List of lexical differences in South African English

List of lexical differences in South African English

This is a list of words used in mainstream South African English but not usually found in other other dialects of the English language. (For a list of slang words unique to South Africa see List of South African slang words.)



*"bakkie" - a utility truck, pickup truck or ute in Australia
*"bergie" - refers to a particular subculture of vagrants in Cape Town (from Afrikaans "berg" (mountain), originally referring to vagrants who sheltered in the forests of Table Mountain.) Increasingly used in other cities to mean a vagrant of any description.
*"bioscope" - cinema, movie theatre (now dated)
*"billion" - as in the UK this officially means a million million. Nowadays the American usage (one billion is one thousand million) is almost exclusively used.
*"biltong" - cured meat, similar to jerky
*"biscuit" - same as American cookie, in South Africa, "cookie" is used for "cupcake"
*"boerewors" - spicy sausage from (Afrikaans) "farmer-sausage" (usually made mostly with beef)
*"bonnet" - hood of a car
*"book of life" - national identity document (now dated)
*"braai" - a barbecue, to barbecue (from Afrikaans "braaivleis")
*"brinjal" - eggplant (from Portuguese "berinjela", also used in Indian English)
*"bundu" - a wilderness region, remote from cities (from Shona "bundo", meaning grasslands)
*"bunking" - as used in the UK, playing truant, skipping school/class
*"bunny chow" - loaf of bread filled with curry, speciality of Durban, particularly Durban Indians


*"cafe" - when pronounced IPA-en|kæfˈiː refers to a convenience store not a coffee shop (originally such stores sold coffee and other basic items)
*"call" - when someone says that they will "call" this typically means that they will make a telephonic call, not visit in person, "phone" and (less commonly) "ring" are also used
*"cell" - mobile phone
*"candy floss" - as in Britain this is used for cotton candy
*"chemist" - besides meaning a scientist specializing in chemistry, the term is also used for a pharmacist and for a drugstore (short for "chemist shop" in the latter case)
*"chips" - used for both French fries and potato crisps
*"circle" - traffic circle or roundabout
*Coloured - refers to typically light skinned South Africans of mixed European and Khoisan and/or Malay ancestry.
*"costume" - besides meaning attire worn to a dress-up party/play it also refers to a bathing suit (short for "swimming costume" or "bathing costume"), sometime abbreviated "cozzie" also used in Britain.
*"cookie" - used exclusively for a cupcake
*"cool drink", "cold drink" - soft drink, fizzy drink not necessarily chilled
*"cubby hole" - car glove compartment, also used in Britain
*"dagga" - marijuana, dag-gah, dagca (similar in pronunciation to an Arabic herb)
*"dam" - also used to mean a reservoir
*"donga" - a ditch of the type found in South African topography (from Zulu, 'wall')
*"droë wors" - a type of cured boerewors
*"erf" plural "erven" - a plot of land for a building (from Cape Dutch).


*"flat" - as in Britain this is used for an apartment
*"football" - typically refers to soccer
*"freeway, highway" - as in the United States and Australia refers to what is known as a motorway in Britain. The dominant forms are the National Roads, e.g the N1 from Johannesburg to Cape Town, and this term is also used as a referent.
*"garden boy" - a male gardener (of any age), typically Black (Commonly used by older white South Africans, now considered politically incorrect)
*"geyser" - domestic water boiler
*"globe" - as formerly used in Britain, a light bulb
*"green pepper", "red pepper", etc - idiomatic term for a Capsicum
*"homeland" - under apartheid, typically referred to a self-governing "state" for black South Africans
*"house" - a free-standing dwelling. Usage differs from the UK, where a house is not free-standing, unlike a bungalow.
*"how's it" - hello, how are you, good morning (despite being a contraction (grammar) of 'how is it', "howzit" is almost exclusively a greeting, and seldom a question) [very colloquial]
*"is it?" - an all purpose exclamative, can be used in any context where "really?", "uh-huh", etc. would be appropriate; for example: "I'm feeling pretty tired." "Is it?" (very colloquial). Often contracted in speech to "izit"
*"indaba" - conference (from Zulu, 'a matter for discussion')
*"jam" - a fruit preserve spread whether containing pieces of fruit or not, seldom called a "jelly" in South Africa. Similar to use in UK
*"jelly" - when referring to food this always means what in American English is called 'jello', ie. a flavoured gelatine dessert never a fruit preserve spread
*"just now" - idiomatically used to mean soon, later, or in a short while (as opposed to immediately)


