The thing about accents is that you only notice them when they differ from your own. At home in Cape Town I never notice my own accent but here in London, it’s another story all together. I’m well forrin and can’t hide it.
I heard the tail-end of a discussion on a TV talk show this morning. One of the guests said, “When I speak to someone with an accent, I start talking with that accent. I can’t help it.” And everyone laughed. There is also the tendency to speak louder and more slowly when you speak to someone with an accent other than your own, or someone whose first language is not the same as yours.
So that was my prompt: I thought it was time to talk a little more forrin and share some more of my language idiosyncrasies with you. It’s funny, I never notice them at home and yet here, in London, they stick out like the proverbial sore thumb. Is that a well-known expression?
Here goes with the Saffa-isms:
- Chips! This is an expression that has a number of uses. You can use it to ask someone to move out of your way (not really polite); you can use it to alert someone to a possible danger, such as “Chips! Open manhole ahead” or worse, “Chips, the teacher’s coming.”
- Long teeth. This is a direct translation from the Afrikaans. If you do something with long teeth it means you do it with extreme reluctance, dragging your feet, not wanting to do it at all.
- Swak (pronounced swuck). This is an Afrikaans word which literally translated means weak. Its use in English has a slightly stronger meaning and I’m not sure that I can do it justice: mean, horrible, nasty, unfair. For example, “My cell phone got stolen last night.” “Ah, no, bru. That’s so swak.”
- Whinge. This is in common use in England and in SA, and it means to complain, or to whine, but with an extra truckload of annoying-ness.
- Land with your bum in the butter. I’m not sure where this saying originates, but it means to be lucky, to have things go your way.
- When I was a child, if something irked my Cape Town-born and bred mom, she would say she could spit blood. That was quite a frightening thought for me. She would also say, as she rolled her eyes, “Oh, heavens to betsy!”
- Gedoente. Again, this is an Afrikaans word (don’t know how to explain its pronunciation) and it means (usually unnecessary) fuss. Or, in the words of a client that I worked with in a PR consultancy, it’s a major bloody marchpast.
And here are a few of the English expressions I notice here. I wasn’t familiar with them, but am now growing to love them:
- Anorak. This one fascinates me. The word, which means hooded raincoat or parka, has evolved into slang usage, and it means fan, fanatic, aficionado, knowledgeable one on a particular (unusual) topic, and perhaps in an obsessive way. So you could be a train anorak or a Star Trek anorak (Trekkie).
- In bits. I heard this expression on the news last night. The reporter was covering the story about the guy whose wife was murdered in South Africa last month, while they were on honeymoon. The taxi driver, convicted of the murder, implicated the husband by saying he’d been paid by him to murder his wife and make it look like a car-jacking. The reporter said the husband, at his home in England, was in bits. It means upset. It’s often associated with crying. In this context, the expression strikes me as the exact opposite of hyperbole.
- Winding me up. This means teasing me, having me on. The local radio station we listen to runs many competitions, including one where you have to identify three mystery voices. The jackpot grows with each wrong guess and it continues to grow until all three voices have been correctly identified. Earlier this year, a listener won £100,000 when he did just that. His reaction? “You’re joking! You’re winding me up! You must be winding me up!” I must say, that was my favourite kind of reaction!
- Lovely. This is not a new word to me, but I love its constant presence in conversation here. Lovely to meet you, lovely to hear from you, lovely to see you, lovely to chat to you, etc etc. When I had one of my first job interviews in London last year, the interviewer shook my hand at the end of the hour and said, “Lovely to meet you.” I walked on air as I made my way home. “She liked me, and I’m sure I’m going to get the job,” I thought. Not so much. I realised, when I got the no, that she would have said that to everyone. I was in bits. (Not really!)
This is an ongoing project, learning new expressions and discovering the forrin-ness here of the ones I use. If you have any suggestions or contributions, it would be lovely to hear them! And I do mean lovely.
Sunshine signing off for today!