Top of the Week to ya! Since lots of folks seemed interested in my last post about South Africa, I decided to write another SA post…perhaps for those of you planning to be here for the World Cup next year! This amazing country is a melting pot of cultures, languages and of course, some delightful idiomatic expressions…which are my favourite things to learn, in any language. If you’ll be here for a visit anytime soon, here is my guess at the top ten most important words for you to learn, which might not be native to your version of English. Now mind you, I am not a South African, but married one, so I must give the disclaimer of saying these are second-hand understandings, with some first-hand opinions added in.

If you want to speak South African, this is a good place to start:

10. Robot – you might picture a metal box of arms and legs that can dance or run the Hoover for you (a la Rosie on the Jetsons), but in South Africa, a robot is a traffic light.

9. Gatvol – Pronounced HUT-vul, when you’ve “had it up to here” or are past the point of being incredibly frustrated, you are “gatvol.” Eish, by the end of that rugby match, I was gatvol with the Cheetahs. Maybe next season, hey?

8. Bro or bru – An abbreviated term for brother which rhymes with “row” or “chew.” Hey bru, it was a lekker party last night.

7. Eish – This term sounds like ‘ace’ with an ‘h’ on the end. It means ‘wow.’ It’s sometimes used in sticky situations: Eish, bru, I’m sorry. I didn’t even know it was your birthday.

6. Eina – Ouch! Or when something is sore. This is a long ‘a’ sound, followed by a ‘nah’. Might be used instead of a southern ‘dern’ when one stumps one’s toe.

5. Jislaaik – This one is pronounced “Yis-like” and means “gee” or “wow.” It’s a useful exclamation for when something is surprising. Jislaaik, those are tight jeans. She must’ve jumped into them from the top of the cupboard.

4. Boerewors – This tasty treat is literally translated from Afrikaans, farmer’s sausage, ‘Boere’ meaning farmers, and ‘wors,’ sausage. It’s pronounced (at my best attempt) “boo-re-vors” with a bit of a trill on the first r. It should be comprised of mostly minced beef, and is sometimes mixed with a bit of pork or lamb. No braai is complete without it! (See Number One).

3. Howzit? This lovely and useful term is simply “How’s it going?” but nicely abbreviated. You can imagine it like a South African Joey from Friends saying, “Howzit, Rachel?”

2. Lekker – You can’t visit South Africa and not hear this term a few times. If something is lekker, it’s nice or good, depending on the context. (Lekker is pronounced kind of like ‘lacquer’ as in the stuff you might coat wood with.) Eish, it was a lekker party until she showed up in her tight jeans. Then we were gatvol and left.

1. Braai — rhyming with “try,” this is perhaps the most important word in the South African English Language. It’s both a noun and a verb. You might call it a barbecue, or “grilling out.” The pastime of the braai is an incredible art — many South Africans are choosy about what type of wood they use, others might use charcoal or briquettes or (less often I suppose) a gas braai. The timing of putting on the meat, the heat and size of the fire, and the amount of wind you might be dealing with are all factors to consider which can make or break the perfect braai. And from my experience so far, a true South African will always say the braai they’re enjoying could’ve been just a little better if they’d just …

I highly suggest coming to South Africa for the World Cup next year, or just for a visit any time! So howzit, bru? Come enjoy some bakgat boerewors at a lekker braai or two! You’ll pass through a few robots, and be here just now, hey? Eish, the trip might be eina, but you’ll be gatvol if you don’t.

Here are a few extra tips for good measure:

  • Avie is slang for afternoon, pronounced “AH-vee”
  • Bakgat - this is an Afrikaans word used fairly often by English speakers. Pronounced “BAHK-hut” with a nice thick ‘hhh’ on the hut. Bakgat means ‘fantastic.’
  • Lots of folks, especially from Johannesburg (also known as Jozi or Joburg), will end their sentences with “hey?” Warning: this can rub off on you VERY quickly. (I picked up this habit when I lived in Scotland and had a roommate from Southern Africa!)
  • Ja – pronounced “Yah” is a common way of saying yes, and people will often start or finish sentences with it.
  • Alternatively, people more often begin their sentences with “No…” in answer to a question, even if “no” isn’t actually the answer to the question, and even if the question is not a yes or no question. So keep listening until you get the whole answer!
  • If you’re teasing the person in the centre by not giving them the ball, you’re playing “piggy” (not monkey) in the middle.

Here’s another great site where you can learn to “speak South African” in preparation for your visit!