Is that your new wife? Shame

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!

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.”
  4. 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?
  5. In South Africa, we call a van a bakkie, and traffic lights robots.
  6. 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!
  7. 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.”
  8. 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.


14 thoughts on “Is that your new wife? Shame

  1. Talk about talkin forrin!! I enjoyed that “shame” was your first point – when you move to another country – eg: me moving to Australia – it’s really hard when those words are well and truly part of your vocabulary … and I find myself saying “ah shame” so much – in fact probably too much! So if someone has been sick, or hurt themselves, etc – I just say “ah shame” all the time without thinking – but now reading your post — I don’t ever hear that expression here so they must think I am nuts!!! What about “ah sweet” to everything too!!!
    Fantastic reading as usual – always end up with a smile … and a little bit of sunshine! xx

  2. Hi Sunshine:

    Happy to see a photo of my “almost twin.” You’re gorgeous!

    Another word that Dad and I joke about that they use in an interesting way in Saint John is “different.” Picture a couple of Saint Johnners looking at a piece of abstract art. Cocking his head to one side, one will say, “It’s different!” The other will nod in agreement. If someone says “It’s different” in Saint John, it means weird, strange, or far out…so much so that it makes one uncomfortable! Being “different” in Saint John is almost never a good thing!

    Another one I’ve never run across anywhere but here is calling the emergency room at the hospital “the out door” (not even sure if I’m spelling that right – I don’t get it!).

    It was fun learning some of your Saffa expressions!


    1. Thanks, Wendy! I thought I needed to show my face – a bridge version of me just wasn’t me – literally and figuratively! I love the use of the word different as you describe – and I think my parents use that word in that context too. There’s a TV commercial here in the UK for a beer called Speckled Hen. It features a fox checking out various random things, or watching people doing random things (like riding bicycles around their dining room tables!) and the fox says, “Mmmmm, different. But it’s not a hen.” I love that ad!

      Thanks for your Canadian expressions!

  3. Ah shame man – I thoroughly enjoyed your take on shame, I use it all the time!!

    A lot of kids are now saying – my bad, which also has a multitude of meanings. Another is – whatever!! When I am giving my five cents worth and one of my darling children turn around and say whatever Mom- shu!!

    Love Penny xx

  4. Sunshine, a friend sent me links to your blogs about language. I am a South African living in the USA in the deep South, so here it is a whole new set of words and sayings.
    Something I picked up on in your first article was when you talked about your flat. I was assuming you were going to discuss the word “flat” because here people have no idea what a flat is. It is an apartment 🙂
    Another term I used from time to time was “for Africa” meaning a lot. “There was food for Africa”. My husband, who is American didn’t know what I meant at first. He thought I was saying that the food was being donated to Africa. Now, he actually uses the term from time to time when talking to me.
    What about “now-now” and “just-now”? My husband, who lived in SA for a while, picked up on some of the slang, but he still doesn’t “get” how long now-now is. He uses it all wrong. Now-now is within 5 or 10 minutes and just-now (usually pronounced jiiiist now) means within 3 or 4 hours. Isn’t it obvious? Hahahaha!

    1. Hi Odette – thanks so much for visiting my blog! And thanks for sharing the Saffa-isms that don’t work over on your side of the pond either! People here know what a flat is, but don’t get the now, just-now and now-now (check out my first blog – So I decided against stand up comedy). I’m coming now, or – a good Cape Town one – I’m now there! I love it! And for Africa – that’s a great one. Please keep sharing – it’s such a hoot! Hey?

  5. I am going to work the “as you do” and “said the actress to the bishop” lines into my next adult conversation. On second thought, I’m going to use them on my children too. I so love it when the look at me like I’ve lost my mind:)

  6. Hi
    Ev sent me the link to your blog. Cool bananas! I had to laugh at all the familiar words and sayings that we don’t think twice about using. It sounds as if you’re having a lekker time in London. Do you have braais there too?
    How’s your belly? I’ve put on quite a bit of weight so mine’s dancing all by itself! Never went back to classes after the show.
    love Christine

    1. Lovely to hear from you, Christine! We are having fun – we have barbecues here, not braais! I haven’t kept up with the belly dancing, but do Latin aerobics, which is such fun!
      Hope you’re well?

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