Ten awesome Afrikaans words that just can’t be translated

(Photo: Getty/Gallo Images)
(Photo: Getty/Gallo Images)

Even if you don’t “praat die taal” you’ve heard these words before – and while there’s no real English alternative, you know exactly what they mean . . .

1. Ag

Used to convey everything from pity to exasperation, it’s an emotive word South Africans of all backgrounds use daily! It’s most commonly heard preceding the word “shame”, as in”Ag shame, that kitten is so cute . . .”

2. Bakkie

Yes, you could technically translate bakkie to pick-up truck, but honestly when was the last time you heard a South African – even the prim and proper English folks from Constantia – call it that?

3. Bosberaad

Bosberaads = teambuilding + gees! (see below)

The word comes from the Afrikaans bos ‎(bush) and beraad ‎(deliberation), and was traditionally used to refer to a strategy or teambuilding session held in the bush or on a game reserve. But nowadays the word is used for any teambuilding trip, regardless of location.

4. Eina!

A beautifully expressive exclamation, for when the ever-so-polite “ouch” doesn’t quite cut it. Stubbing one’s toe, for example, is a perfect opportunity to use this word.

5. Gees 

Picture a packed rugby stadium, emotions running high, where green-and-gold-clad South Africans are on their feet screaming themselves hoarse for their boys. Or a living room in Durbs, where time seems to move in slow motion as athletics fans on the edge of their couches watch Wayde van Niekerk’s final few metres in the 400 m final at the 2016 Rio Olympics. That electric atmosphere is full of gees, and we’d argue that no one does it quite the way South Africans do.

6. Sies!

“Gross!” “Eew!” “Yuck!” “How could they?” Used to convey everything from shock to dismay, this lovely little word is often preceded by No 1 on our list.

7. Skelm

Dervied from schelm, the German word for rascal or pest, skelm could mean one of several things in modern-day SA. For example, a skelm could be the oke (guy) that swiped your phone from your pocket at St George’s Park during the cricket match, but it could also refer to the crafty laaitie (see below) who managed to convince his teacher the dog really did eat his homework.

8. Gogga

In SA, we have some special insects – like the Christmas beetles that seem to populate every crevice of your house for a few weeks every year, the Parktown prawns you find lurking on the stoep, or the flying ants that litter the lawn with their wings after a Joburg thunderstorm – the goggas we love to hate.

Some oulike (cute) okes also like to call their cherries (girlfriends) gogga as a term of endearment . . .

9. Laaitie

Young ‘un, little one, child – but particularly one of the male variety. Also more often used when the boy in question has been a bit naughty.

10. Bobotie

Some believe the name of this delicious local delicacy of richly spiced minced meat baked with an egg custard topping is derived from the Malayan word bumbu, meaning curry spices. Others reckon it came from the Indonesian dish bobotok (even though it consisted of very different ingredients).

Regardless, a recipe for bobotie first appeared in a Dutch cookbook in 1609, according to The South African Encyclopedia of Food and Cookery – and it’s been a South African family staple ever since.


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