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Awê, get the low-down on the Mother City’s colourful colloquialisms and sayings, ek sê...
Slang and colloquialisms are prolific in Cape Town; a fact that’s far from surprising in a nation that claims 11 official languages and in a city that’s home to an eclectic mix of cultures. That said, locals in the Mother City and in the surrounding Western Cape, more so than, arguably, other South African provinces, have their own unique way of talking smack and waxing lyrical.
Much of the credit for the area’s broad spectrum of slang and colloquialisms is owed to the coloured people from the Cape Flats, a population vibrant in every way, but most famously, for the in the way in which they communicate. Though, ultimately, words, sound bytes and sayings from all of the nation’s official languages inject themselves into casual conversations, potent road rage and cheesy pick-up lines.
So, if you’re planning a visit to Cape Town, if you’re new to the city or if you simply need to brush up on your bantering act, then look no farther; we’ve put together a beginner’s guide to Cape Town slang and colloquialisms, complete with our version of accented pronunciation.
Ag (ah-ch): An expression of irritation or resignation. “Ag no man!” “Ag, these things happen”
Awê (ah-weh): A greeting. “Awê, brother!”
Babbelas (bah-bah-luss): Derived from the isiZulu word, ‘i-babalazi’, meaning hangover; adopted into the Afrikaans language as a term for ‘hangover’. “I have a serious babbelas!”
Bakkie (bah-kee): 1. A bowl. “Put those leftovers in a bakkie.” 2. A pick-up truck. “We all jumped on the back of my dad’s bakkie and went to the beach.”
Befok (buh-fawk): 1. Really good, amazing, cool. “The Symphonic Rocks concert is going to be befok!” 2. Crazy, mad, insane. “You tried to put your cat in the braai? Are you befok?”
Bergie (bear-ghee): Derived from berg, Afrikaans for ‘mountain’. Originally used to refer to vagrants living in the forests of Table Mountain, the word is now a mainstream term used to describe vagrants in Cape Town.
Bra (brah), bru (brew): Derived from broer, Afrikaans for ‘brother’; a term of affection for male friends; equivalent to dude. “Howzit my bru!” “Jislaaik bra, it’s been ages since I last saw you!”
Braai (br-eye): Barbeque (noun and verb). “Let’s throw a tjop on the braai.” “We’re going to braai at a friend’s house.”
Duidelik (day-duh-lik): Cool, awesome, amazing. “That bra’s car looks duidelik!”
Eish (ay-sh): isiZulu interjection; an exclamation meaning ‘oh my’, ‘wow’, ‘oh dear’, ‘good heavens’. A: “Did you hear? My brother got into a fight with a bergie!” B: “Eish! Is he hurt!”
Ek sê, Eksê (Eh-k-s-eh): Afrikaans for, ‘I say’. Used either at the beginning or end of a statement. “Ek sê my bru, let’s braai tomorrow.” “This party is duidelik, ek sê!”
Eina (Ay-nah): An exclamation used when pain is experienced, ‘ouch!’. “Eina! Don’t pinch me.”
Entjie (eh-n-chee): A cigarette. “Come smoke an entjie with me.”
Guardjie, gaatjie (gah-chee): The guard who calls for passengers and takes in the money on a minibus taxi.
hhayi-bo (isiZulu), hayibo (isiXhosa) (haai-boh): An interjection meaning ‘hey’; ‘no way’.“Hayibo wena, you can’t park there!”
Howzit (how-zit): A greeting meaning ‘hi’; shortened form of ‘how’s it going?’
Is it?: Used as acknowledgement of a statement, but not to ask a question – as one might assume. Most closely related to the English word ‘really’. A: “This guy mugged me and said I must take off my takkies!” B: “Is it?”
Ja (yaah): Afrikaans for ‘yes’. A: “Do you want to go to a dance club tonight?” B: “Ja, why not?”
Ja-nee (yah-near): Afrikaans for yes-no. Meaning ‘Sure!’ or ‘That’s a fact!’ Usually used in agreement with a statement. A: “These petrol price hikes are going to be the death of me.” B: “Ja-nee, I think I need to invest in a bicycle.”
Jol (jaw-l): (noun and verb) 1. A party or dance club. “We’re going to the jol.” “That party was an absolute jol!” 2. Used to describe the act of cheating. “I heard he was jolling with another girl.”
Jislaaik (yiss-like): An expression of astonishment. “Jislaaik, did you see that car go?”
Kak (kuh-k): 1. Afrikaans for ‘shit’. Rubbish, nonsense, inferior, crap or useless. “What a kak phone.” “Your driving is kak.” 2. Extremely, very. “That girl is kak hot!”
Kwaai (kw-eye): Derived from the Afrikaans word for ‘angry’, ‘vicious’, ‘bad-tempered’. Cool, awesome, great. “Those shoes are kwaai.”
Lekker (leh-kah): 1. Nice, delicious. “Local is lekker!” 2. Extremely, very. “South Africans are lekker sexy!”
Mielie (mee-lee): Afrikaans term for corn, corn-on-the-cob.
Nee (nee-ah): Afrikaans for ‘no’.
Naartjie (naah-chee): Afrikaans term for citrus unshiu, a seedless, easy peeling species of citrus also known as a ‘satsuma mandarin’.
Potjie, potjiekos (poi-kee-kaws): Afrikaans term for pot food/stew comprised of meat, chicken, vegetables or seafood slow-cooked over low coals in a three-legged cast iron pot.
Shame: A term of endearment and sympathy (not condescending). “Ag shame, sorry to hear about your cat.” “Oh shame! Look how cute your baby is!”
Shisa Nyama (shee-seen-yah-mah): isiZulu origin – while shisa means ‘burn’ or to be hot and nyama means ‘meat’, used together the term means ‘braai’ or ‘barbeque’. “Come on, let’s go to Mzoli’s for a lekker shisa nyama!”
Sisi (see-see): Derived from both isiXhosa and isiZulu words for sister, usisi and osisi (plural). “Hayibo sisi, you must stop smoking so many entjies!”
Sosatie (soo-saah-tees): Kebabs, skewered meat. “Let’s throw a few sosaties on the braai.”
Takkies (tack-kees): Trainers, sneakers, running shoes. “I want to start running, again but I need a new pair of takkies.”
Tjommie, chommie (choh-mee): Afrikaans slang for ‘friend’. “Hey tjommie, when are we going to the beach again?”
Vrot (frawt): Rotten; most often used to describe food that’s gone off or a state of being sick. “Those tomatoes are vrot.” “Champagne makes me feel vrot!”
Voetsek (foot-sek): Afrikaans for ‘get lost’, much like the British expression, ‘bog off’. “Hey voetsek man!”
Wena (weh-nah): isiXhosa and isiZulu for ‘you’. “Hey wena, where’s the R20 you owe me?”
Wys (vay-ss): Show, tell, describe. “Don’t wys me, I know where I’m going.”
So, whether you’re asking for directions, engaging with the locals or just eavesdropping in a taxi, let’s hope this guide will give you some insight into what’s being said. And keep in mind, if anyone says “Joe Mah Sah...” just know, it’s not a compliment.
by Meagan Hamman
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