Common South African Phrases

Say what???
Living like a local.. Even with our 11 official languages, South Africans feel they need more, and as such we have developed a unique language all our own. 

Ag shame! This actually has a few uses. It describes how simply adorable something is (as in “Ag shame, did you see the little girl on America’s Got Talent last night? Only five years old.”) It can also mean that you take pity on someone as in “Ag shame, she caught her husband naked with the pool guy.”  

Bakkie – buck-key: What you may call a pickup truck in other countries. 

Biltong: One of our national snacks, it’s a spiced, dried meat usually made from beef (though ostrich and game meat isn’t uncommon). America tried to make something similar, it’s called jerky, but it’s not a patch on this. Ag shame! 

Bladdy: This is the SA version of “bloody”. 

Boet: Strictly meaning brother it also refers to any comrade-in-arms (see also Bru) 

Boerewors – boo-rah-vors: A kind of sausage, made using ground meat and select herbs and spices. Very popular to braai, and eaten like a hotdog.

Braai – brr-rye (rolling r): Everyone else calls it a barbecue. They’re doing it wrong. It involves a lot of standing about chatting about rugby and/or soccer, and beer drinking. 

Bru: A form of brother, meant more for a friend. 

Check: To look at or investigate something. 

Dof: Stupid or silly. 

Dorp (or dorpie): A rural, small town. 

Doss: To sleep. 

Eina – ay-na: Ow, or to express pain at something. 

Eish – aysh: This is a great South African word. It means everything. It expresses admiration, exasperation, contempt. It really is the jack-of-all-trades for words! 

Gatvol – ghut-foll (roll the g’s as you do for Germanic languages): Again a great South African word meaning “I’ve had enough”.  

Graze: Eat, but for humans! 

Hectic: Denotes amazement at something, also shows extremity of a situation. 

Hey: Another multi-use South Africanism. It’s used to get someone’s attention, as a greeting, as a not-so-friendly greeting, and as a term of agreement.

Howzit: The famous South Africanism meaning “hello” and “how are you?” all in one! 

Izzit: Is it? Used to show surprise or amazement at something. 

Ja – yah: Yes

Jislaaik – yis-like: This word is used to show surprise. 

Jol – jo-rl: Used interchangeably to describe a party and a great time. 

Just now: Ahh the famous South African “just now”. This could mean 30 seconds or three days. It simply means “I will do it, when I am good and ready”. No two just-nows are the same! 

Kak – kuck: This literally is an expression of excrement. But it’s used to describe a situation, or when one is talking nonsense. 

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: This dessert is made of deep-fried dough dipped in syrup. It’s amazingly delicious and a staple of the traditional Afrikaans teatime. 

Klap – klup: A greatly descriptive word meaning to hit someone or something. Often used in the context of a warning. 

Lank: Meaning very or extremely. 

Larny – larn-nee: Fancy in the extreme. 

Lekker – lack-err: Again a multi-use descriptive word used to say that something is fun, delicious or just nice. 

Mal – mull: Mad or insane. 

Moer – moe-rr: Meaning to beat up. 

Muti – moo-ti: A word nearly all South Africans grow up with, muti describes medicine. It can also mean the “prescription” or ingredients used by a traditional healer. 

Nooit – noyt: Meaning never, and again used for emphasis. 

Now now: Used in the same context as “just now” although it tends to mean a little sooner. 

Oke – oak: A guy (like boet).

Oom: Uncle, used as a sign of respect in many cultures, for an older gent. 

Padkos: Snacks for a road trip.

Pap – pup: A maize based porridge. 

Robot: Traffic light.

Rock up: To arrive somewhere.

Sangoma – sun-go-mah: Traditional healer. 

Scale: To steal something. 

Scaly: A disreputable person. 

Shebeen – sha-been: A (generally illegal) pub. Often in
the townships. 

Shot: Meaning thank you. 

Sies (sis): Yuck. 

Sjoe – shoe: Another expression of generalised amazement. 

Skinner: Gossip.

Skollie – skoh-lie: A criminal type person. (see also Tsotsi). 

Sommer – soh-mer: Just because. 

Slap chips – slup chips: French fries. 

Sosatie – soh-sah-ti: Kebab. 

Takkies – tack-keys: Sneakers, sports shoes.

Tannie – tunnee: Aunt, but used in many cultures as a respectful term for an older woman. 

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

Tsotsi: A criminal or person of ill-repute. 

Vetkoek – fet-cook: Another South African dish, which is made of dough, deep-fried and either filled with mince or
something sweet. 

Voetsek – foot-sack: A disrespectful way to tell someone to go away. 

Voetstoets – foots-toots: Meaning to sell something as is with no obligation on the part of the seller. 

Vrot: Off or rotten. Also used to denote extreme drunkenness. 

Vuvuzela – voo-voo-zeh-lah: A trumpet-like device used in sports (often soccer). 

Woes – voos: Extremely angry. 

Yebo – yeah-boh: Yes.

Yo – yoh: An exclamation of surprise or horror. 

Yussus – yuh-siss: An exclamation of surprise or horror.  

Philippa Rose-Tite
About me

Director | Wordsmith ~ Philippa worked her proverbial rear-end off to gain her MBA in 2006, while working full time, getting married, and having 2 babies. Though not regretting it, it certainly taught her how under-appreciated the art of juggling can be. After having worked in a number of sales and operational roles, she got tired of making money for other people and now only works with people and companies she loves. Her company is Purple Raindrop and they are a BigCityLife Partner on all things fabulous.


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