South African Slang is a fountain of beautiful words that you won’t use anywhere else in the world. Some are hilarious, some are rude and some are… interesting. English-speaking travellers are best advised just to speak clearly, as most South Africans are used to a variety of accents.
Here is a guide to some of the best South Africa slang, certain to confuse and guaranteed to amuse! Ja so go on! Why not drop one of these phrases into your next conversation to demonstrate your depth of knowledge of South African lingo.
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?
Babbelas: [bub-buh-luss] A hangover
Biltong: [bill-tong] This South African favourite is dried and salted meat, similar to beef jerky, although it can be made from ostrich, kudu or any other red meat
Boet: [like “book”, with a t] A term of affection, from the Afrikaans for “brother”
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
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] A term of affection, shortened from Afrikaans broer, meaning “brother”. An example would be, “Hey, my bru, howzit?”
Check: See, look, pay attention. E.g., Check here my china, this is my chick, so back off. And, Check this weird looking butterfly
Chill bru: Relax, my mate. Take it easy
Droëwors: droo-ah-vors: Dried sausage, similar to biltong
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
Is it: [as one word: izit] An expression frequently used in conversation and equivalent to, “Is that so?”
Ja: [yaa] 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!
Just now: There are three versions of now in South Africa. Just now means sometime soon, roughly within the next 1 – 3 hours
Lekker: lack-err (roll that r): Nice, delicious, fun – anything good, really. E.g., The new Bruce Willis movie is lekker.
Lus: lis: Craving for, e.g., I’m lus for some fish and slap chips.
Now-now: Shortly, in a bit, as in, “I’ll be there now-now.”
Oke, ou: A man, similar to “guy” or “bloke”. The word “ou” [oh] can be used interchangeably
Oom: Uncle, often used to refer to any older men
Robot: Traffic light
Rooibos: [roy-borss] Afrikaans for red bush, this popular South African tea made from the Cyclopia genistoides bush is gaining worldwide popularity for its health benefits
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.
Sommer: soh-mer: Just or because, e.g., Why did you klap Joe? He was sommer annoying
Takkies: tack-keys: Sneakers, sports shoes
Tannie: tunnee: Aunt, often used to refer to any older women
Taxi: Not a metered car with a single occupant, but a minibus used to transport a large number of people, and the most common way of getting around in South Africa
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!