So this is where I learnt to speak funny

Moving country and home so often during my youth, I always worked hard to blend in. To learn the local slang. And not to sound like a stranger. Living in London I realise I have a new perspective. I’m okay with being and sounding forrin.

I like that I have a strange accent and I speak funny. I like that I say now and now now, that I say off as if it’s spelt orf. I like that I say shu and use hey far too often and inappropriately, and that when I say shame I mean sweet, or pretty much any other word that might fit into that sentence. I like that I have to explain certain words that I use that have no place in local usage, and that I have to ask the meaning of a local word or expression that I haven’t heard before.

You see, London is full of people like me. Yes, Saffas and Zimbabweans, but also people who are living far from their home, their language and their custom. So, while I don’t blend in, I blend in just fine. We all do. It’s like that in the Big Smoke.

Listening to the radio this morning, I heard the latest gossip about an X Factor contestant. My first thought was, “Sheesh, what a waster.” Which took me back to my high school days in Zimbabwe … I thought about my teachers and my friends, and how we used to speak. So allow me to take you on another trip to Bulawayo in the mid-1970s.

I went to an all girls’ high school. Moving from a small, private boarding school to a large, government school was a shock to the system. I soon settled. I always did. I had a few teachers that I will remember always.

Our English teacher, Mrs E, was a Jean Harlow lookalike. Her hair was lily white. She was meticulously fussy about grammar and the correct use of English. We were NEVER allowed to say different to or different than. It was compulsory, in her class, to say different from. Hopefully could only ever be used as an adverb and all hell would break loose if we talked about quotes rather than quotations. She was a delight, she loved her subject and, with her guidance, we all did well in our external examinations. (Not exams.)

In my early years of high school, we had ONE male teacher in the school. Two things about him were so not in his favour: firstly, his surname was the same as our school’s name. And secondly, he had a lisp. His subject was maths, which he pronounced mathth and he would regularly call us naughty goblinth and throw chalk at us. He didn’t stay too long at our school, but he did marry one of our other teachers. Bleth.

In my last two years at school, a few new male teachers joined the staff. Our new English teacher was SO cool – Mr K was his name. He would walk into the classroom and, to begin with, we would all stand as he entered. The first few times he said to us, “J***s, sit down, I’m not God.” He would then take his place at the front of the classroom, stand with his left foot on his desk, lean his elbow on his left knee, and talk poetry. Or literature. He wore short safari suits; he was clearly a fan of the King as his blond hair was expertly greased and coiffed into a snazzy Elvis flick and duck tail. He wore long socks and tucked his comb into one of them.

Our French teacher, Mr B, looked quite similar. Except his hair was black, and the grease was natural. He was always quite sweaty and struggled to push the words out of his mouth without a little spittle. Our favourite challenge was to get him off the subject, which we managed to do with regular monotony. We would feel so self-satisfied if we’d spent a double period of French learning about his exploits in the army, and giving French grammar a miss. He would protest with much saliva when he realised he’d been hoodwinked. Again.

So back to waster… here’s another mini-lexicon of Zimbabwean slang from my high school era:

  1. Waster – a good-for-nothing.
  2. Skate – at high school, our uniform was a striped dress, short socks and brown lace-up shoes and a straw boater/hat with a school ribbon on it. If we had long hair we had to tie it back and we had to wear school-colour ribbons. If you were a skate you’d wear the boater as far back on your head as you could balance it, you’d wear the shortest ankle socks you could find, you’d wear non-regulation shoes with buckles, and you either wouldn’t tie your hair back or you’d not wear ribbons. And you’d always go out every weekend and party and meet all the cool guys. Skate = a slight reprobate or rebel. But mostly in a harmless way.
  3. Hood – similar to skate but perhaps less harmless, and always male. My dad might refer to this type as a wide boy. I had a boyfriend who used to drive an old truck. He would stop outside our front gate and hoot for me. I would run out, jump in the truck and go out with him. He was a hood, but my dad used to call him … actually in that instance he used a different expression from wide boy.
  4. Tune – this verb means the same as say, tell, chat up, mock, make fun of, lie, flirt or stir. If someone tuned you, you could be angry, flattered, informed, misinformed or provoked. It all depended on the context.
  5. Own/oke – this noun means guy. I went to the disco and this oke was tuning me.

I guess that’s the end of the Zimbo lesson from London for today. There is more to come, so keep your notebooks handy. Someone once said that when the world ends, all that will be left will be cockroaches and Zimbabweans. Do you think she was tuning me?

Sunshine signing off for today!


This blog’s seriously going south

It’s Friday and I thought it would be rude not to start the weekend with another little lesson in forrin! Grab your coffee, wine or beverage of choice and sit back and travel with me to Africa – it’ll be festive!

I’ll take you to the lands of my youth. So we’ll learn a little more Zimbabwean (the home of my high school days) and a little more South African (my university days, early motherhood and beyond). Some words will take my fellow sub-Saharans back in time, others will make you frown, but let’s just have fun. Let’s.

(My granny used to stay with us for a few months at a time when I was a teenager. She loved her chair in the lounge, and she loved watching TV. She would often say to me, “Shall we turn the TV on?” And I, cocky little teenager that I was, would say, “Let’s.”)

Starting in Zim: my brothers were party animals loved to go out when they were teenagers. (They are bothhhh older than me – seven and five years. Respectfully.) While I never heard all the detail of what they got up to (I’m the little sister, remember?), I would often hear them talk about a festive chick that they met or saw. This usually meant a girl who was easy on the eye, especially if the eyes were covered in beer goggles.

In contrast, we would all talk about graubs (grorbs), who are male or female, and just the opposite of festive.  We tried to avoid graubs at the school dances, because the goal was to get lucky and find someone to grapple with on the dance floor. Especially if it was a slow shuffle. Now even I am laughing out loud, because I haven’t even thought about those words for years!

I have some outrageously embarrassing stories about school dances that would send certain family members running for cover, but I will spare them and move on, swiftly!

So, the word graub leads me, phonetically, on to graunch. I know I used this word in my blog post on Monday, with reference to the doobie dude graunching his hubcaps on the kerb. No doubt you guessed, but it means to damage, scrape, or do grievous bodily harm to (caution: exaggeration at work) and its use is usually accompanied by a screwed-up nose and graphic noises and descriptions.

Here are a few Afrikaans words (I won’t overwhelm you with too many) that have snuck into everyday South African English. Well, into mine, anyway:

  1. Dof (dorf): dim, switched-off, not very bright or clever
  2. Onbeskof (ornbeskorf): cheeky, otherwise, difficult, facetious
  3. Deurmekaar (d’yearmakarr): all over the place, confused, disorganised
  4. Ingewikkeld (too difficult to explain pronunciation!): complicated, involved.

In South Africa, and I think again it has to do with the direct translation from Afrikaans, it’s not polite for someone to throw you with a stone.  This means to throw a stone at you. I find this turn of phrase hilarious, and it was made more so by a neighbour of my sister’s some years ago, in SA. She told my sister about her baby and how she had recently changed her baby’s diet. The new food regime was causing a, well, disruption to her baby’s usual digestive activities. With the result that my sister’s neighbour was concerned with the consistency of the result of said activities.

Yoh,” her friend said, “it’s so hard, you could throw a dog dead with it.”

And with that, shall we end this ridiculous blog? Let’s!

Sunshine, dof, onbeskof, but always smiling, will see you Monday!

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!