Experiences of a med student with an incurable travel bug.


When I came to South Africa, it was under the impression that I was going to a country where I’d be able to get by with my somewhat decent knowledge of the English language. Little did I know, there happens to be a whole different language of slang in use here, influenced by a mix of Afrikaner, British, and assorted others. Unless you pay close attention, it’s pretty easy to have no idea what someone’s talking about.

South African Slang Essentials:

keen – anxious, eager
lekker (pronounced lekka) – good, cool, sweet, etc.
shame – too bad (same as U.S., but used approximately every 1.5 seconds in normal conversation)
howzit – how are you, how is it going
izzit – really, is that so
robot – stoplight
globe – light bulb
torch – flashlight
lift – elevator or a ride somewhere
jersey – sweater
takkies – tennis shoes
mealies – corn, corn meal (maize, not sweet corn)
hectic – crazy, busy
– honking of a car horn
sorry – excuse me, pardon me
cheers – bye, see you later

If ever you find yourself in a situation where you need to pass as a South African, just follow these simple steps:

  1. Initiate conversation with a laid back “Howzit”
  2. Respond to any remark with “izzit” or “shame”
  3. If asked when you will do something, say “just now”
  4. Bid farewell with “Cheers!”
  5. Rinse and repeat

You’ll notice that any question with a “when” element should be responded to with “just now.” This is a blanket phrase that is used to mean right now, soon, sometime within the next three weeks, or perhaps “never, but would you stop bothering me about it?” If you’re lucky, you might get a “now now,” which is a slightly more immediate form of just now, tending to indicate that it should happen within the next few hours – or days.


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