E-bike between vineyards with stops for wine, cheese, and chocolate truffles
Cape Town Slang Explained
Calling all bru’s, china’s, boets and visitors of Mzansi! It’s Africa Day and we’re unpacking our favourite South African slang phrases and words to celebrate our special part of Africa.
For those of you who don’t know, Africa Day is the celebration of the day that the precursor to the African Union (Organisation of African Unity) was formed back in 1963. It is a day of acknowledging the progress that we, as Africans, have made since then. It is also a day to reflect on the challenges we still face in today’s day and age on a global scale.
South Africa is a pretty special place, but let’s put the usual picturesque reasons aside and look into a unique part of being South African that we all experience in our own way. Since we have eleven official languages and a range of cultures and traditions it’s no wonder we have a whole bunch of slang words and phrases each unique to a culture, city or even suburb.
Whether you’re Xhosa, Zulu, Afrikaans, English, Venda, Swazi, Tsonga, Tswana, Ndebele, Sotho or a mix of two or more, you’ll know exactly what we’re talking about when we say there is no language quite like the South African slang we’ve all invented. Although a lot of it is derived from Afrikaans, these are words many of us non-Afrikaaners use anyway. Visiting our beautiful city? Feel like a local and learn Cape Town’s slang phrases and words and their meanings.
Awe (ah-weh): A greeting. “Awe, brother!”
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!”
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 an 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?”
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.”
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’.
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.
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!”
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?”
Wena (weh-nah): isiXhosa and isiZulu for ‘you’. “Hey wena, where’s the R20 you owe me?”
Whether you’re trying to ask someone for directions, ordering a meal or trying to figure out what exactly the auntie at the back of the taxi is shouting about, these meanings should definitely help you figure our crazy colloquialisms out!
There's more where that came from, read our overview Your Guide to Cape Town Slang.
Words by Cheri Morris
Definitions by Meagan Hamman