August 1, 2013 @ 12:03 pm - posted by David Beaumont


The Cape town Cryer  -  Kak and Lekker


Soth african slang for good

I always understood that English is the first language of business here. It’s true, but there’s a whole different version I had no idea existed. As a multi-lingual nation, some confusion exists in the communication department.

In my office, we e-mail exclusively in English whilst members of staff slide effortlessly from tongue to tongue (don’t titter please.) KFM, the Cape’s favourite radio station as they self-proclaim has news, traffic and weather reports in English and Afrikaans. Inevitably, the crash in Lansdowne Road where I work or in Newlands village where I live, is reported in guttural Afrikaans and I miss the nub. But the vernacular here is different. As my car goes for service, the engineer calls to let me know what’s happening. “Acch Man, haaaaryuu (how are you). Coobus from Citroen here, haaaryu man?” Citroen gives the clue away as I bought one the other day. Then they will welcome you as Meneer, Mein Herr in German….Sir in Anglo-Saxon.

The Asian community end every sentence with a “neh?”  “Lovely day isn’t it neh?”

South Africans don’t enquire as to where each other live but where they stay. “Where are you staying” they demand? Stay for us is short-term. We’d ask about where we are living. Live for us is for life which to me expresses a short-termalism about their lifestyle.

Then there’s “just now.” The Afrikaaners end a significant number of their statements with “just now”.  “I’m just popping down to the post office” one states, “we’ll see you……just now.” Well plainly they won’t as I am popping out. They are doing lots of things and amazingly all those things will be done “just now.”

Sometimes my colleagues speak amongst themselves in English (South African) and they may well as have been speaking in Mongolian for the number of words familiar to me. The fineries of Shakespeare’s heritage have been lost.

Then there’s ‘as well’. The emphasis is on the ‘as’ rather than on the ‘well,’ so you land up with “I am making a cup of rooibos tea just now aaas well.” As we walk to friends today and I ask Rebekah a question she replies, “Yaa.” Aaaargh, we’ve been here a month and she’s already succumbing.

South African rooibus tea
Then there’s odd expression or two. They greet each other with “howzit?” Every time I hear this salutation I cannot help but look at my crotch. This must stop but then again I need to know what the ‘it’ is they are referring to.

Then there’s “is it” which astonishingly is not a question despite the fact that the verb comes before the preposition. “I’m just popping out to the shops,” one remarks. “Is it” is the reply. “A new Pick and Pay has opened in Claremont today.” “Is it.” It’s not a question but some sort of South African confirmation that I haven’t quite got my head round yet. Is it…………….

One thing you get a lot of here is pleasure. The response to any thanks is “pleasure.” We say “you’re welcome,” but here it’s a pleasure.

The other is pity. If anything goes wrong the expression is “shame,” with a pronounced downward intonation. “ach shame man….”

Sentences often finish with ‘man’ even if aimed at oestrogen. But there are two words that you hear over and over again.

The first is kak. The translation of being in deep shit is “you’re in kak man.” That’s a load of rubbish is “what a load of kak.” It has multiple uses here over and above our equivalent “shite.” “kak” is so much more evocative though and they really spit the word out contemptuously. It’s like the American vernacular “that sucks!” It’s up there with that one.

South african slang

Number one in the slang chart though is “lekker.” The Germans have a word similar and it’s lecher meaning delicious. Everything that’s good here is lekker. Anything good is lekker like anything bad is kak. “Are you having a lekker day man?” “Yaaa meneer. It was kak but my kingklip (local fish and not a safety pin as one of my fellow countrymen thought) was lekker.” Most things in South Africa are either kak or lekker.

If you missed part 1 of David adventure in South Africa, click here


South Africa gorilla

About David Beaumont

David took a sabbatical in Southern Africa, a continent which he found humbling. Together with his wife and 8 year old daughter, they upped sticks in 2008, returning over two years later. The experience changed our lives, our outlook on life for the rest of our lives. We no longer run for tube trains; we're just grateful we have them. Our daughter now embraces her education. We covered South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Lesotho and Swaziland where our eyes were opened to so many new and different experiences. We have friends for life there now and return annually. Simply, the best decision we ever made!

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