A Traveller’s Guide to South African Slang

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Every country has its peculiar turns of phrase – quirks that give local languages flavour, colour and character. But unless you’re a native speaker, local slang can be a tricky to grasp, let alone use. South Africa, with its 11 official languages, is blessed with a rich slang culture that can be quite daunting for foreign visitors – heck, even some residents flounder when faced with some of the more obscure lingo.

To help out travellers from foreign climes (as well as the odd sheltered South African) here’s a directory of common, and not so common, South Africanisms.

If you’d like to suggest something to add to this list, drop us a comment below!

A

Ag (the g is guttural, so pronounce it in the back of your throat): Oh, as in “Oh no” or “Oh man” or “Oh bloody hell”.

Ag man: Oh man, with more than a hint of frustration, irritation or annoyance; e.g. Ag man, what did you go and do that for?

Ag shame: Shame is a South Africanism for pity or sympathy, but it can also be used to indicate cuteness. E.g., Ag shame, did you hurt yourself? And, Ag shame, he got his exam results today and they weren’t good. And, Ag shame, did you see that fluffy puppy?

Arvie: Afternoon, e.g., We’ll pop round for tea sometime this arvie.

braaing wors

B

Babelas – bubba-luss: Hangover, often the consequence of a really good braai.

Bakkie – buck-key: South African version of the pickup truck. Also used to refer to plastic containers like Tupperware, e.g., What must I do with the leftovers? Sommer stick them in a bakkie.

Befok: Cool, exciting, wild, crazy, e.g., That motorcycle stunt was befok. And, Steve has had too much sign, it’s made him befok. Given its origins (fok – English fuck), it’s not used in polite company.

Biltong: Spiced, cured and dehydrated meat, similar to (but much tastier than) beef jerky. It’s usually made from beef, game and ostrich. A favourite TV snack, and almost essential for any rugby match.

Bladdy: Damn, e.g., I can’t believe the bladdy referee gave that penalty.

Bliksem – blik-sim: To hit or punch, e.g., I’ll bliksem you if you eat my biltong. Also used derogatively, like bastard; e.g., that bliksem stole my bakkie. It can also be used for emphasis, e.g., a bliksems high building.

Boet: Brother, usually used in reference to friends, or any male companion. E.g., Hey boet, did you bring the biltong for the big game tonight? 

Boerewors – boo-rah-vors (roll the r) (wors for short): South African farm-style sausage commonly braaied and eaten on a roll with tomato sauce and mustard. 

Bosbefok (or bossies or bos): Nuts, crazy, insane, usually used to refer to someone who has gone nuts or lost the plot. E.g., She went bos when she saw what the muddy dog did to her white sofa.

Braai – brr-rye (roll that r): Barbecue, when women spend hours in the kitchen preparing salads, meat and puddings and men spend hours getting a fire just right so that they can cook the meat and give the women a “day off”.  Alcohol is usually in abundant supply, especially beer.

Bru – brew: Similar to boet.

C

Café – pronounced the French way, but completely different: “Corner” shop or superette where you can buy absolutely anything, except alcohol.

Charf: Flirt, e.g., Check that china charfing my chick.

China: (Alternate spelling Chyna) Friend, pal, buddy. Considered outdated in some circles where bru is more common.

Check: See, look, pay attention. E.g., Check here my china, this is my chick, so back off. And, Check this weird looking butterfly.

D

Dikbek: Grumpy, upset, sulky, e.g., He’s dikbek because his team lost last night.

Dinges – ding-us: Thingy, whatzit, random item whose name you can’t remember.

Dof: Stupid, e.g., Don’t be dof, of course the Springboks are going to win.

Donner – don-ner (roll the r): Beat up, e.g., I’m going to donner you if you don’t stop checking me skeef.

Doos: Very derogatory for stupid idiot, pretty much equates to female genitalia. Only use it if you’re comfortable with the English equivalent – the c-word.

Dop: Alcoholic drink, usually a spirit of some kind. E.g., Are you going to have a dop before you go? Nooit bru, I’m driving.

Dorp (or dorpie): Small town, usually in the back of beyond.

Doss: Sleep, e.g., Do you want to doss on my couch tonight?

Droëwors – droo-ah-vors: Dried sausage, similar to biltong.

Dronk: Drunk

Dwaal: Lost or loss of concentration, e.g., I was in a dwaal and didn’t see the red robot.

bergie

E

Eina – ay-na: Ouch

Eish – aysh: General exclamation that can be used in positive and negative contexts.