*"koki", "koki pen", a fibre-tip (coloured) art pen (from a local brand name)
*"kombi" - a minivan, esp. Volkswagen (from the Volkswagen 'Kombi' van)
*"lift" - as in Britain this terms is used for an elevator, but can also mean a passenger ride to a desired destination.
*"lobola" - traditional African dowry
*"location" - an apartheid-era urban area populated by Blacks, Coloureds or Indians (dated, replaced "township" in common usage amongst Whites, but still widely used by Blacks)


*"main road" - what is generally called a "high street" in Britain
*"matric" - school-leaving certificate or the final year of high school or a student in the final year, short for matriculation exemption. Equivalent internationally to A-Levels or Grade 12.
*"mielie" - an ear of maize (from Afrikaans "mielie")
*"mielie meal" - used for both maize flour and the traditional porridge made from it similar to American grits, the latter also commonly known by the Afrikaans word "pap"
*"muti" - traditional medicine, but also used to refer to all types of medicine, eg. cough muti is cough mixture.
*"naartjie" - orange-colored citrus fruit with separable segments and skin that is easily peeled (from Afrikaans), known as a Tangerine in Britain
*"now now" - idiomatically used to mean soon (sooner than "just now" in South Africa, but similar to "just now" in the United Kingdom)
*"nappy"- as used in the UK, what is generally known as a diaper


*"Pacer" - a mechanical pencil, named after the first commercially inexpensive brand advertised on South African television in the 1980's.
*"Rand" - currency, divided into 100 cents. The plural of rand is Rand, not Rands
*"robot, robots" - besides the standard meaning, in South Africa this is also used for traffic lights. The etymology of the word derives from a description of early traffic lights as "robot policemen", which then got truncated with time.
*"rondavel" - round free-standing building, usually with a thatched roof
*"rubber" - as in Britain, a rubber eraser

*"samoosa" - Indian samosa
*"shame" - an exclamation denoting sympathy as in "shame, you poor thing, you must be cold"
*"shebeen" - illegal drinking establishment (also used in Scotland)
*"shongololo" - millipede (from Zulu and Xhosa, "ukushonga", to roll up)
*"shop" - as a noun the same as American store
*"sosatie" - a kebab on a stick
*"spanspek" - a cantaloupe (from Afrikaans)
*"spaza" - an informal trading post/convenience store found in townships and remote areas
*"spit" - as a verb, this is only used for the present tense unlike in America where it is also used for the past tense. The form "spat" is used for the past tense. spit is also used as a description for an automated BBQ rotating on its own to braai/BBQ meat.
*"standard" - besides other meanings referred to a school grade higher than grades 1 and 2 (now defunct)
*"State President" - head of state between 1961 and 1994 - now known as President
*"stiffy, stiffy disk" - a 3.5 inch floppy disk, "floppy" is used exclusively for the old 5.25 inch or larger disks
*"sub-standard" - besides other meanings referred to first two school grades "sub A/B" (now grades 1 and 2)
*"sucker" - used for both a popsicle ("frozen sucker") and a lollypop
*"sweets" - confectionery, candy (singular "sweet" used for an item of confectionery)


*"takkies" - sneakers, trainers (from Afrikaans "tekkies")
*"taxi" - shared taxi (usually a minibus taxi) as well as taxicab
*"third force" - "agents provocateur" having no official sanction from either the government or its opposition regardless of which one they consider themselves to be benefiting, used especially for alleged unknown provocateurs behind political unrest, their actions being described as "third force activity"
*"toasted cheese" - a grilled cheese sandwich, in contrast "cheese on toast" refers to unmelted cheese on toasted bread.
*"torch" - used for a modern battery operated flashlight as well as a traditional flaming torch
*"township" - large residential suburb lacking city infrastructure, in particular the areas allocated to non-white South Africans under apartheid
*"veld" - virgin bush, especially grassland or wide open rural spaces
*"wors" - abbreviation of boerewors.

ee also

*List of South African slang words
*List of colloquial South African place names
*South African English

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