We are going to South Africa (SA), yay! I’ll be happy to visit the Southernmost part of Africa at the drop of a hat because of the rich culture, history, and stunning landscapes.
Fun fact: South Africa has 11 official languages. The popular ones include Afrikaans, English, isiNdebele. isiXhosa, and isiZulu. The rest are Sesotho, Sesotho sa Leboa (Sepedi), Setswana, siSwati,Tshivenda, and Xitsonga.
If you want to feel right at home with the locals and blend in, you’d agree you’re better off learning some of the popular slangs of the locals, than trying to learn official languages (which would be kind of boring right?)
And guess what? Some of these South African slang words have made it to the English dictionaries. How cool is that?
15 Popular South African Slangs You Should Learn
Ag! – oh!
This Afrikaans word, is the motherlode of expressions, covering everything from anger to pleasure, shock, nostalgia, sarcasm, and basically anything you can think of. It’s similar to “Oh!” in English.
Example: “Ag man! South Africa won the 2023 Rugby World Cup Championship.”
Lekker – nice/tasty
It is a connotation derived from Afrikaans, used to express if a situation is “cool” or “nice”, or “tasty”. It also means “intoxicated.”
Example: “Have a lekker day.” Meaning, “Have a nice day.
Bunny chow is not just a cute name. Picture this: a loaf of bread, hollowed out and crammed with spicy curry goodness. It’s like a flavor explosion in your mouth! Lekker, right?
“Eish!” is like the ultimate expression jackpot from Xhosa. It’s the South African way of shouting, “Surprise!” or “Oops, did I do that?” We’ve all been there.
Example: “Eish! I have to do everything by myself in this house.”
Howzit – hello
It is a shorter and cooler way of saying, “How are you doing?” combined with “Hello!”
Example: “Howzit my friend.”
Robot – traffic lights
Ever wondered why traffic lights are called “Robots” in South Africa? Well, back in the day, when machines took over from traffic officers, people were like, “Oh no, the robots are taking over!” Talk about a sci-fi twist in everyday life.
Example: “Eish! You better watch out for the red robot before crossing the road.”
Shame – nice/cute
It’s not just a sympathy card, it’s also the South African way of saying something’s nice or cute. Turning a negative into a positive? Now that’s linguistic magic!
Example: “You made a dress for the party. Ag! Shame.”
Now Now – later
Planning something for “Now Now”? Well, that could mean soon, or maybe not so soon – depends on the vibe of the moment. It’s like playing time bingo! It’s a tricky one.
Example: “I’ll see you now now.” (It could mean that they would see you in a couple of minutes, hours, or months).
It’s not just a yes, it’s a double positive. South Africans like to be extra sure, you know?
Example: “Yebo, Yes. I can come to Cape Town tomorrow.”
Babbelas – hangover
The ultimate hangover word. If you’ve had a night of too much “dop” (that’s beer, by the way), you might wake up feeling like your head’s doing the cha-cha.
Example: “This morning Tami was babbelas, poor guy!”
Dop – beer
The word is used for alcoholic beverages like beer, and for some reason also means to fail an exam.
Example: “If I dop my art course, I’m going for a dop.”
Jol – party
Example: “For this vacation, it’s dop, jol, babbelas, repeat.”
Ja, Nee – yes, no
The ultimate affirmation duo. Tired of answering questions? Just throw in a “ja” or “nee” like a verbal mic drop.
Example: “You came back?” “Ja, I forgot my purse.”
This is the South African way of saying something or someone is just too cool for school.
Example: “This jol is kiff.”
“Shongolo” is not just a millipede; it’s the Zulu way of saying something’s rolled up. Talk about a quirky language twist.
Example: “What’s that shongololo around her neck?”
Between us, I had a bit of a crush on Trevor Noah a while back. It’s okay. I may or may not be completely over him, of course. But yes,— I feel like if we meet someday, learning some South African slang would be nice.
Who doesn’t love a good cross-cultural language connection?