote is the Afrikaans past tense indicator.

•   A pozzie is your "place" e.g. "Listen, I'll come over to your pozzie at about five, ok?"

•   To dip out means to miss out, e.g. "He thought the party wasn't going to be lekker, so he stayed at his pozzie. Man, he really dipped out! It was the lekkerest jol in years!"

•   A jol is our word for a blast, e.g. "We had a lekker jol last night." If you say "Hey cool it man, I was just jolling!" you would mean kidding or joking. A joller is a male that is irresponsible and who plays around all the time and never works seriously.

•   Jippo is rich in meaning. It could mean to tamper with or to doctor something e.g. "I jippoed his car, he'll never get away." It could also mean to try to be a free rider or to sneak out of some task e.g. "We have to load all the hay, and if I catch anyone who tries to jippo, we will all do over-time." Stomach flue or a runny tummy is referred to as jippo guts, e.g. "Cheepers, I don't know what I ate, but I've had jippo guts for two days."

•   Shame has an added meaning for sweet or cute. When we see a darling baby, we always say, "Ag shame, how cute." Shame could also be used sarcastically where sympathy was asked but not deserved e.g. You tell me a soppy story because your work is not completed and I say: "Ag shame! Now get out of here and finish your work! I want it on my desk by five!"

•   Lank is an Afrikaans word meaning tall or long, but in English slang it means much e.g. "That guy's got lank bucks."

•   Skrik is also Afrikaans meaning a fright, e.g. "He gave me such a skrik."

•   Larny comes from Durban on the east coast. Nobody has a proper spelling for it. It means classy or rich, e.g. "His folks are real larney, you must see their new Maserati."

•   A fundi or a boffin is an expert of some kind, e.g. "He thinks he's a real fundi with bikes, but he doesn't even know where the gears are."

•   The grammadulas or the bundu refers to the boonies, e.g. "Does that brother of yours still live way out there in the grammadulas."

•   Exê is another Durban word and it is the Afrikaans for I say, spelled Ek sê in Afrikaans. Use it about twice in every sentence and you'll be real cool exê, e.g. "Hey man exê, what are you going to do with those books exê.

•   Scheme means to think, e.g. "He schemes he is a real boffin with computers."

•   A ou (Afr. pronunciation) is a guy, e.g. "Tell that ou he can't speak to the boss." Ou also means old in Afrikaans.

•   Only but...hey! conveys a strong opinion, e.g. "He's only but unfit hey!"

•   Blind and dof means dense, stupid or unexciting, e.g. "That's was blind deal. He must be dof man. How could he accept such a blind offer?

•   Sort out e.g. "You better sort yourself out!" means to straighten out or to get things in order or in line.

•   China "Listen my China, we do not sell that here anymore." China = mate, buddy.

•   Jacked up "Your car is pretty jacked up, how much did those mags set you back? It means seriously "suped up" or enhanced. It can olso mean well done or impressively organized.

•   Howzit "Howzit, my bra?" USA "What's up, dude?"

•   Ag sis, man "Ag sis man, how could you say that! Sis means bad news, or yuck for bad smells, or dirty etc.