A Guide to South African Words & Phrases

Howzit, boet?!

So you’re thinking about traveling to South Africa, and want a handy guide to understanding the locals? With 11 national languages, you have your work cut out for you, but I’m here to help you navigate the most common (and weird) words/phrases you’ll hear all over South Africa on your trip.

Aikona:

–> A Zulu term used to express shock or disbelief when talking to friends or family.

Example: “Aikona, why did she do that?!” / “Haikona, when?! How?!”

Braai:

–> To grill meat (steak, chops, boerewors, etc.) on a grid over wood and flames. Almost like a barbeque.

Eish:

–> A South African word derived from Xhosa, it can express anything from excitement to horror.

Example: “Luke, I am your father.” “Eish!”

Hayibo:

–> Derived from the Zulu word meaning “definitely not!” South African slang indicating disbelief, moral disgust, surprise. As in ‘I don’t believe what I am seeing.’

Howzit/Hoezit?

–> A common greeting South Africa. It’s basically “How’s it going?” smooched into one lekker word.

Izit?

–> A way of saying “is that so?”

Example: “I just watched Avengers: Endgame” “Izit? Was it good?”

Lekker:

–> An Afrikaans word that has multiple meanings and which can be used in various contexts to describe many things from people to food to inanimate objects. It is used to convey the meaning of great, delicious, nice or fun. Make sure to roll the ‘r’ when pronouncing the word.

Example: “Our vacation in Cape Town was lekker” / “We’re going to have a lekker braai tonight!” / “Thank you for the lekker meal.”

Now:

–> There are 4 levels of “now” in South Africa

  • Now: Soon, maybe or eventually.
  • Just Now: Sooner or later. (Most possibly later)
  • Now Now: Soonest, but still not immediately (We’re going to leave now now, but first…)
  • Right Now: Immediately!

Robot:

–> A traffic light.

Shame:

–> As in “what a shame” Used as an endearing term used in almost any social situation. Usually paired with the word “Ag”

Example: “Ag shame! Your baby is so cute!”

Yebo:

–> This Zulu word is used regularly in South Africa to show agreement or approval with something or someone. It’s often paired with the English word “yes” to for a double positive.

Example: “Are you excited for the weekend?” “Yebo, yes!!”

Boerewors:

–> A type of traditional sausage, typically containing coarsely ground beef and pork seasoned with spices. Translates directly to “Farmer’s sausage”

Bobotie:

–> A South African dish of curried minced meat baked with a rich savory custard.

Braai Broodjie:

–> South African toasted sandwich made on the braai. A braai broodjie is traditionally made with white sandwich bread, tomatoes, onions, and cheddar cheese.

Bunny Chow:

–> A South African Indian takeaway food consisting of a hollowed-out half loaf of bread filled with vegetable or meat curry.

Chakalaka:

–> A South African vegetable relish, usually spicy, that is traditionally served with bread, pap, samp, stews, or curries.

Koeksister:

–> A koeksister is a traditional Afrikaner confectionery made of fried dough infused in syrup or honey.

Padkos:

–> Food that is taken to eat on a journey. Usually, finger foods consisting of sandwiches, boiled eggs, and chicken wings.

Tjop en Dop:

–> Another variation for a braai – meaning a chop and a ‘dop’ which is Afrikaans slang for an alcoholic beverage.

Vetkoek:

–> A small, unsweetened cake of deep-fried dough

Bakkie:

–> A light truck or pickup truck.

Tekkies:

–> A rubber-soled canvas sports shoe. Like a sneaker or trainer.

Bru/Bra:

–> This term is commonly used to call a friend, pal or buddy.

Babalaas/Babbalas:

–> A hangover.

Shebeen:

–> An unlicensed establishment or private house selling alcohol and typically regarded as slightly disreputable.

Chommie/China/Cuzzie:

–> These terms are also commonly used to call a friend, pal or buddy.

Example: “Howzit my China?”

Eina:

–> Used as an expression of pain or distress.

Example: “Eina! That plate is hot!”

Gatvol:

–> It means to be fed up or irritated.

Example: “I’m so gatvol waiting for the taxi!”

Shongololo:

–> A millipede.

Tjaila:

–> This word, originating from Zulu, has been adopted into all South African languages and used to tell everyone when it’s time to go home.

Example: “Come on guys! It’s tjaila time.”

Mzansi:

–> It means “South Africa” in Xhosa.


There you have it! These phrases might not help you communicate in any of the 11 national languages we have in South Africa. But the locals will think you’re hella cool if you happen to drop one of these words or phrases casually into a conversation.

Love, Lona

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