I mentioned in a previous blog, that I am fascinated with language. And accents. Living in London is not only accent heaven, but I’m learning so much more about a language that I thought was my own: English.
I had such fun last week blogging about talking forrin, that I thought I would continue in that vein today, and bring you another helping of words that I use that no-one else here does, and vice versa. I got so much positive feedback last time, and contributions of words from elsewhere, so I’d love to hear more of what words are unique to your end of the stick – that’d be fun!
- Shame. This is an interesting word. And quite difficult to explain. It is obviously not unique to South Africa, but its use there is unusual. If a Saffa looks at a newborn baby, the comment will often be, “Shame.” Which doesn’t necessarily mean they feel sorry for them or anything, it usually means “Isn’t he/she just so darling?” or “How cute is your baby?” or “You must be so proud, she’s just beautiful.” It could possibly mean, “Shame, she looks just like her father” but let’s stick with the positive interpretation for now.
- Shu. I come from Cape Town, which, in South African terms, is considered the ultra laid-back city, never in a hurry, not materialistic and coolly understated. I know this is a hugely, sweeping, simple characterisation, but bear with me! Shu could be translated as “WOW THAT IS THE MOST AMAZING THING I’VE EVER HEARD IN MY WHOLE LIFE, I’M SO EXCITED YAY YAY YAY YAY YAY!”, or it could mean, “That’s really scary/wonderful/awful/amazing/tragic.” It can also be used in conjunction with another word in common SA use: “Shu, that’s hectic, hey?” (we also say hey a lot), which has the same meaning as either of the above.
- I have an illustration of the word shu. A few years back, on the last day of the school holidays, I went with my two sons to a beach in Cape Town. I lay on the sand and read my book while my sons played soccer (which is what is known in the UK as football) in the shallow waters. After a while I heard a really loud siren, which my sons ran to tell me was a shark warning. Shark-spotters up on the mountainside had seen sharks in that bay, and monitors ran down the beach to call everyone out of the water. We had never experienced anything like this before – scary and exciting all at the same time, not knowing if Jaws would make a personal appearance, and where would it all end? We were eventually given the all-clear and allowed back into the water, although it wasn’t so much fun when you know who’s just been swimming there. When we got home, I sent my husband an sms explaining – in my usual wordy style – the turn of events at Fishhoek that morning. My words spilled over into three messages, and I sent them off. A few minutes later, I got this sms response from him: “Shu.”
- An alternative to shu is: Is it? It can be used in exactly the same contexts as above. And sometimes, depending on the accent, it may sound like eeeezit?
- In South Africa, we call a van a bakkie, and traffic lights robots.
- I have noticed in the UK that a number of our friends like to drink redbush tea. It is a South African product, which we know as rooibos. So if I’m making tea or coffee back home, and someone has asked for tea, I will always ask, “rooibos or normal?” I’ve said that a few times here, only to be met with confused stares!
- Something that I’ve picked up here, is the use of the expression “as you do”. It adds an interesting spin to something slightly unusual that you might be talking about. So for example, you might say “When I was chatting to the Prime Minister the other day – as you do – he mentioned that he was glad he hadn’t called his new baby daughter Beyonce.”
- I have my own version of that kind of spin – if someone says something slightly obscure, and perhaps out of context, I’ll say, “…said the actress to the bishop.” Try it, it’s fun! Breaks the ice at parties.
So, English or Inglish, I love that our language is common but we all have our own words and meanings that we use. It’s so interesting, can cause much hilarity and confusion, and, if we allow it, draws us all towards each other. Please share your thoughts and words and meanings; it’ll be so, like, hectic, hey?
Sunshine signing off for today.