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South African Jargon - a Survival Guide For Visitors


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What is a braai? It is the first thing you will be invited to when you visit a South African expat or are invited to a 'do' in South Africa. A braai is a backyard barbecue and it will take place whatever the weather. So you will have to go even if it's raining like mad and you have a hang of a cold. At a braai you will be introduced to a substance known as 'mealiepap'. Read further for an explanation of pap.We're having a braai


Now that you know what a braai is, here are some other words and phrases you will encounter when talking to a South African. It is also a useful guide if you happen to be visiting South Africa. The words listed here are used by folk of all persuasions, genders and ethnic backgrounds. You really do need to know what they mean!



This is one of the most useful South African words. Pronounced like the 'ach' in the German 'achtung' (which is NOT a K, people!), it can be used to start a reply when you are asked a tricky question, as in, 'Ag, I don't know'. Or a sense of resignation: 'Ag, I'll have some more pap then'. It can stand alone, too, as a signal of irritation or of pleasure.


Similar to jerky, it is dried, salted meat and can be made from beef, ostrich, antelope or anything that was once alive and fairly large. It is usual for expatriate South Africans to say, 'What I really miss is my biltong, man'.


Pronounced 'byscope', and sometimes it is reduced to 'bio' or 'scopes'. Its use is going out of fashion and, in some urban areas, regrettably, it is being replaced by 'movies' and 'flicks', but you may still be asked if you would like to go to the bioscope.


Pronounced 'blimming', it is roughly equivalent to 'helluva', as in, 'Ag, that pap I had at the braai made me blooming sick'. For emphasis, blooming can be replaced by bladdy, which in turn is a corruption of the British/Australian 'bloody'.


Not a piece of ladies' underwear, bra is pronounced with a softer, shorter 'a' as 'bruh'. It originated in Cape Town (see Capies) meaning 'brother' or 'friend'. The Pretoria version of bra might be bru, derived from the Afrikaans word 'broer', also meaning 'brother' or 'close friend'. Both have the same meaning, but it would be a faux pas to use the wrong version when speaking to the wrong group. You would not for example say 'Hey bru' to a Capie.


Originating in Kwa-zulu Natal (KZN), a bunny-chow is a hollowed-out loaf of bread filled with minced beef. You may be offered a bunny-chow at a braai and can readily accept if you have a healthy appetite. However, never order a bunny-chow from a restaurant in KZN unless you're a chilli lover and like the sensation of your tastebuds escaping through your ears and nose.


Generally a Capetonian, or a person who hails from, or has lived for some time in, Cape Town. Capetonians are generally thought to be affected by the magnetic influences of Table Mountain and slow down, as if operating in a time-distortion. Capetonians can be easily identified driving very slowly in the wrong lanes of highways all over Johannesburg (Vaalies assume it's because they get lost anywhere without a mountain to guide them).


This is the generic term for convenience stores and is pronounced 'caffee' or 'cayf'. Traditionally operated by people of Portuguese, Greek or Asian ancestry, the cafe it is a good place to buy smokes, biltong or the Alka Seltzer you will need after trying pap at the braai. Corner cafes have since been replaced by petrol station 'quick-shops', but these will still be referred to as the corner cafe.

  Cape Doctor

Older residents of Cape Town give this name to the south-easter that blows in summer months, usually forming a flat, rolling cloud over Table Mountain - the 'tablecloth' - and sometimes shutting down harbour operations. It was called the Cape Doctor because old-timers said it blew all of the city's bad air out to sea, along with accumulated street rubbish, discarded newspapers and suchlike.


Meaning friend1 or used as a substitute for the pronoun 'you' in some places. As in, 'Ag, China, you missed the braai yesterday!, or a more threatening usage, 'Watchit, China!' meaning, 'hey you, watch out!'. Most commonly used to identify male friends or between men, but can be heard amongst women in some areas.




A term of affection between males and females, it is used mostly in the Johannesburg area. A corrupted form of 'darling', it will be heard thus:

Your turn to take out the dustbin, Doll

But I took it out the last time, Doll

Well take the bladdy thing out again, Doll

A rude word, it comes from the Afrikaans 'donder' (thunder). Pronounced 'dorner', it means 'beat up'. Your rugby team can get donnered in a game, or your boss can donner you if you do a lousy job.


Widely used by all language groups, this word, derived from the Afrikaans, means 'ouch'. Pronounced 'aynah', you can shout it out in sympathy when someone burns his finger on a hot potato at a braai.


