English is commonly spoken throughout South Africa, but the country has 11 official languages! With so many languages (and cultures) mixed around, you will inevitably get a lot of South African slang.
The amazing thing is that South African slang is used widely and loosely in everyday speech. This is obviously not a problem for locals because they encounter South African slang every day. For foreign visitors, however, it can be a bit of a challenge because South Africans will unknowingly throw in a word that you don’t understand.
While most South Africans do speak English comfortably, it is important to understand that thanks to South African slang, locals may not always know the correct words to use when speaking to foreigners. It may not always occur to them to use universal English words because they only know South African English.
This is a comprehensive guide of the most common South African slang words you may encounter, as well as their pronunciations (where necessary). There is also a sound recording for each South African slang term, spoken by a native speaker.
South African Slang
While most of the words below are South African slang, there are also a few non-slang words included.
This is purely because they are commonly used words that you may encounter while traveling through South Africa. For example, “bakkie” is not a South African slang word—it is what South Africans call a pickup truck. If the word “bakkie” comes up in regular conversation, not knowing what it is can be a little confusing and frustrating. Therefore, some of the most common South African English words are also included below.
Directly translated, it means “Oh, man!” This is used to express pity, resignation, frustration, or irritation. For example, “Ag man, I missed the bus again.”
Ai is meant to express frustration or disappointment. For example, “Ai, I really hoped they would win that game” or “Ai, I tried several times and I still can’t figure it out”.
Aikona can be compared to the English term, “No Way!” This is a Zulu term used to express shock or disbelief or strong disagreement.
This word is used to describe a bad hangover. It is derived from the Zulu word ‘ibhabhalazi’. For example, “He has not come down for breakfast yet because he is babbelas.”
In South Africa, a bakkie is a pickup truck.
Biltong is dried meat – it is loosely described as South Africa’s equivalent to beef jerky. (However, in South Africa, this feels like an insult to compare biltong to beef jerky.)
This is a traditional South African baked, ground-beef dish. It’s a Malay-type sweet and spicy dish with meat, raisins, and egg custard topping.
Bliksem can be used in different ways.
It can also be used to imply violence. For example, “I will bliksem you!” meaning “I will hurt you.”
It can express anger or frustration at someone. For example, “That bliksem didn’t bring the wine as he promised.”
It can express surprise. For example “Oh bliksem, I forgot to bring the wine.”
Boet means brother. However, it is often used to refer to a close male friend.
The word “boerewors” literally means ‘farmer’s sausage’.
Boerewors is a South African staple and a tremendous source of pride for the nation. It’s a savory sausage made with coriander and other seasonings.
Used to call a friend, pal or buddy.
Bru comes from the Afrikaans word “broer,” which means brother. Bru is often used to refer to a friend, pal or buddy.
[brr-rye] rhymes with fry.
A braai is loosely described as a barbeque (bbq). However, it is much more than a barbecue. A braai is a tradition, a cultural experience, usually happening during a sports game, or just as an excuse to hang out. Some people braai every weekend.
Chow means to eat food. For example, “Let’s chow down.”
Dof means to be stupid. For example, “I don’t know why I did such a dof thing.”
Dop refers to alcohol. For example, “He had too much dop last night and now he is babbelas.”
Droewors is dried boerewors. Like boerewors, it is very popular and delicious.
This is the Afrikaans word for ouch! For example, “eina! I knocked my knee.”
A Khoi-San word to express surprise or shock. For example, “eish! I dropped my phone.”
Fundi is used to describe someone who is an expert or teacher.
Gatvol means to imply “I’ve had it! For example, “I’ve given him so many chances, but now I’m gatvol. “
This Zulu word is usually expressed for something unbelievable.
Hectic refers to something that is extreme or stressful. For example, “the traffic was hectic, my bru”, meaning there was a lot of traffic my friend.
This means “How is it?”
You may hear it often as a greeting. For example, “Howzit my china?” meaning how are you my friend. (See my china below.)
Indaba is a Zulu and Xhosa word that means business or matter. Tribal leaders would meet to have an Indaba, where they would discuss important matters.
However, the word Indaba is now so widely used. It is often used to describe expos and conferences.
You may also hear locals say “that’s none of your indaba,” meaning, “that’s none of your business”.
This means “is it?”
While listening to you talk, South Africans may respond by saying “izit.” This does not mean they want you to verify what you are saying. Rather, it’s just a way of showing people that they are listening.
Ja means yes in Afrikaans. It is commonly used by everyone, whether you speak Afrikaans or not.
Technically it means “Yes, no”. The phrase is used to express agreement or confirmation with someone or something.
Ja Well No Fine
Translation – “it is what it is.”
This is an expression of resignation. It is to imply I don’t like it but there is nothing I can do about it.
This is a good example of Afrikaans and English blended together to form South African slang. Ja in Afrikaans means yes.
Jislaaik can be translated to “oh my goodness”, or “oh my good.” People say jislaaik to express shock or awe.
