South African Slang, Words and Phrases

South Africans speak English although that doesn’t mean that we’re clearly understood by English speakers. Our English has a flavour (we spell flavor like that) of its own and many sentences may contain words derived from other languages and a whole lot of slang.


Food and Dining


Bill – when used to ask for the cheque ‘May I have the bill please?’ Similar to British English

Biltong – [pronounced; BILL-TONG] This South African favourite is dried and salted meat, like beef jerky but can be made from ostrich, kudu or any other red meat

Biscuit – A cookie

Boerewors – [pronounced; BOOR-UH-VORS] A spicy sausage often smoked and served on a roll like a hot dog. This is one of the most traditional SA foods

Boerewors Roll

Boerewors Roll

Photo Credit: https://bobsboeries.wordpress.com/2013/05/14/the-boerie-roll/


Braai – [pronounced; BRY like CRY] A South African barbeque

Crayfish – A crustacean, family of lobsters, a fine-dining delicacy

Flapjacks – The same as an American Pancake. Also reffered to as crumpets, but not the same as a traditional English crumpet

Koeksister – [pronounced; KOOK-SISTER] A Malay/Afrikaans delicacy made from yeast dough, fried in sugar water and coated with coconut flakes

Freshly made Koeksisters

Traditional, freshly made Koeksisters

Photo Credit: http://tastyrecipes.sapeople.com/traditional-malay-koeksisters/


Mielie – [pronounced; MEE-LEE] Maize cob or corn on the cob

Napkin – A baby’s diaper NOT something you’d wipe your face with after a meal that we call a serviette

Pancake – Same as crepes but sweeter, served as dessert with various fillings

Prawns – Family of shrimp, prawns are more popular in SA restaurants and come in various sizes

Delicious Grilled Prawns

Delicious Grilled Prawns

 Photo Credit: http://www.seasaltwithfood.com/2009/06/grilled-jumbo-prawns.html



Words and Phrases


Ag – [pronounced ; ACH/ like German ACHtung], similar to ‘Argh!’ Or ‘Oh’ said with a sigh.

Aweh – [pronounced; AAAH-WHERE –> without rolling the “R”] said in excitement, like the phrase ‘Oh yes!’ The word has many meanings or uses: “hello”, “goodbye”, “yes”.

  • Additional info -South Africans rarely role their R’s when it’s in the middle of a word much like Australians. Eg. ‘Let’s go to the park’… they*’d say ‘Let’s go to the Paaak’

Babalas / Babbelas – [pronounced; BUH-BUH-LUSS] hungover

Bru – [pronounced; BROO] Slang for brother/male friend, shortened from the Afrikaans word ‘broer’

Dop – [pronounced; DAWP] An Alcoholic drink

Eina! – [pronounced; AY-NAH!] Ouch! used as a mainstream word in South African English

Eish! – [pronounced; AYSH!] Wow! What? Expression of surprise

Howzit? – Derived from “How is it going? – contracted to how’s it? In English SA context, howzit is more a greeting of “hello” rather than “how are you?”

Is it? – [pronounced; IZIT, as one word] Derived from “Is that so?”

Ja – [pronounced; YAH] means Yeah or literally Yes in Afrikaans

Just now – If a South African tells you they will do something ‘just now’ they mean they’ll do it in the near future – not immediately

Jol – [pronounced; JAWL] A versatile word with many meanings including ‘Party’, ‘Disco’ or ‘Having fun’

Having a jol!

Having a jol!


Jozi – [pronounced; JO-ZEE] Slang for the city of Johannesburg

Kwaai – [pronounced; KW-EYE] Slang for cool/excellent. From Afrikaans ‘kwaai’ meaning angry.

Kwaito – [pronounced; KW-EYE-TOE] A mixture of South African disco, hip hop, R&B, House music beats

Lank – lots / a lot

Lekker – [pronounced; LACK-ER] Nice, good, great, cool or tasty

Madiba – [pronounced; MUH-DEE-BAH] An affectionate name for former president Nelson Mandela and the name of his clan

Tata Madiba

Tata Madiba

Photo Credit: http://kalamu.com/neogriot/2013/12/06/history-video-nelson-madiba-mandela/


Mzansi – [pronounced; M-ZUN-ZEE] A Xhosa word for the country of South Africa

Nca – Fine, pronounced with a downward click of the tongue

Ne? – [pronounced; NAH] ‘Really?’ or ‘Is that so?’

Now-now – Shortly. Now-now would happen before ‘just now’

Pavement – The sidewalk like Adele’s Chasing Pavements

Yoh! – A well-known and often used expression of surprise in SA

Yebo – [pronounced; YEH-BOR, without rolling the ‘R’] informal way of saying yes

Robots – Mainstream SA word for traffic lights. ‘You can turn left at the robots ahead’ you will hear this all the time

SA Robots

SA Robots


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Our Correspondent
Cult South Africa correspondent
Shakeela - Cape Town

Born in Johannesburg, lived in East London, grew up in Port Elizabeth and living in Cape Town for ten years now, I love to think of myself as an all round South African! I received my BA Degree in Motion Picture in 2010 ...

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Continent: Africa
Capital: Pretoria
Population: 49,000,000
Area: 1,219,912 km2
Currency: Rand
Languages: English, Afrikaans

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