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You needn’t speak the language to understand the lingo

One of the more humble perks of traveling to a different country is getting to learn one or two words or phrases in the local language during your travels. While English is widely spoken in South Africa, the country sports 11 official languages, with various dialects of languages spoken throughout.

These different languages and their dialects, driven by the varied cultures that speak them, have all found a way of integrating with South African English, creating a unique slang lingo. Sometimes called ‘South Africanisms’, this has become a colourful language that casts a humorous tone over everyday chats.

And, for your self-drive vacation through South Africa, we are giving you the gift of the gab with Go Self Drive’s guide to some of the most common South Africanisms.

You'll hear many colourful terms during your South African road trip.

You’ll hear many colourful terms during your South African road trip.

Ag shame. The ‘g’ is guttural, so growl it from the back of your throat. Shame denotes pity, sympathy or cuteness. On safari you might hear: Ag shame, did you get stuck in the sand?, or Ag shame, did you see that baby rhino?

Babelas (pr. bubbu-luss). Hungover. You might get a babelas after a really good braai˟.

Bakkie (pr. buck-key). This is a local version of a pickup truck, or small plastic containers. If you’re adventurous, you may want to rent a bakkie for your road trip, or if there are any leftovers after the braai˟ (not that there would be much left over after a good braai˟!), you can put them in a bakkie.

Boet (pr. boot, but with a shorter emphasis on the ‘oo’). Brother, but applicable to any male friend or companion. When stopping for a cold one while on your road trip, you may hear: What can I get you, boet?

Braai˟ (pr. brrr-eye). The cooking method of choice in South Africa, but also a social gathering. On your road trip you’re likely to braai a lamb chop and some wors˟˟, but you’re also likely to have a babelas the morning after your braai. Find out everything you need to know about a braai (and other tasty local treats) by clicking here.

Café. Pronounced like the French do, a South African café is a corner shop or superette where you can buy daily necessities like bread, milk, snacks and wood for your braai.

Check. To pay attention or to look. On safari you might hear Check that elephant!

Dop. An alcoholic drink. If you have too many dops while you braai, you’ll have a babelas.

Dorp/dorpie (pr. dorp-ee). A small town.

There are 11 official languages in South Africa.

There are 11 official languages in South Africa.

Eina (pr. ay-na). Ouch!

Eish (pr. ay-sh). A general positive or negative exclamation.

Howzit. A greeting that also asks you how you are.

Ja (pr. yah). Yes.

Jol. A party or really good time. You’ll have a jol at the braai.

Koeksister (pr. cook-sister). A plaited doughnut that is dipped in a sweet sauce after frying. Read all about koeksisters and other tasty South African treats here.

Lekker (pr. lack-err). Anything that is good or nice. For instance, you’ll have a lekker koeksister while listening to lekker music on your lekker road trip.

Now now. Meaning soon, within a few minutes.

Padkos (pr. put-cos). Snacks eaten during a road trip, like a koeksister.

Robot. In South Africa robot refers to traffic light. When getting directions to your guesthouse, you might hear Hang a left at the next traffic light.

Sies (pr. sees, with a very short emphasis on the ‘ee’). An exclamation of disgust. Sies, this dop is warm!

Sjoe (pr. shoe). A general exclamation. On safari you might hear Sjoe! Did you see that huge lion?

Smaak. As in like – I smaak your takkies˟˟˟, boet!

Sommer (pr. som-err). Just because. If you find a dorpie you like on your road trip, why not sommer stay an extra night?

Takkies˟˟˟ (pr. tack-keys). Sneakers.

Woes (pr. voos). Wild or rough. That jol was woes!

Wors˟˟ (pr. vors). Sausage, usually grilled on a braai.

Yebo (pr. yeah-boh). Yes.

You’ll be more than likely to hear a few other colloquialisms, depending on where in South Africa you find yourself. But if you keep this list close at hand while traveling through our beautiful country, you won’t have to worry about understanding – or even taking part in the locals’ conversations.

What’s more, if you contact us today, you won’t even have to worry about planning and arranging your ideal self-drive vacation or safari in South Africa. We offer a range of services that include suggesting and booking itineraries, routes, accommodation, activities and even restaurants. We work with you to determine your expectations, what you’d like to do and see, where you’d like to go, what kind of vehicle you’d like to drive there and, once you’re there, what kind of accommodation you’d prefer. We custom design your road trip to suit you – all you’ll have to worry about is if you have enough wors and dop for the braai.

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