A greeting pronounced 'ay-tah'. Used in the place of 'hey there you' in greeting, ie, 'Eitah, bra!' meaning, 'Hello there, brother'.

  Fixed up

This means 'good'. An example is this exchange:

You don't have to take the dustbin out, Doll, I took it already

Fixed up, Doll



This is an insect, a bug, and all three of the g's are pronounced as though you are about to spit (like "ag"). South Africa is rich in goggas, some of them cute - like the harmless mantis and the intriguing stick insect - but others are disgraceful. The cockroach is the most disliked, especially when it's flying. Natal has some monsters that could challenge Florida cockroaches any day. In its early days, the country's state-run TV service earned the enmity of viewers by scheduling a documentary on cockroaches at a time when millions of South Africans were sitting down in front of their sets with their Sunday evening meals on their laps. A highlight was how to dissect a cockroach. It did not go down well with the Sunday lunch leftovers. A dissected cockroach is even more unsettling than a whole one.

Another particularly resented gogga is the Parktown Prawn - a cricket the size of a queen prawn, tastefully coloured bright red and black by Mother Nature to give a clear warning to all in its vicinity. Parktown Prawns, like skunks, spray a smelly black ink when frightened, hide in dustbins, and can be a real party-pooper at a braai.


Everybody knows that a guava is a fruit - and a bladdy lekker one too. It is especially nice stewed and served cold with smooth custard, as lots of boarding school students will affirm. Guava juice is refreshing at breakfast. But, in South Africa, a guava is also a backside, a butt, a bum. If someone is behaving in an annoying manner, you can threaten to 'skop (kick) him up his guava'. But it is inappropriate and politically incorrect to issue this warning to someone who is not a good friend; it will be taken amiss. Also, it is not polite to laugh if the Cape Doctor bowls a stranger over on to his or her guava.

  Hang of

This is the same as the British/American 'heck of', as in, 'I have a hang of a headache', or, 'I had a hang of a good time at the braai'.


Pronounced 'hup', this means 'bite', and is used in the following fashion: 'Give me a hap of your apple. Ag, please'.


Howzit, pronounced 'how-z-eet', literally means 'how is it', but is used to ask after the health or welbeing of a bra or a china. These days it's used more as a greeting requiring no response, expediently cutting out all the pleasantries:

...can all be replaced by, 'Howzit!' and a like reply of, say, 'Hey! Howzit china!'Hello, how are you?

Fine, how are you?


This is a great word in conversations. Derived from the two words 'is' and 'it, it can be used when you have nothing to contribute. If someone at the braai tells you: 'The Russians will succeed in their bid for capitalism once they adopt a work ethic and respect for private ownership', it is appropriate to respond by saying, 'Isit?'


This is another conversation fall-back word. Derived from the four words 'yes', 'well', 'no' and 'fine', it means roughly 'how about that'. If your bank manager tells you your account is overdrawn, you can say with confidence, 'jawelnofine'. (Yah well no fine)


Pronounced 'yis-like', it is an expression of astonishment. For instance, if someone tells you there are a billion people in China, a suitable comment is, 'Jislaaik, that's a hang of a lot of people, hey'.

  Just now / Now now

Universally used, it means 'eventually' and sometimes 'never'. If someone says he will do something 'just now', it could be in ten minutes or tomorrow. Or maybe he won't do it at all.


The less offensive and softer alternative to the swearword, sh*t, and is pronounced "cuck". Mostly used to evaluate conversation or action, such as 'You are talking kak', or, 'That was a really kak thing that she did'. The descriptive use of the word when referring to people can be kakster - a person who habitually talks kak. These people are generally assumed to bend the truth. Kak is also used to identify most kinds of mess, ie, 'The guys had a braai last night and now they expect me to clean up their kak'.


Thought to have originated in the KwaZulu Natal region, kiff can cover everything positive, as in, 'Jislaaik, that was a kiff braai'. Or, in response to, 'So we'll pick you up some biltong at the cafe, china?' one could hear the reply 'Kiff, doll', indicating the affirmative.


A lappie, pronounced 'luppy', is a cloth, a rag, used to wipe up a mess. You will find it in a machine shop to clean up oil spills, in a bar to wipe away spilled beer, or in the nursery where a baby who is munching a rusk2 needs its face and hands hosed down and lappied every three minutes.


