Afrikaans, the youngest language in the world! The third-most spoken language in South Africa. A European language spoken in Africa, some would say. These are some of the comments you would come across when enquiring about this language for the first time. Many consider Afrikaans an easy language to learn, once you’ve become used to its guttural pronunciation, because it basically only has three tenses, viz, present, past and future; no future progressive (continuous) or past perfect, etc.

Further, Afrikaans is the language with the widest geographical spread as it is spoken in all of South Africa’s nine provinces, as well as in Namibia (where it is recognised as a national language), Botswana and Zimbabwe. You will even find concentrations of individuals speaking it on every continent of the globe, including Antarctica, where South Africa has maintained a research station since 1959. The current station is called SANAE IV and is operated by the South African National Antarctic Expedition (SANAE).

So, from the coldest reaches of the planet to some pretty cool and, even, hot locations in Africa and elsewhere, you will find Afrikaans spoken with relish. Back home, it is recognised as one of the official languages of South Africa, is widely used in business and industry and even has a monument erected in its honour in Paarl in the Western Cape. Afrikaans is spoken by most ethnic groups in the country as a second or third language and is largely favoured as a first language in the western half.

a group of female friends laughing together
Afrikaans has many curious words and tongue twisters. - Source: Pexels

It is a language with a proud history, rich literature, drama, music and active movie-making industry. Culturally, there are many who cling to it as a unifying element which embodies their culture and history. These adherents are referred to as Afrikaners and they engage in activities such a volksspeletjies and annually host an Afrikaans festival, the ATKV  (Afrikaanse Taal- en Kultuurvereniging)-fees where Afrikaans is celebrated in many art forms.

Many people in South Africa speak two or more languages, with Afrikaans very often in the mix. It may, thus, be quite advantageous for anyone wanting to connect with locals anywhere in the country to try their hand at Afrikaans, especially if they find learning an indigenous language challenging. Knowledge of the language is also imperative, especially if you find yourself outside of a big city, where the choice of language is limited and you need to make yourself understood on a daily basis. Since Afrikaans is also increasingly being chosen as a language of study by high school students, the need or demand for Afrikaans teachers and tutors is growing. Further, courts require the services of interpreters and various agencies are always in need of persons who can translate documents, fliers, billboards and even books into and from Afrikaans. The need for Afrikaans speakers, teachers, tutors and writers is therefore very real!

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Should Afrikaans Teachers Introduce Unusual, Weird and Funny Expressions in a Classroom Setting?

Learners of a language, which is foreign to them, have quite a number of obstacles to overcome. One of the very significant ones is time. A native speaker would have been hearing and responding to and in Afrikaans for many years, actively starting from the day they were born. A novice does not have that luxury and, in essence, is starting off with a significant handicap. Accompanying such an impediment would be the structure, conventions and influence of the learner’s mother tongue and its pronunciation and inflexion.

These reasons highlight very clearly why a learner new to the learning of another language, such as Afrikaans, must have identified very clearly his or her motivation for wanting to learn the new tongue. This will enable them to tough it out and complete whatever course they apply themselves to. A good teacher, who can meet the student at his or her point of need, would be an indispensable aide in this quest. He or she would assist the student from the very fundamental aspects of the language to a state of understanding, confidence and, if time allows, fluency. A skilful tutor will guide the student through and help them master their listening, reading, speaking and writing skills.

Afrikaans, like any other foreign language, has terminology, phrases and twists of words and idiom which are peculiar to it, which may come across as strange to a non-native speaker. A good many of these phrases or words may not be encountered in textbooks or formal conversation. They may, however, colour the language in a particular way in certain parts of the country and be part of the accepted way to speak the language in situ. The Cape Flats of Cape Town and the West Coast region come to mind here, where the distinctly different ways of speaking Afrikaans are very marked, especially the rolling ‘r’ (a Huguenot legacy) peculiar to the West Coast region and its hinterland.

