When interns land in South Africa, they may think they’ve landed in a country where English is spoken. Well, yes, English is widely spoken, however, you will hear a fantastic array of South African “slang”uage – blended words and sayings from English, Afrikaans & Xhosa. Sometimes, it can leave visitors a bit confused when these slang word pop-up in sentences and conversations. We’ve put together a list of words we think you may hear during your time in South Africa. Ask your co-workers and local friends if you are using and saying them right!
Nadia Ghumra did some research with young people on University of Cape Town’s campus to shed some light on just some of mystery words to foreign ears.
“While trying to socialise with Cape Town natives, you will probably hear a slew of different words spring out from their mouths that leave you in utter confusion. And even if you dare ask them to pause and explain what these words mean, you are still left baffled. You’ll probably get a look of devastation at your lack of knowledge, but don’t worry, you’re not alone.
In solidarity with my fellow foreign students, and by foreigners I also include people from other parts of South Africa because let’s face it, Cape Town is a nation in itself, I made up this little slang-ictionary. It incorporates, firstly, my impression of the word on first hearing it as well as other peoples’ and then the actual meaning.
Mos: I had no idea what this could even mean. A lot of other people hadn’t heard it before, with one guy asking if we were talking about Morse code. Even after my friends used it in a sentence, I still can’t grasp it. I mos can’t use mos. Did I get that right? (insert monkey covering eyes emoji)
It’s one of the trickier ones to explain and a lot of people said it’s too unique to translate. It kind of just goes into a sentence (that helps me out so much. Thanks guys!) and almost means “just”. One of the interviewee’s example was, “You mos has a nice bag.” You could use that example as a pick up line for the kinnes.
Kinnes: My first thought was that it meant cool. Way off right? Most people thought we were referring to the Afrikaans word for children, something else I learnt that day.
Kinnes, however, refers to girls, or “the babes” as someone put it.
Chys: Kind of figured this one out because it sounds like chase, haha. Others hadn’t heard it before and someone thought it could mean goodbye. I guess that could work because if we were into altering the meanings of these words I think I would make this one something like “see you later.” So, I’ll chys you later?
But it really means to go after, flirt with or try. So you could “chys the kinnes”. Ooh that was a double whammy, que round of applause.
Babalas: Speaking of altering meanings, this one is my favourite word. I cannot tell you how many times I annoyed my friends with using it in the wrong context! I just took it to mean literally anything. It sounds like being carefree. So I guess in my terms, you could say I’m babalas about the use of babalas.
This in fact means hungover. Everyone expect one kid got this right. Even some of my homies from Zim got this one. Just shows what everyone is here for.
Soema: Another elusive word. I can’t recall what I thought of this one, besides that it was kind of weird. My counterparts paralleled it with Sumo, the restaurant in Cavendish. False equivalence guys.
Suma basically means “just”. They say it’s similar to mos.
Dala: And it’s my turn for false equivalence. I just guessed “old” because it was in the ballpark of madala.
It has a lot of meanings. We heard a range from to do, to kiss and to beat up. A popular saying was “Dala what you must” as an example and I must admit, I took a liking to this one. Kind of sounds gangster, like the hustle is real!
Koppel: After hearing it in context, we all got it right.
The sentence was about “koppeling some feelings”, which made it easy to assume its correct meaning of having, catching or developing.
And finally, Aweh: I think this is the most frequently used word and everyone can safely say they know what it means. Even the semester abroad students use this one. I personally barely use it, but it seems to be growing on me thanks to neighbourly influences.
A good definition of awe is a form of agreement. So if I were to say that this article was awesome, you would respond with “Aweh!” By Nadia Ghumra