Typical South African Words – A Translation

Whether its chatting around the campfire, on a game drive or at the dinner table there are some South African words and expressions that you may not have heard before. Let’s face it… South Africa is an exquisite holiday destination but with such a colourful nation comes an amalgamation of intriguing languages and words!


There are eleven official languages of South Africa: Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Sotho Swazi, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa and Zulu. A lot of everyday words derive from these different languages and so to travellers are foreign and often may cause confusion. So, to avoid any of that we have put together a brief list of the words that travellers are most likely to hear with a simple translation. We hope it helps you on your next visit!


bakkie – a utility truck or pick-up truck

boerewors – popular type of sausage in South Africa (farmer-sausage)

eish! – an interjection expressing resignation

gogo – grandmother, elderly woman

howzit –greeting of “hello” rather than “how are you?”

ja-nee – literally “yes-no”, an expression of positive confirmation

jol – to have fun, to party

laaitie, lighty – a younger person, esp. a younger male such as a younger brother or son

lank – lots/a lot

lekker – nice, good, great

mielie – millet, corn, maize

muti– medicine

Mzansi – South Africa

nogal – of all things. Term expressing a measure of surprise

nooit – never, no way, unbelievable!

oom – an older man of authority, commonly in reference to an older man/uncle

pap – traditional maize porridge similar to grits

plaas – farm

sangoma – traditional healer

shongololo– millipede

skraal – very hungry, thin

skrik – fright

slaptjips – cooked chips (usually soft, oily and soaked in vinegar)

sosatie – a kebab on a skewer

spaza – an informal trading-post/convenience store found in townships and rural areas

Stoep – porch, verandah

tekkies – sneakers

trek – to move or pull

ubuntu – compassion or kindness, humanity

vellies – veldskoene, traditional Afrikaans outdoors shoes made from hide

yebo – Zulu meaning yes

If there are any other words you have heard that you aren’t sure of please let us know. We will translate for you in no time!


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