Given all of the above, should an Afrikaans teacher present his class with weird, unusual and strange Afrikaans words and expressions?

The answer would be undoubtedly, yes!

cheetah lying in grass
A cheetah is a "jagluiperd" in Afrikaans. - Source: Unsplash

The introduction of these unusual words and phrases can help to make lessons more interesting, memorable and fun. Teachers, in many subjects, have found that learners remembered some of the funny quips they made in class as opposed to those they poured their heart and soul into explaining. The novelty of the terminology can sometimes be heard as students step out of classrooms and move about through hallways or on stoeps. A learner may approach another with, “What was that new word we learned yesterday?”, with a smile on his or her face. Such can be the impact of these outlandish or peculiar expressions that Afrikaans lessons will never again be viewed as boring or regarded as bad as root-canal work.

It is, of course, not a course requirement that students learn strange and bizarre Afrikaans words. What must be borne in mind is that these little sparkles, bangs or pops will help to relieve tension and even lead to a greater bonding of students, thereby also positively impacting on dynamics in the classroom and lift the mood immeasurably… just as an appropriate joke at a time of tension could!

There are definitely a number of ridiculous Afrikaans words that you will encounter as your knowledge and use of the language grows. Once you get going and, especially if you have an easy-going coach, you will soon see the fun in learning Afrikaans.

Some of the Longest Words in the Afrikaans Language

Let’s start by having a look at some of the longest words in Afrikaans. These are quite plentiful as words are strung together if they refer to one concept, as in badkamervenster (bathroom window) or, as bandied about in one class, buitelandsebinnebandlosebuitebande (imported tubeless tyres). Clearly, from your reading and studying, you will come across numerous long Afrikaans words like these … and there are many more!

It is not necessary to know these words for any exam, test or oral, but ler’s have some fun by looking at some of the jaw-breakers that can make saying them quite a mouthful!

  • Wildewaartlemoenkonfytkompetisiebeoordelaarshandleiding (56 characters) this word translates to “wild watermelon jam competition judges guide”.
  • Tweedehandsemotorverkoopsmannevakbondstakingsvergaderingsameroepers -toespraakskywerspersverklaringuitreikingsmediakonferensieaankondiging: too scared to say it because you fear that your jaws may lock? Yes, this is the longest known Afrikaans word and contains 137 characters, the size of several alphabets. It means “issuable media conference’s announcement at a press release regarding the convener’s speech at a second-hand car dealership union’s strike meeting”. Several words in English, one in Afrikaans.

And then there are some of the funniest Afrikaans words that you will come across. There are, of course, a plethora to choose from, but those below have been selected as they reflect how funny – and wrong – a direct translation of the word may prove to be:

 

 simple presentimperfectsimple pastsimple futurepast participle
Jefinisfinissaisfinisfiniraifini (m.), finie (f.)
Tufinisfinissaisfinisfiniras
Il/elle/onfinitfinissaitfinitfinira
Nousfinissonsfinissionsfinîmesfinirons
Vousfinissezfinissiezfinîtesfinirez
Ils/ellesfinissentfinissaientfinirentfiniront

What is interesting about this batch of words is that you may come across them in your normal discourse with people. So, it would be good for you to remember not to translate them directly into English. That may make you the butt of many a joke! These would be good to commit to memory!

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Some Afrikaans Tongue-Twisters and Neologisms

In Afrikaans, these are called tongknopers en nuwe skeppings. Trying to say some of these quickly can really trip you up, but they are definitely fun to try.

  • Agter die huis lê drie rolle draad! Careful now, not drolle! That has a totally different connotation.
  • Sannie sê Sannie sal sewe sakke sout sleep, sonder Sannie sê Sannie sleep swaar.

This particular expression can be compared to the English one, ‘She sell seashells on the sea-shore …’ and was so popular at one stage that it was incorporated into a song (sung by Anneli van Rooyen).

