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How do you explain the word “sommer” to someone who is not South African? It’s not only a foreign word, it’s a foreign concept. Perhaps the English never do anything “just sommer“. There really is no equivalent…. “Why are you laughing? Just sommer.”

Bakkie” is another one, very useful around this house for all sizes and shapes of containers and dishes. Also used for what they call “utes” in OZ or “pickup” in England. I find it an indispensable word.

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We all know “voetstoots” of course. It’s been officially adopted into South African English. There’s no concise, one-word equivalent in English. “As is” just doesn’t hack it. And it’s such a humorous word, conjuring up images of pushing that brand new car home…

There’s no good English word for “dwaal“. It doesn’t mean dream, or daze. It’s close to absent-mindedness, but that’s not quite it. Being in one so often myself, I’m not likely to stop using it.

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I think “gogga” is the most delightful word for insect I’ve ever heard. Children all over the world should use it. “Insect” just doesn’t stand a chance.

And then there’s “gatvol“. OK, I know it’s very rude. But it’s so very expressive, nê? “Fed up” doesn’t have half the impact. “Gatvol” is a word used more frequently than ever in the workplace and the media these days, with increasing intensity.

While we’re on the subject, another phrase which outstrips any English attempt is “Hy sal sy gat sien“. “He’ll get his come-uppance” definitely lacks the relish in comparison.

Donder” is another very useful word, used as an all-purpose swearword, which again has no good English translation. Thunder does not even come a good second. Used as a verb, it can express any degree of roughing up. As a noun, it is a pejorative, as they politely say in dictionaries, to mean whatever you want it to mean. And there’s no good translation for “skopskiet-en-donder” either.

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It says something about the English that they have no word for “jol“. Probably the dictionary compilers regard it as slang, but it’s widely used for “Going out on the town, kicking up your heels, enjoying yourself … Although curiously, the word “Yule” in Yuletide is related to “jol” and derived from Old English. So somewhere along the line, the English forgot how to “jol”.

How do you explain the passion of “lekker!“? “Wow last night was a “lekker jol“.

I’ve yet to meet a South African over the age of two who doesn’t use the word “muti“. Translation is impossible – “witches potion” is about the nearest I can get. It needs a long cultural historical explanation. Between “muti” and the pedantic “medication”, there’s simply no contest.

Other words that come to mind: “jou bliksem”, “wag ‘n bietjie”, “nie so haastig nie”, “just now”, “sakkie-sakkie music”, “ou swaer”, “Ja, nee”.

“Dudu“. Telling your infant to “go to bed” is just not the same as, “Go dudu now, my baby!”

How about “bliksem“? “I’m going to bliksem you!”. Wonderful Afrikaans expression with nothing to compare in the English language, at least nothing that gives the same satisfaction.

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“Mielie pap” – there is no word like “pap“, here. They have porridge, and when they say porridge, they mean oats. There’s no Maltabela, no Tasty Wheat, No Creemy Meal… In other words, there’s no “pap“!

“Mislik” – such a ‘lekker‘ word. “Why are you so mislik, you little skelm?”

Which brings us to “skelm” – here you just get “baddies”, but that doesn’t have the same sneaky connotation of a proper skelm, does it?!

And “snot-klap”… Fabulous word! “Do you want a snot-klap?” How would you say that in English? “I’ll slap you so hard the snot will fly!”? It’s just not the same.

“Loskop” is another favourite. The English just don’t understand when I say, “Sorry, I forgot – I’m such a loskop!”

And finally….. “moer“. There simply isn’t a word here that denotes the feeling of dread behind the phrase “If you don’t clean your room, I’ll moer you!”

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20 responses

  1. Ek sien Engelsprekendes is baie lief vir daardie 3 letter K-woord

  2. Ja nee,ouswaer,ons lekker taal gee Engels ‘n snotklap as dit by skelm,loskop,sakkie-sakkie,bedonderde jolle kom!

  3. AITSA! Afrikaans bly koning!

  4. Ek het hierdie inskrywing nou baie geniet. Baie dankie!

  5. Lekker ou Afrikaans!!

  6. Afrikaans! Jou lekker ding!

  7. …No short cut…😀

  8. Het nou so lekker gelees en gekyk dat ek sommer moed vir die stuk werk het wat hier op my rekenaar wag…

  9. hi Tina
    ik kom heel veel woorden tegen die ons hier bekend zijn , en nee de meesten zo niet allen zijn in welke taal dan ook uit te leggen of te vertalen
    dit was de taal die onze verre voorouders spaken toen zij van hier de wereld gingen ontdekken
    fijne avond
    ik drink zo een bakkie bier🙂

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