Figuring out numberplate meanings

2009-07-23 00:00

I ONLY came across the term “a buka mina”* when I emigrated from the other side of the Vaal river. I have long suspected that some of the biggest “buka minas” among us may be those who have personalised plates on their cars. They are either confident enough of their driving skills to be identified by their chosen moniker, or not concerned about what others may think of their driving. At the very least, they offer an alternative to playing numberplate cricket on long car journeys.

I have been “collecting” numberplates for a while, scribbling them down when it’s safe before they get forgotten in one of my more-frequent “senior moments” (what with now being 30 and all).

I used to think that they all referred to the cars they belonged to. However, after seeing on a humble Golf, a self-important plate that really belonged on an expensive imported car, I’m beginning to think that perhaps the psychology of personalised plates is more complex than I thought. Maybe they describe car owners rather than their cars, or perhaps both, like “Mumstaxi”.

“Kurgalan2” passed me on Town Hill recently, driving much faster than the speed limit, which made me wonder whether something untoward had happened to “Kurgalan1”, either the vehicle or the person, or perhaps both. I have it on good authority that “Mack54” is a date of birth rather than a record for eating hamburgers in one sitting. “Enveme” obviously has no hang-ups about showing off his or her particular brand of conspicuous consumption of the vehicular variety, and “Im2sexy” clearly doesn’t suffer from inhibitions.

“Torque” seems to belong to someone who knows something I don’t know about engines, while “Grumpy” was on a Jeep 4x4, but could belong to a whole host of people I know who don’t drive jeeps. “ATM” left me wondering whether the driver is untouched by the global recession or perhaps has teenaged children who think that’s what parents are. And what of “Amour”? Could it be that the vehicle belongs to a French national, a woman by that name, or perhaps it’s the transport for a “house of ill repute”?

While some numberplates seem easy to understand, like company names or personal names, “Bell Boy”, “Jenny” and “Zuma”, for example, some really are most puzzling. I suspect that this is because more and more plates reflect the language of the electronic age that I don’t speak fluently at all — cell- phone shorthand or “SMS”. For example, what on Earth does “2Offs” refer to?

I have sometimes mused over what I would choose for a plate, and it’s not an easy decision. In that regard, passwords on PCs offer far more scope. My current password on the almost universally-loathed new system at work is “Bloodyhell!” That would never do for a number plate — no swearing allowed. “Eatmydust” would be richly ironic on my old skadonk. I could settle for my name and make sure I keep to the road rules all the time, or perhaps, as one of my children rudely suggested, go for “Watchout”, which was short for “Watchoutherecomesmum”. I sniffily pointed out that other drivers only have to “watch out for Mum” when her registration plate should read “Bewareofnoisychildren”.

In the meantime, I am keeping an eye out for the first person honest and brave enough to have a personalised plate that says “Bukamina” — there’s sure to be one sometime.

* Zulu for “look at me”, meaning a show-off.

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