My liewe neef Louw

My neus jeuk nou.

Jeuk my liewe neef Louw

Se neus ook nou?

These expressions are intesting and may make you laugh or cry as you try to say them quickly.

These below will definitely lighten the mood and make the learning of Afrikaans pleasurable … or at least put a smile on your dial.

Afrikaans, as a new language, has grown at quite a pace because it has, over time, adopted interesting and new words, especially from English. Here are some which you may or may not recognise, which generally have no English link.

small girl and parents smiling
Native Afrikaans speakers benefit from being exposed to Afrikaans inflexions and pronunciation every day. - Source: Pexels
  • Spookasem: ‘ghost breath’ you may suggest; no, it’s very simply candy-floss.
  • Bekbriefie: this ‘letter from the mouth’ is actually a voice note.
  • Flaterwater: This sounds like water that would either cause to speak out of turn or water you would use to help you correct an error. The second explanation is correct as it is correcting fluid, commonly referred to by the brand name Tippex.
  • Kriewelkous: ‘Kriewel’ means fidget and ‘kous’ sock. Since toddlers are often in booties or socks ‘kriewelkous’ denotes a very busy toddler.
  • Doef-poef: Very acoustic if one considers that ‘doef’ is a banging sound and poef’, well … refers to poo (yuck!). So, in effect, this term is referencing a long-drop! Eek!
  • Rymkletser: A very interesting new addition to the Afrikaans language, this word means a rapper (rap artist) who rhymes (rym) as he speaks (klets).

Knowledge of some of these words will pleasantly surprise your Afrikaans-speaking colleagues, friends and family. There will be a few that not even they will know!

Afrikaans Terms for People and Things

The terms below can also be very interesting – if not tricky. They are again a group of words you would do well to memorise as they may pop up in conversations at any time.

To have access to a native Afrikaans-speaker tutor would really put you in the pound seat. He or she would help you negotiate a correct path between what could turn out to be a minefield. He or she would advise you that oujongnooi (directly translated into ‘old young maiden’) refers to a spinster, a lady who has never married. You would be advised that broerskind/susterskind – refers to ‘nephew’ or ‘niece’. If the relative were the child of your brother, you would use broerskind and vice versa if the child were that of your sister. Niggie or neef or also sometimes used, although these terms relate rather to cousins. Your ouma-grootjie would be your great-grandmother and your peetpa would be your godfather.

Different occupations

There are also a number of interesting terms that relate to jobs or occupations. The word bestuurder, while it refers to a driver, also refers to a bank manager (bankbestuurder) as he is responsible for ‘steering’ the bank. The principal of a school is called a hoof (as in head teacher) and a teacher is a onderwyser. An accountant is a rekenmeester, a pilot is a vlieënier and a verkeersbeampte is a traffic officer.

Things

Although a number of words are close to or resemble their English counterparts – sand, water, man and sit -there are others that differ completely; words like komper or rekenaar for a computer. A garage is called a motorhuis, while a car jack is known as a domkrag, a shirt a hemp, shoes skoene and a skirt a romp. Boom is not an explosion, a pole or a period of growth, but a tree.

Consider also the very interesting word vliegtuig (effectively a ‘flight craft’), which denotes an aeroplane.

Afrikaans Words and Phrases and Their Interpretation

These are very closely linked to where you find yourself in the country and whom you associate with.

In the company of native speakers of Afrikaans, you would hear terms like, dis nie altemit nie, meaning you’re so right and ek kan jou ‘n brief gee states that something is definitely so, as in “I can guarantee that,” to the extent that I’ll put it in writing. It has a similar meaning to jy kan jou kop op ‘n blok sit which means that you’re absolutely convinced of something. This harks back to a time when people were executed in this fashion.

