South Africans have a unique way of speaking. Here are some South African sayings and phrases that could have double meanings in English and may confuse people from countries.


South African flag


1. Just now

Just now or now-now means anything but “now”. No one really knows when just now is. It could be a minute from now or it could be next year. Just now could never come at all. One thing is certain: there is no guarantee that it will happen immediately.

For example:
“Honey, will you mow the lawn for me?”

“Yes liefie, I’ll do it just now.”


2. Yes no

The phrase yes no, or ja nee, can be used to confirm something. It conveys a similar feeling to “okay”.

For example:
“I heard you had the flu, how are you feeling today?”
Yes no, I’m feeling much better thanks.”


3. Shame

Variations include ag shame, shame man, hai shame and shêm. This term is used in response to something cute or something unfortunate. It’s often used by South Africans to fill a gap or a silence in the conversion. It can also be used sarcastically.

For example:
“I was stuck in traffic for an hour this morning.”

Shame man. Here, check this video of a kitten trying to climb onto a couch.”

Ag shame!


4. Sharp

Sharp or sharp-sharp can be used to express a range of different things such as agreement, enthusiasm, and greeting. It could also mean “thank you”, “okay”, “sure”, “yes”, “good” or “goodbye”.

For example:
“I brought you back some curry from Caelyn’s place.”

Sharp, brah.”

“Okay, see you later”



5. Dice

This word does not always refer to what you find in board games. Dice or dicing can also refer to street-racing. Dicing often takes place in an environment of boosted cars, chrome rims, and dropped suspensions.

For example:
“My Sentra VVL is ready to go.”

“Now come we dice?”


6. Tune/Tjoon

Tune/tjoon or tuning/tjooning means telling somebody something. In certain contexts, it can also mean to provoke or aggravate someone.

For example:
“That guy was tuning me nonsense.”

“Ja, he’s an idiot.”


7. A short dictionary


Food and drink:

Bunny chow:  Curry inside a half-loaf of bread

Dop:  Alcohol; an alcoholic drink

Dumpie:  340ml beer in brown bottle

Gatsby:   Foot-long (minimum) roll including your choice of filling (slap chips, masala steak, calamari, polony, curry etc.)

Slap chips:  Soft, thick potato fries

Smiley:  Cooked sheep’s head


Things related to food and drink:

Babbelas: Hangover 

Braai:  Barbeque

Smokkie/Shabeen: Tavern, often unlicensed 


Open-ended words:

Aweh:  A greeting or an expression of agreement or excitement

Dingis: Thingy; could refer to anything

Eish: An expression of exasperation, surprise, frustration, or disbelief 

Izzit?:   Really? (can be used sarcastically)

Ubuntu: Humanity, compassion, and interconnectedness; ‘I am, because of you’


Made in Africa


While words are fun, they can also be used as tools or weapons. The way we choose to use language is important – both socially and professionally. If you’d like to work on your communication skills as a professional, you might be interested in our language skills blog post for distance learning students at Oxbridge Academy