G

Gat – ghut: Hole. Can be used to refer to an actual hole, e.g., Watch out for the gat in the road. And, My bliksemse new pants have a gat already. Can also refer to the buttocks and is used to denote misfortune, e.g., He saw his gat when he fell on the dance floor.

Gatvol – ghut-foll (pronounce the g in the back of your throat): Had enough, very angry. E.g., I’m gatvol with Bafana Bafana losing all the time. 

Gesuip – ghe-sayp: Very drunk.

Graze: Eat

H

Hectic: Extremely, expression of amazement, e.g., I had to stand in a queue for 30 minutes to get my latte – Hectic bru.

Hey: Handy word used in a variety of contexts. It can be an interjection, e.g., Hey! What do you mean I have bad breath? It can be a question, meaning “what” or “pardon”. It can be used to get attention, e.g., Hey you! It can be used as an expression of agreement, e.g., It was nice to eat Indian food for a change, hey? 

Howzit: Greeting, often used instead of hello. Combines hello and how are you, so it saves time.

boer and varkie

I

Izzit: Is it? Usually used to indicate surprise or incredulity.

J

Ja – yah: Yes

Jislaaik – yis-like: Exclamation of wonder or surprise, e.g., Jislaaik, I couldn’t believe Bafana scored a goal. And, Jislaaik, don’t give me such a bliksems fright!

Jol – jo-rl: Can refer to a party, or to a general good time. E.g., I’ve been invited to a lekker jol tonight. And, did you have a good time at the beach? Ja, it was a jol.

Just now: There are three versions of now in South Africa. Just now means sometime soon, roughly within the next 1 – 3 hours.

K

Kaalgat – kaal-ghut: Naked as a newborn babe. Literally, naked hole.

Kak – kuck: Excrement, crap, usually used as an expletive, e.g., He’s talking kak! I never said the Spingboks would lose!

Kif (or kiff or kief): Cool, lekker, nice, e.g., That was a kif jol last night. And, I just bought a kif pair of takkies.

Koeksister – cook-sister: Delicious, syrupy deep-fried dough plaited into knots.

Klap – klup: Slap, smack, e.g., I’ll klap you if you check me skeef.

L

Lank: Very, a lot, e.g., It’s a lank hot day today, perfect beach weather.

Larny – larn-nee: Fancy pants, e.g., That restaurant is too larny for me, I’d rather go to Spur.

Lekker – lack-err (roll that r): Nice, delicious, fun – anything good, really. E.g., The new Bruce Willis movie is lekker. And, that was a lekker koeksister.

Lus – lis: Craving for, e.g., I’m lus for some fish and slap chips.

rugby match

M

Mal – mull: Crazy, mad, nuts, e.g., Are you mal? You can’t eat butternut at a braai.

Moer – moe-rr (roll that r): To hit or beat up, e.g., Steve moered Alan for checking his chick. Also used for emphasis, e.g., that was a moer hard hike up Table Mountain.

Muti – moo-ti: Medicine, usually traditional medicine from a sangoma, but can refer to anything from headache tablets to antibiotics.

N

Nooit – noyt: Exclamation of no or never. E.g., Did you check the game last night? Nooit bru, I was having a jol knocking back shots with Sharlto Copley at Shimmy Beach Club at the Waterfront.

Now now: Second meaning for now. It also means sometime soon, although sooner than just now, like within the next 30 to 60 minutes.

O

Oke – oak: Similar to china, bru and boet.

Oom: Uncle, often used to refer to any older men.

P

Padkos: Snacks for a road trip.

Pap – pup: Maize porridge, a staple for many South Africans it can be eaten as breakfast, lunch or supper. Often accompanies a braai.

Poephol – poop-all: Idiot, moron, doofus. It’s the Afrikaans version of arsehole (asshole), e.g., Did you see that poephol cut me off in traffic?

R

Right now: Third meaning for now, this one means immediately or at least within the next 5 – 10 minutes.

Robot: Traffic light

Rock up: Arrive, pitch up

Roff – ruff (roll the r): Rough, especially do with character, e.g., You don’t want to mess with her bru, she’s roff enough to chew you a new poephol. It can also indicate feeling under the weather, especially when hung over, e.g., Bru, it must have been a hectic jol last night because you look roff.

