South African Slang

At the beginning of this year we attempted a summary of isiZulu words that had become part of everyday language, and were understood by the vast majority of South Africans. But language is fluid and ever-changing so we thought that we should revisit our list to see if anything needed adding – and in the process we realised how many words we had left out! So here you go, an addendum to our list of South African (mostly) isiZulu-themed slang:

  • Aikona: Never, not on your life
  • Ayoba: Expression of excitement
  • Babbelas: Hangover, usually rather a bad one. From the isiZulu word for hangover isibhabhalazi
  • Doing a Bafana: To demand more money for average service. Derives from the reputation of the weak South Africa side, Bafana-Bafana
  • Chaila: To retire or ‘knock off’, as in “it is time to stop working”? Thought to be a Bantu word that’s been adapted for use in both Afrikaans and South African English
  • Diski: Football in township slang
  • Hamba: Go or leave; depending on tone of voice can also mean “Get lost!”
  • Haw!: Pronounced ‘how’.  Expression of disbelief
  • Induna: Leader or elder
  • Kwaito: Popular genre of music; a mixture of South African disco, hip hop, R&B, ragga, with a heavy dose of house-music beats
  • Ma: Respectful way of addressing a middle-aged woman
  • Mahala: For free or for nothing. Thought to be a derivative from isiZulu
  • Mampara: Fool or idiot, suspected to be Sotho in origin
  • Nkhulu: Respectful way of addressing an elderly man
  • Shibobo: To make a fool out of an opponent. “Heh! Look at that shibobo.”
  • Sissie: Respectful way of addressing a woman aged from late teens to middle age
  • Spaza: An informal trading-post/convenience store found in townships and remote areas
  • uBaba: Respectful way of addressing a middle-aged man
  • Umlungu: White South African or the boss of a company; deemed by some to be derogatory
  • Wena: ‘You’, from isiZulu. “Hey wena. Would like a beer?”
  • Yebo: Yes, yeah. “Yebo – I’ve got the match tickets in my pocket, don’t worry.”

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