Everyday Ghanaian lingua is a chop-party of made-up words, sometimes with English included, plus local words or phrases turned on their heads. English-speaking comrades from the Queen’s territory and America might have trouble wrapping their heads around Ghanaian street talk, or ‘Pidgin‘; so here are some words and phrases to help you during your stay in Ghana.
Ɛte sɛn? / Wo ho te sɛn? is a Twi term that means ‘how are you?’ Ghanaians like to check up on you, sometimes several times within an hour. They are caring people, so don’t be bothered much when you have to answer ‘Ɛyɛ‘ meaning ‘I’m fine’, 10 times in 30 minutes.
Akwaaba is boldly inscribed on an overhead panel at Kotoka International Airport in Accra. It directly translates to mean ‘welcome’. If someone addresses you with this you should respond by saying ‘medaase‘ (pronounced ‘me-daa-si‘) which means ‘thank you’ in Twi. You are almost on your way to earning yourself a Ghanaian passport with this.
Simply ‘I beg’ or ‘please’. It’s polite to use it at the market when bargaining – ‘Abeg how moch‘ – or when asking someone what the time is – ‘Abeg e knack 3pm?’ One of the first things you would learn in your Pidgin course is ‘chale abeg’.
Chale is the most popular Ghanaian icebreaker. You would greet and address a friend as ‘Chale!’ ‘Chale wote’ might remind you of the art festival. Its meaning stems from the flip-flops used in the household or for a daily stroll. Wote is a Ga word for ‘let’s go’, pronounced ‘wor-tay‘.
In the 70s, when Ghana was going through coup d’état, many musicians left for Germany and other Western countries to sustain High Life music. They returned home looking like cooked patties of burgers, or borga, the way their swollen jeans hung from their navels. Nowadays, coming back home by air earns you the nickname ‘borga’. If it’s the USA you went to, you are called ‘akata’. ‘Akata’ is tantamount to 50 Cent’s garb when he hit the clubs with ‘21 Questions’ in 2003.
Electricity instability nightmare has our bulbs going off (‘dum’) and coming back on (‘sor’) without warning sometimes. Dumsor is undesirable and Nigeria’s NEPA and Ghana’s ECG are on top of the ratings of electricity companies that have been hit with the most number of public snubs since creation.
‘Obroni’, sometimes spelt ‘oburoni’, (the plural being ‘abrofo’) is the term used for a white person. ‘Bibinii’ is black person. Before you mention your name to a local, Ghanaians will most likely welcome you with ‘akwaaba obroni‘. It is not an expression intended to cause offence, however.
‘Chempɛ’, pronounced ‘chem-peh‘, is a term more likely to make the older generation nostalgic. Children would say this when they want to ‘halve it to share’. It is from a local game where you chance on a friend eating a meal and suddenly have the rights to half of whatever they have on their plate. Some people go to the extreme of demanding half of things aside from food, but that’s another story.
‘Flash’ is a term that refers to those who are known for being frugal with the minutes on their phone. “I will flash you,” means ‘you are going to see a beep on your phone and my name will pop up but don’t you dare answer, hey! Just call me back’.
‘Trotro’, or ‘trosky’, is a multi-passenger van or mini bus that runs about 95 per cent of the streets in Ghana. Read Culture Trip’s guide on how to make a successful trosky journey here.
When you’ve reached your stop and want to get down from the trosky, you indicate to the conductor, locally called ‘mate’, that ‘ewomu‘, literally meaning ‘it is inside’ in Twi, so they know there is someone on the bus who wants to get off.
If someone refers to you as being ‘eye red’, they’re saying that you are a greedy or selfish person.
Emmanuel Owusu-Bonsu, known by his stage name Wanlov the Kubolor is a Ghanaian-Romanian musician, film director and activist. Kubolor means one who hangs out playing in the streets most of the time.
This word means trouble, literally. You can say ‘palava’ also. ‘Chale som wahala dey oo‘ means ‘friend, I’m facing some trouble’.
When someone asks you for a cigarette on the streets of Accra or Kumasi, that stranger will most probably say ‘abeg you get jot?’ meaning ‘please, do you have a cigarette?’
When Ghana’s favourite rap duo, Fokn Bois, made a track called ‘Gimme Pinch’, it went viral (‘feeli feeli‘) especially in Accra with people making the pinching gesture to signal ‘I can’t believe I made it’. ‘Feeli feeli’ literally means “you have to see it with your own eyes”. It is usually used when someone wants to relay the fact that something is for real. When you can’t believe someone has achieved success and you’d prefer to investigate, you’d have to do so feeli feeli.
When you go to the barber and ask for a close-shave haircut and it feels like a baby’s bum when you pass your palm over it, it’s ‘sakora’! Balding men are naturally ‘sakora’.
Also locally called ‘apio’ or ‘kill me quick’, the popular, locally-distilled Ghanaian spirit is made from palm or sugar cane. Be warned, however, as akpeteshie is pretty strong.
Usually spicy and readily hot, ‘kelewele’ is fried ripe plantain usually served after main meals. Sold in the streets at night on aluminium trays with handfuls of roasted groundnut under yellow kerosene lamps. M3nsa’s Kelewele Pimpin’ goes best with this delicacy Chale. Medaase!
This is sometimes used in the defamatory sense, to mean ‘leave there’ or ‘go away’. ‘Comot’, or ‘comot for der’, is most often used affectionately between friends when someone tells a lie and it doesn’t hold water.