Does this make sense? I doubt

We went out for a pizza last night – a little celebration of sorts! As always, I had my accent radar on and tuned and was pleased that I got it right again: our waiter was a Zimbo!

We had a lovely conversation with this warm and friendly young man (as all Zimbabweans are), and he concluded that he had been following us around the world! He’d left Zimbabwe to live in South Africa before coming over to London last year.

I don’t mean to boast, but I can generally spot a Zimbabwean accent at 100 metres! Countless times we have been somewhere, I have heard a few words and I know that the person is Zimbabwean. Not that the accent is that different from Saffa, and I don’t know that I could describe the difference for you, but I can recognise it. My niece, who is Zimbabwean and lives in London, has a fridge magnet that states, “No, I am not from South Africa.” Rather like the one I’d like to have that says, “No, I am not Australian. Or Kiwi. Or from anywhere in Europe either, pinhead.”

We went out for breakfast with friends in Cape Town some time ago, and, as it was a cool and drizzly morning, we didn’t want to sit at a table on the balcony. We told our waiter we’d prefer to sit inside and asked if there was a free table for us. He glanced indoors and said to us, “I doubt.” That was it – I knew he was Zimbabwean, and he was!

Zim forrin is something else all together. I grew up with some of these words, and I know – having been away for so many years – there will be plenty of words to add or amend, so please feel free to give me your contributions, if you have any!

  1. Mush/mushi/mushi sterek (pronounced moosh): this means great, nice, wonderful, excellent, wicked. The sterek part adds extra emphasis. I used to use this word as a teenager, until I had it guffawed out of me by my cool Cape Town cousins who quickly replaced it with the much more street-cred-worthy “brilliant”.
  2. Penga: this means mad, crazy. When we heard about my husband’s job, we went penga.
  3. Neos/magic markers: growing up, it was a treat to have a set of these, instead of just pencil crayons. These are felt-tip pens. South Africans call them kokis.
  4. Kaylite: if you buy an electrical or electronic item, kaylite is the stuff that clads it inside the cardboard box. White, squeaky stuff that the rest of the world calls polystyrene.
  5. A few weeks ago I was chatting to my sister (who lives in Zim) and we were talking about Zimbabwean forrin. She said, “What about boppa it up with rekken?” Exactly, what about it? I said, “WTF?” (which means what’s that forrin?) She said, “You know if your hosepipe gets a hole in it, you use a piece of rekken (rubber inner tube from a bicycle or car tyre) to boppa (tie) it up and stop the leak.” Precisely.
  6. Sometimes Zimbabweans can’t cope up with things, when others might not be able to cope.
  7. There is a word that is not appropriate in print, that a lot of Zimbabweans use, which means very. I’ll illustrate. I was in Bulawayo with my sister some years ago and we bumped into a young friend of hers. After the usual exchange of pleasantries, she asked him how the recent youth meeting had gone. He said, “Eish! It was b….yf…ing difficult.” I asked her, afterwards, if he had just said what I thought he had just said. She said, “Yes. It means very.”

My elder son tore a ligament in his ankle, playing rugby, during his last year of school. He had to see an orthopaedic surgeon, and my husband took him to his first appointment. When they got back, I asked about the surgeon, what he was like, and my husband said, “He seemed fine.”

I took my son to his second appointment. Firstly, I nearly fell off my chair when I saw how fine he was (my husband didn’t tell me he was gorgeous! Well, I guess he wouldn’t…) Secondly, after listening to him chat to my son for about a minute, I realised he wasn’t a Saffa. After a while, I asked if he was Zimbabwean, and he was. Fortunately, he’d finished examining my son because we then chatted for about half an hour about Zimbabwe and everything we had in common through growing up there. My poor son shifted from moonboot to foot, shuffled on his crutches and quietly sighed. When we eventually left the rooms, he said to me, “I knew as soon as you asked him if he was Zimbabwean and he said yes, that we were in for a marathon.” Or words to that effect.

I was happy, mostly, when the ankle was healed and he had his last visit to the orthopaedic surgeon. Sigh.

