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Orlando Towers, Johannesburg © Adamina/Flickr
Orlando Towers, Johannesburg © Adamina/Flickr

18 South African Slang Words And Phrases You Should Know

Picture of Lee-Shay Collison
Updated: 5 October 2017
Thanks to the variety of languages spoken in South Africa, locals tend to borrow words from each language, resulting in slang words or phrases known as ‘South Africanisms’. If you’re visiting South Africa any time soon, it’s useful to know a few turns of phrase to help you along the way.

Slap chips

Slap chips [slup chips] is a slang phrase for deep-fried potato chips sold at takeaway seafood shops, grocery stores and restaurants. The word slap means ‘limp’ in Afrikaans and is a perfect description for the oily potato chips which are larger than French fries.

Fish and chips © Alpha/Flickr

Fish and chips © Alpha/Flickr

 Ag

In South Africa, ag [agh] is not short for aggressive or agriculture — it’s a filler word to express irritation or resignation. Eg. ‘Ag, no man!’, or ‘Ag, let’s go.’

Skinner

Skinner [skuhn-her] is Afrikaans slang for gossip. Eg. ‘Don’t skinner about me.’

Lekker

Lekker [lek-uh] is a widely used term indicating that something is ‘great’ or ‘nice’. For example, ‘The food was lekker’, or ‘We had a lekker day.’

South African Children | © Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

South African Children | © Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

Kief

Kief [kif], derived from Arabic (kayf), means cool, great, awesome or neat. Eg. ‘That’s a kief car!’

Just Now

You’ll often hear South Africans mention that they will do something ‘just now’. This does not mean they’ll do it immediately, but rather a bit later. It may sound illogical but makes complete sense in South Africa!

Indaba

Indaba [in-daa-bah] A conference or expo, from the Zulu word for ‘a matter for discussion’.

Zulu tribesman traditional dancing, South Africa | © Codegoni Daniele/Shutterstock

Zulu tribesman traditional dancing, South Africa | © Codegoni Daniele/Shutterstock

Braai

Braai [br-eye] is a widely used noun and verb for an outdoor ‘barbecue’ where meat is cooked over a fire or coals. Eg. ‘We’re having a braai tomorrow.’ ‘We braaied the meat yesterday’. A braai is a popular social event in South Africa and even has its own dedicated public holiday, known as National Braai Day, which coincides with Heritage Day celebrated annually on September 24.

A South African Braai | © Dewald Kirsten/Shutterstock

A South African Braai | © Dewald Kirsten/Shutterstock

Shame

Shame is a typical South African expression for sympathy or admiration. Eg. ‘Ag, shame man, poor girl!’ ‘Shame, he’s so cute.’

Eish

Eish [aysh] is a colloquial exclamation of surprise, disapproval, exasperation or regret derived from Xhosa. Eg. ‘Eish, my cell phone broke’.

South African football fans at the World Cup | © fstockfoto/Shutterstock

South African football fans at the World Cup | © fstockfoto/Shutterstock

Biltong

Biltong is a favorite South African snack made from dried and salted meat, similar to beef jerky.

Boerewors

Boerewors [boor-uh-vors] is an Afrikaans term for ‘farmer’s sausage’ — a traditional South African meat often enjoyed at a braai.

boerewors

Coils of boerewors on the grill | ©Paul Watson/Flickr

Sharp

Sharp [shahp] is often doubled up for effect (sharp sharp!) and means ‘goodbye’ or that everything is great.

Is it?

Is it? [izzit] is an expression frequently used in conversation meaning ‘Is that so?’  or ‘Really?’.

Street Jazz in Cape Town, South Africa | © InnaFelker/Shutterstock

Street Jazz in Cape Town, South Africa | © InnaFelker/Shutterstock

Dop

Dop is slang for an alcoholic drink. It can also mean ‘to fail an exam’.  For example, ‘Pour me a dop,’ or ‘I’m gonna dop that test’.

Jol

Jol [jawl] is a widely-used term for ‘club’, ‘party’ or to ‘have fun’. Eg. ‘We had a jol last night!’

Jol at Kwa Lichaba, Soweto, Johannesburg © South African Tourism/Flickr

Jol at Kwa Lichaba, Soweto, Johannesburg © South African Tourism/Flickr

Shebeen

Shebeen [sha-bean] is an illegal tavern derived from Irish (sibín). It refers to unlicensed bars that were set up in townships during apartheid and frequented mainly by black South Africans. It has since become a mainstream word.

Sho’t Left

Sho’t left is derived from everyday South African ‘taxi lingo’. A commuter wanting a ride to a destination close by will say ‘Sho’t left, driver,’ meaning ‘I want to get off just around the corner.’

Cape Town Taxi Rank © Henry Trotter/WikiCommons

Cape Town Taxi Rank © Henry Trotter/WikiCommons