South Africanisms.

Naturally, when you visit a new place you've never been before, and one that's quite a jump across the pond in the opposite hemisphere, a few things will seem different.

In a country like South Africa, with 11 national languages, diversity of spoken word is one of the first things to catch the ear. That being said, most of the South Africanisms that I picked up were in English (oddly enough, I was less apt to pick up things I could not understand at all). However, I'm thankful to have learned a couple words in Zulu, Xhosa and Afrikaans, which I will also share.

My first, and still favorite, South Africanism is the adjective "ninja." It was used as feedback when I first started sharing the potential of The Saturn Return Project and I've thought it was a pretty ninja word ever since. In case it's not obvious, something "ninja" is cool, badass or awesome. Again, not unlike the adjective itself.

Since "ninja" lives on its own island of ninja-ness, here is my Top Ten List of other South Africanisms:

  1. Howzit: an informal greeting, kind of like "what's up," short for "how's it going?" But what really tripped me up with "Howzit?!" was the proper way to respond. Should I say "Well, howzit?" back, or "Well, howzit with you?" or perhaps the full out "Well, how's it going with you?" Tedius, no? So I went American-with-improper-grammar and usually responded, "Good and you?" circumventing the proper way to throw the "howzit" back entirely.
  2. Give it a bash: encouragement similar to "just give it a try." For instance, when asking someone in South Africa if it would be a good idea to host a Tweetup event in Johannesburg, they might encourage you to "give it a bash." And give it a bash I did. Where were you guys?
  3. Gobsmacked: an adjective meaning completely stunned or surprised. I first heard this on the airplane from a South African en route from JFK to Johannesburg. Not surprisingly... err, gobsmackingly?... there are endless reasons to be gobsmacked traveling through JFK and/or by one's fellow passengers on a 14-16 hour flight (with exception to the woman who shared this word in context). 
  4. Doff: in fact, many of one's fellow passengers on a 14-16 hour flight could also be described as doff (again with exception to the woman who shared "gobsmacked" with me). One who is doff is one whose mental elevator does not go to the top floor. One who is not the brightest bulb on the tree. In short, an idiot. I tried to avoid being called doff at all costs. 
  5. Shame: this word approached a chorus-level of use across the many individuals I encountered in South Africa. It is usually more drawn out than the word itself might suggest. "Shaaame" is closer to the way it was said, with a concerned pout. It covered many uses, ranging from the true-to-literal "what a shame!" or "that's too bad!" to a more gentle scolding use, such as one friend reprimanding another who had said something unkind about a third party, for instance. An "oh, stop," if you will. 
  6. Hold thumbs: while we in the U.S. "keep our fingers crossed" when hoping for the best, South Africans "hold thumbs." Neither make particular sense to me when I really stop to think about it, but at least both involve the same body part. Apparently the hand's appendages are the source of good luck and fortune.
  7. Kak-up: I may or may not have learned this word because I was sitting in one advertising agency or another most of the time, where individuals may or may not be forthcoming in opinions about less-than-good ideas. But should one make a mistake, or "mess up" for any reason, it is a kak-up. I tried to avoid the kak-up at every turn.
  8. Mates: A mate is a pal or friend. Hopefully I came away from my time in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban and Port Elizabeth with a few more mates than I arrived with. In fact, I met many great new mates on Twitter as well. Thanks and best wishes to my new mates in South Africa. 
  9. Ja Nee: literally translates to "yes no," but as it was explained to me, is used to answer in both the affirmative and/or the negative. Even somewhere non-committal in between. It's an all-purpose response, where the tone and context of both the question and the voice and body language of the responder reveal the answer to the question. 
  10. Bugger off!: the third in my phrases-to-avoid-having-directed-at-me repertoire; another one I did not want to instigate. A strong recommendation to move away and out of the vicinity of the speaker, bugger off leaves no question about the directive at hand. 
And for a language bonus, I also learned a couple words in three of South Africa's other official languages (thanks to Kay, Sonja and Elske!):

Xhosa (Click HERE to learn more about Xhosa on Wikipedia)
"Hello" = "Molo"
"Thank you" = "Enkosi"

Zulu (Click HERE to learn more about Zulu on Wikipedia)
"Hello" = "Sawubona"
"Thank you" = "Ngiyabonga"

Afrikaans (Click HERE to learn more about Afrikaans on Wikipedia)
"Awesome" = "Lekker"
"Thank you" = "Dankie"

I did learn two additional words in Afrikaans, but I'll save those for a traffic jam or for when I stub my toe and need to express extreme displeasure. 

Dankie, mates. Care to share any others? I'm holding thumbs that you'll give it a bash, but if you won't, then shame, you must be doff, but bugger off!

No offense. 


  1. See you later - often used when saying goodbye; although "later" may mean in a day / month / year / lifetime

  2. Haha! Oh my gosh, that reminds me that I forgot "now now" and "just now"... how could I?! Anyone care to explain the elusive difference? Actually I photographed a Blackberry now now ad, I'll have to post it by itself.

  3. "Just now" as in in a little bit. Could be a few minutes up to maybe even a couple hours.
    "Now now", can mean quite similar, but usually indicates a longer time frame.

    I'll be there just now, but if I get stuck in traffic it's gonna take a bit longer then I'll see you now now, so don't rush :P