Sunshine signing off for today!


24 thoughts on “Does this make sense? I doubt

  1. Your last anecdote made me laugh…you’re so much like me! In the bookstore, I always ask people who I know are from “away” where they’re from…we end up in these long conversations! My dad looks at me like I have two heads when I report: “Those people were from Ottawa…he works for the federal government counting paperclips. They have three kids, two in university, and one who works at Tim Horton’s. They also have a hamster named Slim.” Dad can’t believe I’ve gleaned all that information from them by asking “Where are you folks visiting from?” He’s not nearly as friendly as I am!

    Fun to learn about Zimbo “forrin” too!


  2. Sunshine – l just love your blogs. I am just the same and Alan absolutely despairs. I can also spot a Zimbo from a mile away. A good means of identification is to say “Sssssssssssss” and see if they whip around with speed and alacrity. Definitely a Zimbo or at least someone related to a Zimbo!

    Another one is being “bored” – this does not mean disinterested or apathetic. It means fed up or cross! I love this.

    All alcohol is referred to as beer – even Dom Perignon would fall in this bracket!

    Keep writing and l will definitely keep reading.

    Love you

    1. Thanks so much for your lovely comments, Rosy! I love all your Zimbo expressions – they’re fabulous! Glad we’re just the same with finding out info and spotting Zimbos!
      Much love, Sunshine xx

  3. And there I thought that Zimbabweans just couldn’t speak English properly! 😉

    You’re right though that Zimbabweans are a cheerful, friendly lot. Not like us surly South Africans! I say that with deep love for my fellow countrymen and women. It’s just a fact. Actually most people living in other Africans countries are friendlier than us.

    On the language note: it’s always been interesting to me how people in different parts of Africa speak English differently. The influence of colonization on the speech patterns and pronunciation are huge.

      1. By the way, back in my UCT days there was another way to identify a Zimbabwean. At least the guys. They often wore shorts and sandals right through winter! Make them real tough in Zimbabwe, they do.

      2. Yip, tough as nails. In my day, they didn’t even wear sandals – they were usually barefoot. In mid-winter they might wear veldskoens! We said you could recognise a Zimbo by their goosebumps! 🙂

  4. I too find accents fascinating. I’m alot like you in this area. People and what makes them tick interest me more than fake soap operas on tv. I guess in a nutshell I’m a fact girl.
    I have many treasured Zim friends but have never known much about the lingo so, this blog taugt me quite a bit. Thanks again Sunshine.

    1. Thanks for the comment! In this accent heaven, it’s hard work trying to impersonate the different accents, which is one of my favourite things to do! Glad you found the lesson in Zimbo useful! 🙂
      Sunshine xx

  5. Your ability to accurately place an accent is really quite a skill, because it sounds like it leads you to some “mushi sterek” conversations. This reminds me of my mother; she can spot a Pittsburgh accent anywhere, and then she’ll spend the next 30 minutes comparing and contrasting Pittsburgh experiences.

    Very cool.

    1. Thank you, Maura! I met someone a while ago who grew up in Northern Ireland, and he said he can tell exactly where someone comes from in NI – within a ten mile radius – just by hearing their accent. Now that’s a skill!
      Sunshine xx

  6. I, too, can ususally get an accent “right”…from others…
    It’s fascinating, the different melodies each one of us creates…


  7. So I’m here – love your ‘language’ post. My daughter is in the U.S. for a year and was surprised when I told her I could pick out a Canadian accent out of all the exchange students from around the world. Well, of course, you know it from British and Australian but she didn’t think I could distinguish from a lot of Americans – not only could I say the young woman on the bus was Canadian but I pegged her as from Vancouver – and was right. (It’s attitude, dress, culture – you know).

  8. I had no idea the accents/language were that different — I learn something fascinating every time I check into your blog 🙂 And I was even able to impress a Scottish neighbor recently with all the lingo I had picked up!

  9. Hi Sunshine,
    So enjoying your blogs. You write very well.
    I still talk about tackies and of course no-one over here, unless they are Zimbos, knows what I am talking about!

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