S

Sangoma – sun-gor-mah: Traditional healer

Scale: Steal, e.g., Someone scaled my iPhone last night china. It’s not kif.

Scaly: Disreputable character, sleazy, e.g., I’ve never met a drug dealer who wasn’t scaly.

Score: Buy or otherwise obtain, e.g., Boet, I scored lekker tickets to the rugby tonight. Also indicates success with the opposite sex, e.g., Sharon scored with Luke last night. I had to tell them to get a room.

Shebeen – sha-been: Township or informal pub

Shot: Thanks, e.g., Shot for the drinks bru.

Sies (sis): An expression of disgust, can be used to refer to something yucky or gross. E.g., Sis, check that squashed frog on the road.

Sjoe – shoe: General exclamation, e.g., Sjoe it’s a hot day! And, Sjoe, you look tired. And, Sjoe that’s a big bladdy drink.

Skeef (skief: Sideways, usually used as a way to look at someone oddly, e.g., Why are you looking at me skeef?

Skinner: Gossip, e.g., Skinnering is a favourite pastime among old tannies.

Skollies – skoh-lie: Criminals, unsavoury characters.

Skrik: Fright, e.g., I got such a skrik when the shark siren went off.

Sommer – soh-mer: Just or because, e.g., Why did you klap Joe? He was sommer annoying.

Slap chips – slup chips: Like French fries but without the golden crispiness – goes well with fish.

Sosatie – soh-sah-ti: Kebab, usually found on a braai next to wors and steak.

T

Takkies – tack-keys: Sneakers, sports shoes.

Tannie – tunnee: Aunt, often used to refer to any older women.

Tassies – tus-sees: Short of super cheap red wine called Tassenberg, favoured by students and anyone hard up for cash.

Tune – choon: Talk, provoke, spin a yarn, e.g., What’s this kak you’re tuning me? Are you tuning me grief (are you giving me trouble)?

V

Vetkoek – fet-cook: Deep-fried ball of dough that is excellent filled with syrup or mince.

Voetsek – foot-sack: (sometimes spelled ‘Foot Sack’ or ‘Voetsak’) Get lost or bugger off. Usually not said in a nice way.

Vrot: Rotten, bad, or blind drunk. E.g., that meat is so vrot it’s got maggots. And, Alan was so vrot drunk last night the bartender had to drive him home.

Vry: Kiss, smooch.

Vuvuzela – voo-voo-zeh-lah: Loud trumpets blown at sports events, made famous (infamous) at the 2010 Soccer World Cup.

W

Windgat – vind-ghat: Show off, usually recklessly, e.g., Those teenage boys are windgat in their dad’s new BMW.

Woes – voos: Wild, extreme, crazy, e.g. That chick’s so woes she’ll drink you under the table and sell your car to the skollies.

Y

Yebo – yeah-boh: Yes

Yo – yoh: Exclamation of surprise, e.g., Yo, I didn’t think that you were going to drink that 11th dop.

Yussus – yuh-siss: Expression of surprise, revelation or objection, e.g., Yussus man, you don’t know what you’re bladdy talking about!

 

 

We hope this guide has been useful to you. If you’d like to suggest something to add to this list, drop us a comment below!

 

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34 Responses to “A Traveller’s Guide to South African Slang”


  • bosbevok/bossies had a very specific meaning when I was a national serviceman in the 80s – it referred to the illness that had been called shellshock or battle fatigue in our parents and grandparents day and what is now called PTSD. It often implied some difficulty with reintegration into civilian society. “Joe went heeltemal bossies; threw a grenade into his CO’s Ratel, stole a Bedford and shot 2 MPs”


  • yussus!!! you left out yussus!!!!


  • And “Yirree!” as in “Yirree! It is bladdy cold today!”

    It is used to show mild sympathy: “I got lost for an hour!” “Yirree! I’m glad you are okay now!”


  • What about ‘Goef’ ?… ‘it’s hot okes, lets go for a goef in my pool.


  • What about diss – to diss somebody, put them down, denigrate them, or is that not a strictly South African expression?


  • What about Yussie – (yissss-see) diminutive form of Yussus – as in “yussie, bladdy hell, what you doing Bru?”


  • This is cool but should be amended to *Afrikaans slang or adjusted to include slang more representative of the rest of South Africa’s language groups :)


  • and ‘Yurra what!!’


  • How about, “I smaak you stukkend!”?