An Afrikaans word meaning 'nice', this word is used by all language groups to express approval. If you see somene of the opposite sex who is good-looking, you can exclaim, 'Lekkerrr!' while drawing out the last syllable, although that usage is now thought to be politically incorrect in some areas.

  Make A Plan

You will hear this good old South African phrase quite a lot. It means 'things might be screwed right now but we'll think of something just now'. If you miss the bus to the airport, the hotel receptionist may say, 'Don't worry man - we'll make a plan'. If that plan includes the hiring of a taxi, you may want to think twice about it.


This word has many meanings in South Africa other than the opposite of 'yes'. Your host at the braai is likely to say, 'No, I see your plate is empty. You want some more pap? Another example: if the clerk in a shoe shop asks if she can help, you may reply, 'No, I'm looking for some tackies'. This means, 'Yes, I'm looking for some tackies'.


A 'guy' or 'chap' or 'bloke'. If you quite like someone you can say, 'Ag, he is an OK oke'. Instead of oke you can also say ou, which is pronounced 'oh'.


Encountered at braais, pap is boiled cornmeal. Pronounced 'pup' it has the appearance, consistency and, many say, the taste of moist Plaster of Paris. Lots of South Africans pretend to like it. Eating pap is character-building in the sense that an individual learns to grin and bear adversity, rather like Americans in the South have grown spiritually by consuming grits. In a religious context, this process is called self-flagellation.


Pronounced 'poi-kie'. This is a large cast-iron cauldron with three legs into which is thrown whatever is in the fridge or pantry - with considerable discussion and debate over the appropriate order of the layers - and left on a fire for a few hours resulting in a meal for a small army. Poitjie-art, like braaing is an acceptable pastime for a South African male, unlike traditional cooking or baking, which will take quite a few more years to catch on across the majority of the male population (from all cultural backgrounds). Be very wary of poitjies from unknown sources!

  Pull in

Literally, 'come on over' or used in the form of an invitation. As in, 'That ou invited me to his braai on Saturday. You should pull in'. Thought to orginate from the days of drive-ins and roadhouses indicating that one would arrive in a bakkie3 or other motor car.




Like no, this word can mean the opposite of its meaning in other parts of the world. If someone shows you a baby, you can say, 'Ag, shame'. This does not mean the baby is ugly, it means the baby is cute. If the baby is ugly, it is more accurate to say, 'Shame, hey'. If the baby is truly hideous, it is appropriate to say, Jislaaik'. This may not be appreciated by the baby's parents.


With origins in the 'townships', sharp can be used as a substitute for fixed up or 'yes' or 'ok', perhaps in the following manner:

This is an incredibly versatile word and can be inserted just about anywhere as a one-word affirmative or encouraging response. As in:Howzit, china?


See you at the braai, skat?



Meaning 'thief', 'liar', or 'general miscreant'. If you don't want to invite someone to your braai you could explain by saying, 'That ou is a real skabenga'. Pronounced 'ske-beng-ga'.


Or skattie. An affectionate term used between couples and originating from the Afrikaans 'skatlam'. As in:

Are you making me a sarmie, skattie?


Fixed up!

  Skinder, Skinner, Skinnerbek

Gossip is one of life's little pleasures, and that is what skinder is - gossip. The word is usually pronounced without a hard 'd' and most people will simply call it skinner. A skinnerbek is someone who does it a lot, commonly without paying too much attention to the facts. Such a person can be very popular at office tea breaks, at parties and other social gatherings - unless the skinner is about you, in which case the skinnerbek is a louse who deserves a skop up the guava.

  Skop, Skiet en Donder

Literally 'kick, shoot and thunder' in Afrikaans, this phrase is used by many English speakers to describe action movies or any activity that is lively and somewhat primitive. Clint Eastwood is always good for a skop, skiet en donder flick.


This is a favourite word, and it is used by all language groups throughout the land. Pronounced 'snoop' with a short 'o' sound as in 'book', it means 'stingy', 'mean', 'selfish'. Be discreet about using it. For example, it may not be a good idea to say to your bank manager, 'Unless I am granted this loan I shall have to conclude that this bank is snoep'. That won't help your cause. Sometimes people use this word when they fuss over their friends' infant children: 'Don't be so snoep with a kiss - gimme a big one'.


