After three weeks in the nonstop language class that is life at Londolozi, I was feeling confident.
I’d started throwing the occasional ja (“yahhhh”) into regular conversation. My heys were becoming howzits. I knew flashlights were torches and barbecues were braais. I had managed to greet an Afrikaans-speaking construction foreman with a self-assured “Goeie môre,” and I’d even picked up enough Shangaan to have a complete conversation with the always smiling but linguistically intimidating Colbert Ndluli:
“Avuxeni, Colbs, kunjani?”
“Ndikona, kunjani Michael?”
“Nkomo swwwwinene. Hakuna matata. [Bird noise].”
I was still baffled by Colbert’s Scops Owl impressions, but by now I was dishing out kunjanis left and right, the ndikonas and nkomus flowing freely. In other words, I was feeling pretty proud of myself.
Then one day, ranger Guy Brunskill walked past. “Howzit bru,” he said, flashing a thumbs-up. “Have a kiff arvi.”
I stopped in my tracks. “Sorry, Guy, what was that?” He said it again. Is he speaking Italian? I stared at him blankly, rummaging around the back of my brain for some sort of nonchalant, vaguely South African response that would keep our conversation flowing and my confidence intact.
“Yeah, sure bru, lekker man, uh, howzit? … What?”
Ever perceptive, Guy saw that I’d short-circuited. “A k-i-f-f a-r-v-i,” he explained slowly. “A good afternoon.”
At this point, it occurred to me that even though I was fully fluent in Shangaan and Afrikaans (ha!), I still had a long way to go in getting the hang of the local lingo, so I started keeping a log of all the South Africanisms that get tossed around here by the Londolozi staff. It’s far from a complete dictionary, but hey, it’s a start, bru.
Without further ado, enjoy this lekker post, and have a kiff arvi.
Boet – short for boetie, or buddy. A favorite of Mama Linnah’s.
Jol – a party, it turns out. Both a noun and a verb. In the immortal words of ranger Dean De La Rey,
“Did you jol? Cause we jolled last night at the jol. It was such a jol.”
Yebo – Zulu for “yes.” Can be a greeting or a sendoff. YEH-bo!
Oke – bloke. Possibly camp manager Cry Sithole’s favourite word of all time.
China – mate, as in friend. To quote Londolozi operations manager and ace slang-slinger Will Ford:
Howzit, my china?
Gees – pronounced hhhHEE’uss. Afrikaans for a vibe/spirit, as in to have spirit (I think).
Gooi – another Afrikaans word with a rolling g, meaning to throw (“Gooi that branch out of the road.”)
Now-now / just now / now – respectively, these mean “right now,” either “recently” or “soon,” and, by my understanding, “absolutely whenever.” Let’s just say, if a South African says “I’ll see you now,” don’t hold your breath. “I’ll see you now-now,” though? That’s another story. I only figured this all out just now.
Is it? – to the unacquainted, this one’s a head-scratcher. Used widely as a verbal question mark with little concern for whether there is a single “it” or whether that “it” actually “is.” For instance:
Ranger 1: Can you believe this? I’ve just seen a warthog driving a Landie past Vomba Dam.
Ranger 2: Is it? That is hectic! (see below)
Hectic – this one I have yet to wrap my mind around. In American English, hectic means frantic, crazed, or rushed. In South Africa, hectic means, as far as I can gather, literally whatever you need it to mean. That piece of chocolate cake too big? Hectic. Massive thunderstorm rolling in? That’s hectic. Two leopards fighting on the back of a submerged hippo? That is HECTIC! Use with caution, or with reckless abandon.
Either way, trust me: it’ll be hectic.