• Bitten by the whale watching bug Bitten by the whale watching bug We don’t realise how lucky we are in South Africa, and in particular the Western Cape, to have the mightiest of the marine mammals visit our coastline between every year ...
  • The Whale Trail The Whale Trail The Whale Trail is not a new trail, having been around since about 2002, but it has become extremely popular. It is truly a unique experience, perhaps comparable with ...
  • 10 Pamper-Perfect Spas in South Africa 10 Pamper-Perfect Spas in South Africa Combine your trip to South Africa with a relaxing, revitalising visit to a health spa and experience Africa at it's finest. Our favourite 10 Pamper-Perfect Spas in South Africa are ...
  • Locals share their favourite getaways Locals share their favourite getaways We ask 30 local South Africans to share their favourite holiday destinations and getaways with us. From the more popular destinations like Knysna and the Kruger Park to ...
  • The Oude Skip hike The Oude Skip hike The Oude Skip walk shares portions of its hike with the larger Karbonkelberg Traverse, which is roughly seven hours of hard walk from Hout Bay harbour to Llandudno ...
  • 10 Amazing Game Lodges 10 Amazing Game Lodges South Africa is world renowned for her game reserves and wildlife. The lodges which allow us to experience these in luxury are no less awe inspiring. Our favourites are ...
  • 101 Things to Do with Kids in Cape Town 101 Things to Do with Kids in Cape Town As much as your kids will tell you they can’t wait for the school holidays, the words "I’m bored" inevitably cross their lips. Our "101 things to do with kids in Cape Town" will ...
  • "World's most beautiful Cities" "World's most beautiful Cities" Open space makes Cape Town special. Renowned English sea navigator Sir Francis Drake once referred to Cape Town as the fairest cape in the world. The city houses the ...

Find Accommodation in South Africa
Subscribe to our Feed
Posted on: Friday, 14 February 2014

South Africanisms everyone should know

Posted to: Miscellaneous
Send to Kindle

With 11 official languages, it is no wonder that there is a lingo in South Africa that is completely unique to this diverse country of colours, tongues and cultures. While English is widely spoken and understood, visitors are encouraged to learn some of the local words, which hail from a combination of English, Afrikaans and the many African languages found here.

Here are some of the most significant South Africanisms …

Ag (a-ch) – an exclamation that is best compared to “argh” in its application. It is widely used as a sentence filler. For example, “Ag, I’m fine, thank you”.

Amasi (a-mar-si) – a traditional drink with soured milk as its base. It is often enjoyed on its own, or over maize meal.

Aweh (aah-weh) – this can be used as a greeting or to express excitement.

Babbelas (bub-a-luss) – a severe hangover.

Bakkie (buck-ee) – a local name for a pick-up truck.

Biltong – a dried, spiced meat that is similar to the American jerky. This is enjoyed as a protein-rich snack and can be made with beef or game.




Bra or bru – an endearing term for a friend, usually used by men.

Braai (bruy) – a barbecue, which is a very common way to eat and entertain in South Africa.

Bredie (bree-dee) – a mutton stew with its origins in the Malay folk that were moved here centuries ago for the purposes of slavery.

Chommie – a friend or pal.

Dassie (duss-ee) – these are known as rock rabbits or hyraxes in other parts of the world and can be seen all over the country.

Dop (dawp) – any alcoholic beverage, a term used in an informal setting.

Dwaal – refers to wondering around aimlessly or being completely distracted.

Eish (aysh) – an expression used to verbalise surprise, shock or even resignation. For example, “Eish, I have a bad babbelas!”

Eina (ay-nah) – a common replacement for “ouch!”


Dassie on Table Mountain


Fundi (foon-dy) – a pro or expert in any given field.

Gogga or goggo – this refers to any insect. Both of the “g” sounds are pronounced with a guttural sound like the “ch” in loch.

Howzit – a very common greeting in South Africa; reserved for informal and friendly occasions. It is a contraction of “how is it?” and should not be used in any kind of formal setting.

Hayibo (hi-yi-boh) – usually said in disbelief as an exclamation.

Isit (iz-it) – used in the same context as “oh really, is that so?” this is an informal exclamation of surprise, that is sometimes used playfully when teasing someone.

Jislaaik (yiss-like) – an expression of shock or horror.

Jol (jorl) – a big party or lots of fun.

Kif – used to describe anything good, great or exciting.

Koeksister (cook-sister) – sweet dough that is deep-friend and dipped into cold syrup. The Afrikaans folk often freeze them and eat them ice-cold, but they are delicious hot and fresh too.




Lekker (lacker) – nice, wonderful, delicious, cool or fun.

Mampoer (mum-poor) – a very strong fruit-based brandy that should only be consumed in very small quantities due to its high alcohol content.

Muti (moo-ti) – this refers to traditional African medicine, made from herbs and other natural ingredients and sometimes associated with witchcraft.

Now-now – although English, this has quite a different meaning in South Africa. It is a reference to a period of time that is not defined. It could mean soon or within a few hours.

Robot – South Africans commonly refer to traffic lights as robots, causing quite some confusion amongst visitors, understandably.

Shebeen – a tavern in the informal settlements or townships, frequented by locals and very vibrant.

Skelm (ske-lim) or skabenga – these words refer to criminals or unsavoury types that should be avoided.

Ubuntu (oo-boon-too) – a term that is widely known for representing the natural sense of love and community that promotes caring for others, whether you know them or not.

Yebo (yeah-boh) – meaning “yes”.




Amelia Meyer


Amelia is a freelance writer and editor with a passion for all things travel-related. She is based in Knysna, but has studied, lived and travelled further afield. She studied Film, Media and Literature at the University of Cape Town. She began her solo career in the form of Voxate Writing & Editing in 2008 and loves every minute of it. Amelia believes in silver linings, lessons learnt and the responsibility to do what’s right. When she is not writing, she can frequently be found at the local animal shelter, on the bicycle trails of the nature reserves or sampling new restaurants with her family.

Related Posts:

What Others are Saying

1 comment about South Africanisms everyone should know
  1. February 17th, 2014 at 16:30
    marilyn wilson says:

    Having lived in SA almost 40 years I have always known “Now now” to mean immediately where as “Just now” would better fit your discription of a period of time that is not defined.