On the Cape Flats of Cape Town jy maak jou laat shouldn’t be taken at face value to mean that you would cause yourself to be late. It is in fact slang for “I don’t think so mate” or “You couldn’t be more wrong”. Lots of such sayings form part of people’s daily conversations, but should rather not be used in formal settings.

Some further interesting examples are tabulated below for ease of reading:

 

 Subjunctive present subjunctive imperfect conditional present imperativepresent participle
Jeque je finisseque je finissefiniraisfinissant
Tuque tu finissesque tu finissesfiniraisfinis
Il/elle/onqu'il finissequ'il finîtfinirait
Nousque nous finissionsque nous finissionsfinirionsfinissons
Vousque vous finissiezque vous finissiezfiniriezfinissez
Ils/ellesqu'ils finissentqu'ils finissentfiniraient

Weird Afrikaans Words and Expressions Used in South Africa

Although Afrikaans is spoken in a number of countries around the globe, the largest number of speakers are located in South Africa. This is where you will encounter Afrikaans spoken on a large scale by many who are very passionate about the language, the way its is spoken and its history.

For these reasons, we will look at several interesting, strange and unusual words and expressions as spoken in Mzantsi.

Here follow a number of words that may be used by first-language speakers, if they do not resort to using their English counterparts in their speech. You may find that many older folks would recognise many of them, since they were created many moons ago.

toasted white bread with heart cutouts
In Afrikaans, 'n witbroodjie is someone who gets preferential treatment. - Source: Pexels
  • Vroeteldoos: literally translated it would mean ‘rummage box’. It refers to the glove box or cubby-hole in a motor-car.
  • Trapsuutjie: directly translated would be ‘step softly’. It actually denotes a chameleon and plays on the way it steps slowly and softly as it makes its way along a branch.
  • Skouervlieg: shoulder fly would be the direct translation. This term very appropriately denotes a backseat driver, which can be as irritating to have as a fly buzzing around you.
  • Knaterflater: ‘balls failure’ actually means that someone has made a balls-up (a mess/ badly executed a task).
  • Rondkyktwak: the translation ‘look around tobacco’ is quite a way off from the actual correct refence, weed.
  • Brakkie sakkie/woefkardoes: this is one occasion where the literal translation would be correct: doggy bag.
  • Pletterpet: ‘falling hat’ directly translated, yet actually means helmet, because it would prevent your head from being crushed (verpletterd).
  • Springmielies: the direct ‘jumping corn’ translation is far from the actual meaning: popcorn, because it doesn't just pop, it actually ‘jumps’ (spring) about when cooked.
  • Papbroek: ‘flat pants’ conjures up a funny image and, yet, this is again an instance of where Afrikaans can be a very descriptive language. It refers to a coward whose got nothing in his pants (spineless in English) … referring rather to the person than the pants.

Learning weird Afrikaans words and about their origins are a great way to expand your knowledge of the language and, yet, break away from the serious side of learning a foreign language.

You may hear people playfully referring to a bicycle as ‘my baie sukkel‘, to cosmetics as ‘kos my niks or bronchitis as ‘brom katjies.

Some of these, and others, may grant you some comic relief and, at the same time, add to your Afrikaans vocabulary to such an extent that you find yourself repeating some of the words and phrases to yourself or using them as conversation starters.

Hopefully, this article has been useful and educative to students who are not native speakers and hope to attain proficiency in Afrikaans. Learning a new language can be a daunting and, yet, thrilling experience especially when peculiar, odd or weird aspects of the language are explored. It would be great if this article has helped you see some of the intricacies of Afrikaans, as well as a lighter, fun side to it. We hope that it has made the study of Afrikaans interesting and encourages you to explore the language to a greater degree (pun not intended).

Check out these interesting articles below:

Become an Afrikaans language expert with Afrikaans lessons

Abbreviations in Afrikaans you just have to know

Why speaking Afrikaans can be difficult for students

Need an Afrikaans teacher?

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Trevor

Career teacher turned writer. Passionate about family, running, and the great outdoors.