Aikona, kief, aweh! South African slang explained

November 06, 2018

Did you know South Africa has 11 official languages? Over and above the official tally, a multitude of others – from Asia, Europe and Africa – are also spoken, as well as sign language.

Considering our melting pot of cultures, languages and religions, South Africans have some unique ways of communicating with each other.

Here’s an overview of some of the slang words and expressions you’re likely to encounter on your trip to South Africa:

Aikona, pronounced ay-koh-nah

Borrowed from Southern African mining pidgin (and derived from Zulu and Xhosa words meaning the same thing), aikona is widely used to express shock or disbelief. Directly translated, it also means “never”, “not on your life”, or simply an emphatic “no”.

Examples:

  • She bungee jumped from a bridge? Aikona!

  • Aikona, I’m not driving that far

Aweh, pronounced aw-eh

A word with murky origins, aweh can be used as a greeting, a way to show agreement or acknowledgement, or to express excitement.

Examples:

  • Aweh John, it’s nice to see you again!

  • Aweh, let’s do it

  • Tomorrow I’m going on holiday, aweh

Now, now-now or just now

These expressions may seem simple enough, but in the South African context they carry their own meanings, which can be extremely confusing to travellers.

“Just now” means a little later; “now-now” indicates shortly, but indefinitely so; and “now” is generally considered a bit more urgent, but not necessarily immediately.

Examples:

  • I’ll take the dog for a walk just now

  • I’m really not in the mood to wash the dishes, I’ll do it now-now

  • We are going to the shops now

Lekker, pronounced lek-uhr

An Afrikaans word, “lekker” is used to describe anything good, tasty or enjoyable.

Examples:

  • We had a lekker day at the beach

  • The food was lekker

  • He has such a lekker personality

Shame

Most English speakers from abroad understand the word to have various negative meanings attached to it, such as misfortune, foolishness or humiliation. In South Africa, it is also (and mainly) used as an expression of sympathy or admiration.

Examples:

  • Shame, sorry to hear about your burst pipe

  • Oh shame, look at the cute kitten!

Kief, pronounced keef

Derived from the Arabic word kayf, meaning unhurried or calm, “kief” in South Africa describes something that is cool, fun or awesome.

Examples:

  • The concert was kief

  • That sports car is kief

Braai, pronounced br-eye

An Afrikaans word, braai refers to an outdoor barbeque (usually over an open-flame grill). It can be used either as noun or a verb.

Examples:

  • We are having a big braai today

  • He is braaing the meat right now

Eish, pronounced aysh

A colloquial expression derived from Xhosa, “eish” is an exclamation of disbelief, disapproval or regret.

Example:

  • Eish, I can’t believe I am late again!

  • You need to work over the holidays? Eish ...

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