Local is lekker in Oxford
‘Kif’ version of dictionary features 25 South African words
In Mzansi, a typical night out on the town involves cruising the streets in a trusty skedonk, enjoying a bunny chow from the local spaza shop and later getting down to some good old sakkie-sakkie in the community hall.
If you have no idea what any of these words mean, feel free to consult the latest version of the Oxford English Dictionary. These, plus 19 other South African words, make up 25 of the latest additions to one of the oldest and most used English dictionaries in the world.
Explaining the latest inclusions in a blog posted on their website in December, Oxford English Dictionary world English editor Danica Salazar said these words had been borrowed into English from some of the most widely spoken languages in the country.
A number of Afrikaans words made the cut, with one of the words from this language first used in the English language in the early to mid-20th century.
A perhaps surprising inclusion are five words with their roots in isiXhosa and isiZulu, with the oldest of these words dating back to the late 19th century.
Included in this list is amakhosi which was first used in English back in 1857. Amakhosi can be defined as a collective term for tribal leaders or chiefs in traditional Nguni societies. Ubuntu (1860) is a word which signifies the values of humanity in African societies, ingcibi (1937) is a person who performs circumcisions on young men and
Mzansi, a word dating back to 1999, is the Xhosa name for SA.
Toyi-toyi, the name of a dance-like move usually performed with chanting or singing during marches or rallies which started among black activists during the anti-apartheid demonstrations back in the 1980s, is said to have its etymology in a Bantu language.
Afrikaans words include deurmekaar
(1871) which means something that is confused or muddled up, and voetstoots (1883), a legal term describing buying or selling items in their existing condition.
Then there are the uniquely South African words, such as skedonk, an old, dilapidated car, plus the word kif which is used to describe anything considered cool. According to Salazar, a
skedonk is probably named such in imitation of the bangs and splutters such a car makes, while kif can be traced back to “kaif”, an Arabic word meaning enjoyment or pleasure.
“Beyond borrowings, SA is also represented in this latest update by uniquely South African uses and combinations of English words, all of which entered the language in the latter half of the 20th century,” the blog post reads.
“Despite its name, bunny chow is not rabbit food, but a hollowed-out loaf of bread filled with curry, a popular takeaway dish among South Africans.
“A spaza shop is a small, unlicensed shop in a township, usually one run from a person’s house.
“In SA, a sandwich is a sarmie; a casual greeting of ‘how’s it going?’ is shortened to ‘howzit?’; and a non-committal, resigned, or ironic ‘whatever’ is expressed as ‘ja well no fine’, pronounced quickly, almost as one word.”
Publisher Terence Ball, of Heritage Publishers, said these inclusions could assist in preserving the languages.
“Look at Latin, it’s a dead language but there are still Latin words used till today. The same could happen here. The inclusion of these words in the Oxford English Dictionary could see them still used centuries later, thereby preserving them, but only time will tell.”
In agreement is Zola Wababa, director and chief editor of the isiXhosa National Lexicography Unit based at the University of Fort Hare, who said the inclusion of isiXhosa words was significant as dictionaries were tools which preserved languages.
He however added the importance of providing proper definitions for these words, while also ensuring that the words were used in the proper context by their users.
He said: “A language grows by borrowing from other languages. Look at the English language, for example. There are a lot of borrowed Greek and Latin words, so much that many don’t even know that those words are not really English. This is how language grows and is preserved. This is something positive for the isiXhosa language.”
He cautioned that isiXhosa was a tricky language to master.
“One word can have the same spelling but multiple meanings and ways of pronunciation. One can only hope that all the different variations will be provided to avoid confusion to its users.
“Look at the word ingcibi, for example. It means builder, but it also means traditional surgeon. Will both definitions be included?”
According to Salazar, future updates of the Oxford will include even more colourful additions from the rainbow nation.
PROUDLY SA: A file photograph of children from Ntshetu School performing their gumboot dance at the Guild Theatre.
TRUSTED INGCIBI: A file picture of respected Ngqeleni-based veteran traditional surgeon Mvubi Sbewu Sidlayisa with some of the initiates he has circumcised.
CURRY IN A HURRY: Bunny chow, or bread filled with curry.