My Top 5 Favorite South African Words

Kirsten Jones is a student at the Bowling Green State Univerity and is an ISA Featured Blogger. She is studying abroad with ISA in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

Since arriving in South Africa, I have taken in so many new ways of living. From bigger feats such as cars driving on the other side of the road, to simple tasks like shopping, everything feels like a whole new world from that of the United States. With all of this change, I have found the South African phrases the most joyful to learn about. These are my top five favorite South African words-

1. Pleasure

In the States, someone opens a door and you say “thank you,” to which they respond, “you’re welcome.” Here in South Africa, whenever you say “thank you” it is met with the word “pleasure.” When I first heard this in my daily life I thought it was quaint and a fun quirk of the country. I soon came to realize that this word is the equivalent of our “you’re welcome.” It is widely used throughout the city, and just after three weeks of my program I find myself saying it as if I had used the word my whole life!

2. Dankie

This word is actually quite straightforward and puts a fun spin on a common phrase. “Dankie” is another of the many ways to say “thank you” in South Africa. It pairs nicely with “pleasure” and makes exchanges with locals much more fun!

3. Just Now/Now Now

These two phrases I put together because they both have to do with time, yet neither of them refers to the present moment. In the States, we say “now” when we mean we will do something right away. In South Africa, there is no phrase for getting something done right away. “Just now” means that whatever is being referred to will happen in the near future, but not right away. The task may not even be completed in the next day. For example, one of my professors at Nelson Mandela University was talking about when she would discuss a certain topic during the semester and said, “I will go into more detail on the topic just now.” Right after saying this, she went back to the point she was making before and I was left confused as to why she didn’t go into more detail. She was not saying she would explain in that specific class, but that she would explain the topic more later in the semester.

“Now now” also means that whatever is in question will be done in the near future (again, not necessarily immediately) but will be completed sooner than if someone had used the phrase “just now.” An example of this would be if you had plans to hang out with a friend in the evening and they said to you, “I’ll see you now now.”

Being from the U.S., this concept of time is taking a lot of getting used to! The concept, affectionately known as “South African time”, is widely used in every area of society here in Port Elizabeth. I am slowly learning the benefits to a no-rush society, even if it means I have to wait longer for something to be completed.  

4. Braai

This lovely word means “barbecue” and plays a huge role in the social sphere of South Africa. A braai is a laid-back, fun activity used to get together with friends and family and bask in the presence of others. Anyone will invite you to a braai, whether you are their closest friend or newest acquaintance. If you are ever invited to a braai, accept the invitation! It is a treasured activity and a way of life here in South Africa.

5. Shame

This word probably seems pretty straightforward, but it’s actually not what you expect. In America, the word has a negative connotation attached to it, but here in South Africa, it is a word used to express admiration. For example, you meet your sister’s newborn baby and say, “Ag, shame, he is so handsome!” But this isn’t an insult! The word “shame” is widely used when complimenting or sympathizing with someone. If you find yourself in South Africa and hear someone say this to you, do not worry, you are not being scolded!

In Conclusion…

Learning South African phrases has definitely been a highlight of my program so far. With eleven official languages in the country, it is no wonder there are so many fun and interesting ways to interact with others. These phrases are just the beginning of South Africa’s phenomenal culture, and learning them is one of the easiest ways to start connecting with this beautiful country!



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