Gees: A slang term referring to the amount of spirit, exuberance and energy somebody has or brings to a situation.

Shangaan Animals: lion (ngala), hippo (mvubu), leopard (yingwe), snake (nyoka), elephant (ndlovu), rhino (mkhombe), buffalo (nyari), hyena (misi).

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Now, Now Now and Just Now: There are three rather confusing versions of now in South Africa, which all keep timing incredibly vague (what we like to call “African time”). Now actually means now. Now Now means sometime soon, like within the next 30 to 60 minutes, maybe. Just now means sometime in the nearish future, roughly within the next 1 – 3 hours but also possibly not.

Ag shame: Shame is a South Africanism for pity or sympathy, but it can also be used to indicate cuteness and is usually pronounced with a long drawn out “Shaaaame”. E.g. Ag shame, did you hurt yourself? Or Ag shame, did you see that sweet little leopard cub?

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Howzit: Greeting, often used instead of hello. Combines hello and how are you so it saves time.

Braai – brr-rye (roll that r): The South African version of a barbecue. It usually involves a large amount of meat such as boerewors (directly translated as farmer’s sausage), lamb chops, steak, mealies (corn on the cob) and possibly a sprinkling of salad if you’re lucky.

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Boma: A circular enclosure, originally used to keep domestic animals safe at night from nocturnal predators. Now used as a meeting place where people gather around a fire to eat meals.

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Sharp: Pronounced ‘Shup’- Usually used in conjunction with a thumbs up to indicate that it’s all good!

Biltong: Spiced, cured and dehydrated meat, similar to (but much tastier than) beef jerky. It’s usually made from beef, game or ostrich. A favourite game drive snack and essential for any rugby match or road trip.

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Eish – aysh!! General exclamation that can be used in positive and negative contexts.

Stoep: A veranda in front of a house.

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Hectic: Extremely, expression of amazement. E.g. Watching those lions chase that buffalo was hectic!

Ubuntu: Southern African humanist philosophy that holds as its central tenet that a person is only a person through others. I am because of you.

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Rusk: A traditional Afrikaner breakfast meal or snack. They have been dried in South Africa since the late 1690s as a way of preserving bread, especially when travelling long distances without refrigeration. Their use continued through the Great Trek and the Boer Wars through to the modern day. Rusks are typically dunked in coffee or tea to soften them before being eaten. And if you really want to know about the South African obsession with these hard biscuits, I suggest you google “Ouma Rusks”.

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Slip Slops and Takkies – Slip Slops mostly called “slops” are our equivalent to what Australians call thongs or sandals.  Tack-keys: Sneakers or sports shoes.

Koppie: A small hill.

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Ya No: A confusing exclamation which actually means yes.

Yo – yoh!: Exclamation of surprise. E.g. Yo, that elephant is huge!

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Boet: Brother, usually used in reference to friends, or any male companion. E.g. Hey boet, did you find the lions you were tracking? 

Lekker Afrikaans for nice, pleasant, fun, lovely, good, pretty. It is used by all language groups however to express approval. You can feel lekker. You can have a lekker boerie on the braai. Holidays are lekker. It’s lekker when the Springboks occasionally win a match. And of course, you can have a lekker time on safari.

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About the Author

Amy Attenborough

Media Team

Amy has a rich field-guiding history, having spent time at both Phinda and Ngala Game Reserves. This diversity of past guiding locations brought her an intimate understanding of different biomes across South Africa, and she immediately began making a name for herself as ...

More stories by Amy

9 Comments

on The 20 Need-To-Know South Africanisms for Safari
    Martin says:

    Wasn’t BOMA originally a place for English majors in the army to rest away from the soldiers? Hence British Officers Mess Area?

    Amy Attenborough says:

    Hi Martin. I had also heard this in the past but when I did some research I discovered that this is a common misconception. Although the British did adopt the use of bomas, which to them meant small fort or government office, this was not the original use. The word was apparently already in circulation by bantu languages of central and southern Africa before the British arrived in those areas and some sources suggest that it may have even been a word loaned from Persian.

    Trevor says:

    Hey Amy! Thank you! Such an entertaining portrayal of our “lingo”.

    Lynne says:

    Thank you for all the lekker photos!

    Gloria Ruggieri says:

    What a pleasure to be there, albeit virtually, and remembering the visit last summer….and many years ago when I lived in South Africa. It makes enduring the winter in England more bearable. Thanks

    Ann Seagle says:

    Love this!!!

    Judy B. says:

    I am saving this for when we return in August so I know the lingo. Thanks, Amy.

    Wendy MacNicol says:

    Eish Amy. Please could you tell an ignorant South African the difference between a “Boma” and a “Lapa”???
    “Just now” will be “lekker”. So enjoy your articles …..

    Amy Attenborough says:

    Hi Wendy. Thanks so much! Not ignorant at all, it’s good question. From what I understand a lapa is a bit more of a solid structure with a cement floor and often a thatched roof. Quite often it is attached or close to the main house and apparently originated in the Sotho culture. Boma’s normally have a sand base and no roof and seem to have first been used by the Swahili people. 🙂

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