Jol means to have a good time, to party, to have, fun, to dance, to go clubbing. It can also mean to enjoy each other’s company. For example, “we’re going to have a jol tonight.”
“Just now” is a subjective term. The term can change, depending on who you are talking to. Someone may say “I’ll be there just now” — meaning I’m just around the corner, or I’ll be there in 30 minutes.
If a South African says “just now,” ask for clarity.
Just sommer means “just because.”
Person A: Why are you laughing.
Person B: Ah, just sommer.
Kak means crap. This is not a word used in polite conversation. For example, “that was a kak movie.”
Kief refers to something that is cool or awesome. For example, “the braai was kief today,” or “your car is kief.”
This is an Afrikaan term meaning to smack. For example, “she will be so upset, she’ll klap me.”
It can also get more serious, or humorous—depending on how you look at it. Some people may add the word “snot” [no translation necessary], and say, “I will give you a snotklap. This would imply that you’d be smacked so hard, the snot will fly.
A child who is born long after their siblings are referred to as a laat-lammetjie. The word translates to late-lamb.
Laaitie describes a young boy. For example, “He wouldn’t know how to do that, he is just a laaitie.”
Laduma! is not a word you say. It is a word that is always yelled out when a goal is scored, usually at a soccer game.
An Afrikaans word that really could mean anything, but always has a good connotation. Generally, it means “nice” or “good”.
Question: “how was the food?”
Question: “Did you enjoy the rugby?”
Answer: “Yes, it was a lekker game.”
Loskop means to imply that you are not thinking straight, or your thoughts are not in order. For example, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me, I’m such a loskop today.”
If you have a craving some something, you may say for example, “I lus for some biltong.”
Mal refers to someone or something crazy, literally or figuratively. For example, “He is mal, he was trying to charge me double!”
This word implies violence. For example, “Get away from me or I will moer you.”
Muti refers to medicine. Witch doctors prescribe muti and people may loosely refer to western medicine as muti as well.
My china means my friend or acquaintance. It has nothing to do with people of Chinese or Asian descent.
This is similar to “just now” above, but usually means something more imminent. For example, “I’m on my way, I’ll see you now-now.”
Oke means guys, usually male strangers. For example, “I was standing in line with some okes and we started talking about Rugby.”
Pap is maize porridge. It is a staple in South African food. For example, you may see pap and boerewors on a menu.
Padkos translates to road food. If you are taking road-trips in South Africa, you have to pack padkos.
Unlike the USA for example, South Africa does not have a vast collection of places to buy food at while you travel through the country. Depending on where you travel, it may therefore be necessary to pack padkos.
A robot in South Africa refers to a traffic light. For example, “Slow down, the robot is red.”
A shortening of the word “sandwich”. For example, “I’d like a sarmie for lunch please.”
Scale refers to stealing. For example, “I can’t believe he scaled my phone.”
In South Africa, the term “shame” is meant to be endearing. You will find it is used in many ways. For example:
Ag shame, the puppies are so cute.
Ag shame, she is the most adorable baby in the world.
Oh shame, he didn’t even have a chance to say goodbye.
Oh shame, so sorry to hear your sister broke her leg.
While the word is actually “sharp”, it will sound like “shaph.”
“Shahp” is basically a synonym for “okay”, or “it’s all good.” Depending on the situation, it can also be used to say goodbye.
Often you may also hear people double it up and say “Shaph shahp”.
A shebeen is a liquor store in a township. For example, “The liquor store is closed but our shebeen is open till midnight.”
While the phrase is actually “short left”, people will pronounce it as “sho’t left.”
This phrase comes from Taxi lingo in South Africa. (Minibus taxis are how many locals get around. They are very prominent while driving in South Africa.)
People may say “sho’t left driver” to imply that they want to be dropped off very shortly, or just ahead. This is an indication to the driver that he needs to look for a spot to stop soon. The “left” is because South Africans drive on the left side of the road.
Sies implies disgust. For example, “Sies man, don’t pick your nose.”
This is an expression of shock or excitement. For example, “Sjoe, I’m so happy to see you”, or “Sjoe, how did that just happen!”
To skinner means to gossip. For example, “I know you like to skinner about me and I don’t like it.”
Thief or thug. For example, “Watch out for the skollies as you walk home!”
Slap chips are sliced, fried potatoes. They are like fries, but while fries are crips, thin, and stand up straight, slap chips are not crips and not thin. They cannot stand up by themselves, which is why they are called “slap’, which means limp in Afrikaans.
Slap chips are similar to home fries in the USA.
Smaak means to imply like or want. It can be used in different ways. For example:
Fancy someone: “I smaak you, will you go out with me?”
In the mood for something: “I really smaak some chocolate right now.”
Takkies are what South Africans call sneakers.
Thief or thug. For example, “Watch out for the tsotsies as you walk home!”
Ubuntu means “I am because we are”. It is a beautiful African philosophy of humanity and family.
Yebo means “yes”. It is meant to show agreement or approval.
Like jislaaik, yussus is meant to express shock or surprise, or amazement. For example, “Yussus, did you see that!”