Home South Africa Adventures Abroad: The South African Dictionary

Adventures Abroad: The South African Dictionary

by Lauren
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Last Updated on August 28, 2015 by

study abroad stellenbosch south africaIn regards to my decision to study abroad, both Americans and South Africans have asked me countless times, “But, why South Africa?” My response is equally inquisitive: “Why not?” When choosing my second location to study abroad (Limerick, Ireland being my first), the cultural diversity of South Africa struck me as a defining characteristic of the country. South Africa is truly a fusion of many cultures – from tribes and townships, to the colonial Dutch and English influences, and more recent immigrants from all over the world. All of these cultures contribute to the 11 national languages of South Africa. South Africa is a fairly large country, and most of these languages are spoken regionally, and some nationally. During my time in Stellenbosch I’ve witnessed mainly three languages: English, Afrikaans, and Xhosa. Here’s some of my favorite jargon picked up from my time here so far:


/ˈadˌmin/ (noun)

South Africans don’t just use this term to describe administrative staff; they use it to describe anything that is generally unpleasant or takes time you’d rather spend having fun. Example: I was walking up a long flight of stairs with a friend and he described the trek as “admin.”


/brī/ (noun)

This is basically a barbecue, but it usually involves a larger fire, more meat, less vegetables and carbs, and wine. These are held very regularly in South Africa. I usually attend at least a couple every week. Example: Let’s have a braai tonight! Tell your friends to bring whatever meat they’d like to put on the fire and a smile.


/bro͞o/ (noun)

The equivalent of frat boys calling each other “bro.” The “u” is usually drawn out. Example: Last night was so lekker, bruuuuu.


/ˈhektik/ (adjective)

This term is used much more loosely in South African jargon. Example: I was making dinner at a South African’s house and as I was grating cheese the host said, “Watch out when you get close to the end there. It gets quite hectic.” Obviously warning me of the tiny holes, which grate the cheese. A bit of an overstatement, in my humble, American vocabulary.

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/how-zit/ (exclamation)

A greeting, which may translate to “How is everything?” Example: Howzit, bruuuu?


/iz-it/ (pronoun)

This is kind of like saying “oh, really” when someone is telling you something. Also, may be used as a generic reply when you don’t have anything to say. Example: Warren: “I watched the finale of South African idol last night. You’ll never guess who one.” Cally: “Isit?”

Just Now

/jəst-nou/ (adverb)

This literally means the opposite of what you think. “Just now” could be an hour ago, an hour from now, or three days later. “Just now” does not mean “right now.” Example: I was out with a friend around 1pm and neither of us had eaten yet. He says, “No worries, we’ll eat just now.” I patiently waited because he kept saying we’d eat “just now.” I didn’t eat until 4pm. I learned a lesson that day.


/ˈlɛkə/ (adjective)

Awesome. Great. Delicious. Fun. Lovely. Basically a good time, experience, thing, or person. Example: That concert last night was lekker; I’m feeling lekker today; This braai is lekker.


/nap-ˈōvər/ (verb)

To sleepover at someone’s house. Example: It’s getting quite late, you can napover here if you’d like.


/rōbət/ (noun)

They’re actually what the South Africans call traffic lights. Example: Take a right at the first robot.

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/sən-ˈdounər/ (noun)

A sundowner is having a drink and watching the sunset. A favorite pastime of South Africans. Example: Let’s have a sundowner on the mountain for a nice view.

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