South Africa, the melting pot of languages, has over 10+ official languages in their wheelhouse. With so many languages spoken throughout the country, the locals have borrowed & reassembled words from each language, resulting in slang only used in this rainbow nation.
South African slang, though not often seen in language-learning textbooks, is an integral part of learning a new language. Slang is used everyday with the local people, and it is especially encouraged in South Africa. Half of what comes out of South Africans mouths is the Afrikaans language slang! So you better know some basic words & phrases if you plan to visit anytime soon.
Afrikaans slang is reasonably dubbed ‘Afrikanerisms,’ which we will mostly be referring to in this article. However, we will also look at Zulu slang as well. This list comprises slang words & phrases that have fascinating origin stories and amusing meanings. Can you guess what each slang phrase means? Let’s see how many you can guess correctly & you’ll be speaking Afrikaans in no time.
South African Slang Words
1. Lekker – ‘Great’ Or ‘Enjoyable’
Most South Africans use this term multiple times a day. It’s not even slang to them, it’s part of their daily vocabulary. A widely used slang word, it’s usually used to express acknowledgement of anything positive.
Example sentence: The band was lekker, I especially loved the guitarist.
2. Yebo – ‘A Resounding YES!’
A Zulu word, ‘yebo’ means yes!
Example sentence: Will you come to my brother’s wedding with me? Yebo!
3. Skinner – ‘To Gossip’
An Afrikaans word for gossip. If a South African says this to you, you know you messed up and offended them.
Example sentence. Don’t skinner about me to your friends.
4. Kief – ‘Cool’ Or ‘Awesome’
As you’re noticing, most of these slang words have to do with positive things. Kief is no exception! It stems from the Arabic word ‘kayf’ … I told you South African slang is influenced by tons of different languages!
Example sentence: That’s a kief house … did you see the waterslide?
5. Just Now – ‘A Bit Later’
Though illogical, if a South African tells you that they will do something ‘just now,’ it actually means they will do it a bit later. So don’t expect it to be done right away!
Example sentence: Can you wash the dishes? Yeah, I’ll do them just now.
6. Howzit – ‘How Is It?’
Yes, I’m sure you could have figured out the meaning of this slang word on your own, but I had to add it to this list because of how often it’s used in South Africa. They compressed the phrase ‘how is it?’ or ‘how are you?’ into one funny sounding slang word: howzit.
Example sentence: Hey, good to see you! Howzit?
7. Shame – ‘Admiration’ Or ‘Sympathy’
This word has double usage in South African slang. Look at the example sentences to see how the literal translation works in conversation.
Example Sentences: Shame, he’s so good looking! (admiration) Ag, shame, I’m so sorry to hear about that. (sympathy)
8. Sharp Sharp (Shap) – ‘All good’ Or ‘Goodbye’
This slang phrase is often said as a goodbye or acknowledgement that everything is okay.
Example sentence: Sharp sharp! I’ll see you later.
9. Yoh! – ‘You Scared Me!’
My South African friend gets scared quite easily, and she always yells ‘Yoh!’ when something caught her off guard.
Example sentence: Yoh! You gave me a fright.
10. Eish! – ‘Surprise’ Or ‘Hurt’ Or ‘Exasperation’
You’d exclaim this if you were feeling a myriad of emotions: surprise, disapproval, hurt, regret, or exasperation. It warrants an undesirable or negative outcome. This word stems from the Xhosa language, a language mostly spoken in South Africa and Zimbabwe.
Example sentence: Eish, can they hurry up and bring out our food already? It’s been two hours.
11. Braai – ‘Barbeque’
The Afrikaans word for ‘barbeque,’ braai is another word cemented in South African dictionaries. The braai is a huge part of their culture, and most families will gather around and braai every week. If you travel to South Africa, expect to hear about braais on the regular.
Example sentence: What’s on the braai today, Mum?
12. Ag Man! – ‘Oh Man!’
An Afrikaans word, ‘ag man’ is used at the beginning of a sentence to express irritation or condolence.
Example sentences: Ag man, I’m so sorry for your loss (sympathy). Ag man, can you stop hitting me? (irritation)
13. Aikona – ‘Not On Your Life’
This is a Zulu word used to express disbelief. ‘Not on your life’ means that a person is so shocked that they would bet on your life it isn’t true.
Example sentence: Aikona, you aren’t moving away?!
14. Dop – ‘Alcoholic Drink’ Or ‘To Fail’
Again with the double meaning slang words! Dop is an interesting one. It both means an alcoholic beverage and that you’ll fail an exam. Let’s look at example sentences.
Example sentences: Pour me a dop, I’m getting wasted tonight. (alcoholic drink) I’m gonna dop this physics exam. (to fail)
15. Jol – ‘Club’ Or ‘To Party’ Or ‘To Have Fun’
To jol means to let loose and have fun! Whether you’re at a club or house party, it means that you’re having fun.
Example sentence: We had a jol last night at Kyle’s house.
Why Is This Important To Know?
Slang is a large part of language acquisition in any learning process, but it’s especially important when talking about South African languages.
Slang is a way of life in South Africa, and it’s unique to anywhere else in the world due to the direct influence of differing languages and cultures. Whether it’s influenced by Arabic languages or Germanic languages, South African slang is amusing, but also confusing. I hope this guide helped break down the most popular slang words & phrases for you to know.
‘Gesondheid!’ (cheers) If you learned something in this article, and you feel the fire to learn more Afrikaans, then download the Ling App to further your language progression in a fun, interactive space. Download it on the App Store and Play Store for free today, and you’ll be set for your next trip to Africa. Want more language tips? Check out Goodbye In 100 Languages & Can Dogs Understand Different Languages?