  • Yussus is actually from ‘Jesus’ and is commonly considered to by vulgar amongst religious folk.


  • Oh and what about ‘Ja-Nee’?


  • Aweh – Ah – we (As in the WE in wet): A synonym for Shot.


  • Thanks for all the “lekker” suggestions folks. Because they’re coming in thick and fast, we’ll give it a moment before we update the guide again. The feedback is much appreciated!


  • What about gif! That was a gif jol bru!
    Donder. Let’s donder that oke!
    Jislaaik. Jislaaik, I can’t believe it cuzzie.


  • Oh you guys are all Neanderthals, this must come from the fact you live near the cradle of human Mankind. Toot sweet mei braa(Bru)
    Maar gaan aan, dis lekker nee ? !


  • I’m not S African but my hubby is half! He’s been in the UK a long time, but still uses a lot of these. But he also uses:
    Heickie / hykey (not sure how you’d spell it) – for a hole. ie, ‘you’ve got a heickie in your sweater.’

    Futsak … as in 19futsak meaning many years ago. (But I think he mentioned that this could be a rude word, so sorry if it is!)

    Go-go’s (hor-hors) – a nickname used for young kids but referring to little bugs or a reference to a child being naughty.

    Sorry about any spelling errors. Really enjoyed the above.


    • Hykie (gaaitjie) – is from the word gat, (Guttural g sound) which means hole (as mentioned in the article). The kie (tjie) sound is a suffix that you can add to many nouns (depending on how it ends) to make it diminutive. Boom – tree. Boompie (boo-um-pee) small tree.

      You have a hole in your sweater – jy’t n gat in jou … sweater (can’t remember that word right now.

      You have a small hole in your… – jy’t n gaaitjie in jou…


  • Im Afrikaans and living in England. En ek het al hulle almal gese en gebruik. And now im lekke homesick.


  • My vok,ek is ge impress,lekker man lekker.


  • Roff/Rof… Not really pronounced ‘ruff’ as indicated. Also what about ‘miff’ and not the dictionary version which is to be annoyed or grumpy (also applicable) but I mean the *ag no man! I forgot my bladdy (blerrie) laundry in the washing machine… Now it’s going to be miff’ version


  • Bakgat and skattie


  • Poena/puna: Pooh-nah -Bald or almost bald. I went to the barber shop. The poephol/moerskont/kakhuis cut my hair way too short. I’m nearly poena now.


  • Plakkies:-pluck-ies: slip slops : No wonder you fell. Don’t run on plakkies, use takkies.


  • Zef! Please add zef to the list!


  • Ayoba
    Ne
    Skelm
    Bakgat
    Laaitie
    Potjie


  • “Tjooning you straight” – Telling it like it is


  • moerskont(bastard), ja-ja (disbelieve), min lus, (I’m min lus for this jol) gatte, (police) chow (eat)(good bye)


  • Boykie
    Boychik
    Shongalulu
    Jou ma se xxxx
    Miggies
    Mozzies
    Kerel?
    Last lammetjie
    Maas
    Ijuba
    Mielie pap
    Naai :-)


  • Ta (as in taah)….means “thanks” (ta, the oranges are lekker);
    or Ta…..means “give it to me” (ta…..! – give me/
    pass me that toy)


  • Miff – means “k*k”, as in…..jy praat miff (you talk sh*t/crap)
    Owwie – means “it’s sore” / a “sore chawb” (a sore pimple)
    Roofie – means a “rookie”, which is a new Army recruit
    Skyfie – means to take a “smoke” from the cigarette butt/ from a “dagga” butt (as in “gee my a skyf”); also means – a “slice/piece” of a naartjie or orange.
    Dagga – means “marijuana/pot”
    Lappie – a cleaning cloth/piece of torn up material
    Pikanin – a “little boy”
    Vuilgat (dirty/filthy person; or a vulgar mouth)
    Langat (very tall person)
    Kortgat (very short person)
    Vetgat (very fat person)
    Bangat (“scaredycat” – very scared person)
    Moffie (derogatory for a “gay male”)
    Lettie (derogatory for a “lesbian/gay female)


  • Fuzz – the Police
    Skattie – “girlfriend” (as in dating)
    Bokkie – “boyfriend” (as in dating)
    Mafuta – a “vetgat”/ very fat or chubby person
    Chawb – a “pimple” (especially those that you see on one’s face)

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