Jaillan Yehia

6 South African Sayings That I Just Can’t Seem to Shake!

Written by Jaillan Yehia

Post Categories: Africa | Savoir Escape | South Africa

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South African Slang

There seems to be some South African terminology that has taken on a life of its own, these phrases seem to have spread overseas to folks who’ve never even set foot in South Africa.

For me personally, ever since my holiday to South Africa, there are 6 words which stayed with me, and will always define my time in the country.

These are My 6 Most Celebrated South African Sayings

1 Izzit?

Izzit was a total throwback to the 1980’s North London vocab of my youth.

Once I’d been reintroduced to this phrase there was no stopping me from saying it.

At home in England I continue to say it, often in a long drawn out and slightly incredulous manner, much to my friends’ annoyance.

How to use the South African saying, Izzit:

Me: I think this monkey has stolen my packet of Woolworth’s crisps!
You: Izzit?!

Monkey in South Africa

2  Shame

As above, this word was constantly uttered in my own teenage years, and for the cooler kids would be accompanied by some vigorous hand gestures.

How to use the South African saying, Shame:

Me: This shop is selling Keep Calm and Carry On merchandise.
You: Shaaaame!

3 Enjoy!

Never have I been implored to enjoy so much by so many.

In South Africa, every cup of tea, meal, game drive, wine tasting or other experience I tried was accompanied by the invitation to ‘enjoy’.

Luckily for all concerned, most of the time I did very much enjoy whatever it was I was experiencing, because South Africa is fantastic.

I concluded that the clever South Africans had come up with a catch all term used in much the same way as the French used Bon Appetite but even better, as this one can apply to anything and everything, not just consumables.

How to use the South African saying, Enjoy:

Me: I am going to have a glass of Merlot
You: Enjoy!

wine tasting in South Africa

4 Howzit

At first when I was asked Howzit, I replied, in a terribly literal and English way, that yes, it was all going very well thanks very much indeed for asking. Then I realised it pretty much means Hello, and a full reply isn’t actually needed.

How to use the South African saying, Howzit:

Me: Howzit?
Giraffe: I’ll be fine if I can just reach down and get a drink of this water, thanks for asking!

giraffe in South Africa


5 Pleasure

This cake really was a pleasure…

This one is closely related to South African saying No. 3.

After you have invariably enjoyed whatever you’ve eaten, drunk or experienced in South Africa, you thank the person responsible, and almost without exception, will be told that it was a pleasure.

How to use the South African saying, Pleasure:

Me: Thanks for reading my post about South African sayings!
You: Pleasure!

At first I believed that in South Africa everything was indeed a pleasure, but after a while I realised that ‘it’s a pleasure’, often abbreviated to just the word ‘pleasure’ pronounced like ‘plairsure’ was a stock phrase used by staff, much like the way in Vancouver every waitress asks ‘how are the first few bites tasting’. While sometimes it was heartfelt, at other times it was actually a bit robotic.

Which brings us to South African saying number…

6  Robot

I’d been pre-warned that South Africans used the term robot to refer to traffic lights, but I never tired of hearing people say it in that wonderful South African accent.

It turns out that most people in the hospitality industry have been warned when Europeans are told to turn right at a robot we will have quite different expectations, so they just call them traffic lights to help us most of the time, which rather took the fun out of it.

How to use the South African saying, Turn right at the robot:

Me: How do I get to Falcon Creek?
You: Turn right at the robot

Turn right at the robot. Still makes me smile.

More South African Sayings I haven’t Included

Of course there are far more famous South African sayings than I have listed here.

‘I promise you’, ‘I’m telling you’ and ‘ya’ cropped up a lot.

And ‘just now’ is a real personal favourite, as it means anything but just now, and can actually mean, ‘whenever I get round to it’, a bit like the Arabic phrase ‘Bukra’, which is supposed to mean ‘tomorrow’, apart from the fact that tomorrow may never come!

Still, those listed above are the 6 words that I will forever associate with my time in South Africa.

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