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Afrikaans Ja-Nee

Week 24, Episode 47

It might come from what is usually perceived as tough-spoken, cold-seasoned language of Dutch, but Afrikaans has its whims and quirks, and some words might become your most favorite ones.

As for me, I fell in love with warmly sounding words for granny—ouma (ow-mah)—and grandpa—oupa (ow-pah). Strangely enough, a common slang word for an old person is not that lovely and makes me think about a creepy little shrimp—krimpie (crem-pea), but literally translates as a diminutive of "shrinked person".

Some words have that funny attitude similar to Finnish salmon+snake=dragon formula, like the word for "potato"aartappel (ah-r-tah-pl)—that arises from the union of "earth" (aart) and "apple" (appel), or "garage" that is simply described as a "car house"motorhuis (motor-hooy-s), etc.

One of the most common slang words, or better said, interjections in Afrikaans is eish (ay-sh). This one is of Bantu origin and can be translated as "Wow!" or "What?" or "Oh, my!" Actually, it has a multitude of meanings depending on the context and intonation:

  1. Excitement: "I've got tickets for the new James Bond movie!" "Eish!"
  2. Horror: "A ten feet tall spider attacked the city!" "Eeeish!"
  3. Anger: "Eishsh! Somebody stole my Porsche!"
  4. Happiness: "I can fly! Eiiish!"
  5. Shock: "Godzilla is real!" "Eish!"
  6. Exasperation: "Eish! I've got a paper-cut!"
  7. Disbelief: "You saw an alien? Eeeish..."
  8. Surprise: "Eish, there is Tom Cruise in my room!"
  9. Frustration: "Eish, I am so tired..."

There are some other slang words that are quite amusing and queer:

  • babbelbekkie (bubble-back-key) – someone who talks a lot
  • befok (beh-fok) – really good, exciting, cool
  • bokkie (bok-key) – (diminutive of bok, literally meaning "little buck/deer" or "doe") a popular term of endearment, comparable to "sweetheart", "honey", etc.
  • bra – male friend (like bro); [Swedish has this word too, but with another meaning]
  • china/chine – a friend
  • druk (drook) – to embrace or squeeze, a hug
  • eina! (ay-nah) – ouch! 
  • ja-nee – literally "yes-no", "indeed"; an expression of positive confirmation
  • kwaai (k-why) – cool, excellent (literally means "angry, fierce")
  • sommer (soh-meh-r) – for no particular reason, "just because"

Something funny happened to numbers, those of two digits. When you want to say "twenty-two", for example, in Afrikaans you would say it as "twee-en-twintig", literally "two and twenty." No matter how big the number is, when it comes to the last two digits you name them in reversed order: say, 374 would become "drie honderd, vier-en-sewentig" ("three hundred, four and seventy"). Het dit! (Got it!)

I hope this Langventure into Afrikaans gave you an idea and sensation of how unexpected and exciting this language is. As I say "Tot siens!" (Tot seen-s) to the Dutch spirit and African sounds of Afrikaans, I have to mention that battles over this language are still raging, but whatever reasoning each of the sides have—pro-Afrikaans or against it—let's remember that languages exist to bring us closer to each other.

Sterkte! (Stehr-ktehGood luck! (literally "Strength [to you]")

" I'm kwaai and I know it! Put your like!"

Discover more about Afrikaans and other languages at

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