Pronounced 'stoor-ee'. From the Afrikaans word 'storie' meaning 'a story', it has come to be used to indicate any kind of drama or convoluted explanation. For example, 'He gave me a hele storie about why he was so snoep with the lappies' - in this context meaning 'a whole dramatic tale'.


This word means 'pugnacious', 'difficult', 'aggressive', and it can be used appropriately at any level of conversation. For instance, a child who refuses to eat his stewed guavas can be described as stroppy. Or, you may once have overheard the following comment during a discussion on international affairs: 'This Saddam Hussein - he's a real stroppy ou. But he better watch out because these Yanks are not snoep with their missiles and he could fall on his guava. Big time'.


These are sneakers or running shoes. The word is also used to describe automobile or truck tyres. Fat tackies are big tyres, as in, 'Where did you get those lekker fat tackies on your Volksie4, hey?'


This word has a completely different meaning in South Africa, other than the vehicles you can individually hire to transport you (on you own or with a friend) from A to B. Due to the severe limits of the public transport sytem in South Africa - which isn't recommended to tourists anyway - a system of combi-taxis has developed over the years, which travel daily or hourly on designated routes. Just about all 16-seater 'combi' vehicles in South Africa are a part of this taxi system, although a driver carrying only 16 passengers would be assumed to be having a very bad day! Taxis of this type are not usually roadworthy and it would be a mistake to assume that they will at any time obey general road usage rules. It would however also not be advisable to express road-rage at the actions of a taxi cutting you off or stopping without warning to take on or let off passengers. South African drivers in general just ignore taxis and give them a wide berth. If one is forced for any reason to catch a taxi it would be a good idea to follow the example of traditional taxi users and stow your wallet and any valuables in your hat, your shoes or in a plain plastic bag and hold this bag with both hands at all times.


These are the creatures that descend in hordes on Cape Town once a year at Christmas time. They traditionally drive Big Expensive Cars and are inevitably towing Venter Trailers, in which they store the kids. In the new South Africa, they are also known as Gauties, this word is derived from 'Gauteng' (again, cough hack and pronounce), which is where we wish they would all go back to. Anyway, be nice to animals, hug a Vaalie.


A wonderful word that means 'rotten' or 'putrid' in Afrikaans, it is used by all language groups to describe anything they really don't like. Most commonly it describes fruit or vegetables whose shelf lives have long expired, but a pair of takkies worn a few times too often can be termed vrot by unfortunate folk in the same room as the wearer. Also a rugby player who misses important tackles can be said to have played a vrot game, but not to his face because he won't appreciate it and he'll usually be a hang of a big oke.


A word of Zulu origin meaning 'wake up'. Can be used in any situation to inspire promt action, such as, 'Vuka wena5; go fetch a lappie to clean up this kak next to the dustbin!'.


From the Zulu word meaning 'yes'. Indicates the affirmative in just about any situation.




With this guide you should have an excellent chance of surviving a trip to South Africa or a visit with a South African expat family. It is truly a magnificent country, the people are friendly and lively and, despite the high crime rate, which one can avoid the influence of if you listen to the warnings of the locals (or sticking mainly to the Cape), South Africa is a must-visit for all global travellers.


1Perhaps borrowed from Cockney rhyming slang, as in 'china plate'='mate'.
2A hard biscuit found in every household. All babies look like Winston Churchill and all smell of rusks.
3A South African version of the pick-up truck, but smaller.
5Wena, also from Zulu, referring to 'you' in the singular.


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I need some time. I've been plotting a trip there. I'll likely fly out of Tel Aviv. First Nyn then you. :biggrin:


This thread is awesome. It explains why sometimes I have no idea what you are talking about. :biggrin: Will I have trouble communicating at Cape Town International?


I won't get in a taxi and end up in Johannesburg?

Edited by Ryrin
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You get in a taxi and you're more likely to end up in a ditch :P


Oh and yes I'm a Capie, and yes we navigate by the mountain ... doesn't everyone? :cool:

The 1 joke here is: how do you know it's winter in the cape? The surfers are wearing jerseys (jumpers? pullovers?).

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A lot of those words have bassackwards meaning...  It'd be funny to see a foreigner try to understand what you're talking about.  :laugh:


Ja nee, bra! Maar ek smaak jou nog altyd stukkend, al dis jy my taal, nê?


(Yes no, brother! But I still taste you broken, even though you dis my language, heh?)


[so true, my friend! But even though you're dissing my language, I still like you lots.]

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