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What makes us South African? Braais, pap, Mrs. Balls Chutney? Madiba, Table Mountain, Boerewors? Is it Shoprite? Does Shoprite make us South African? There are too many answers.

But perhaps more than anything else, we identify ourselves by the way we speak. We may have 11 official languages but there are new dialects emerging all the time. In Soweto this very afternoon young adults are concocting a mutant brand of Tsotsi-taal that probably comprises two parts Zulu, one part Sotho, a splash of English and four tablespoons of Klingon.

The evolution of our colloquial language is at the forefront of transformation; in a few generations we may well have a South African dictionary – a soup of all 11 languages, understandable and spoken by all of our citizens. We will all be able to talk to each other in our own language.

Until then, we can celebrate the variety, with the understanding that, in spite of the dialectical differences, we already understand each other. I’m not talking about the groups of expats huddled around a Weber in a chilly back yard in London, who grumble about the country going to the dogs. I’m talking about South Africans who are proud of their country and brave enough to stand up for it. Whether you say it in Tswana or sign language, being South African is about pronouncing your love for all people.

To establish our own dictionary we need to work on some new words to describe typical South African scenarios. We need a word for the feeling you get standing under a huge sky staring into a fire in the middle of the bushveld.


We also need a word for the frustration of standing in a queue at Home Affairs. We need words for all of those quintessential moments that make us who we are.

And so to a proposal...

This month, think of these such moments and come up with suggestions for what they should be called, and send us the word and the description.

An example could be:

Braaibliss (n):
The state of nirvana reached while biting into a perfectly cooked boerewors roll at a campfire.

Or: Jaloping (v): The act of being transported in a severely unroadworthy car.

Click here to send us your word

There are already hundreds of such words; see the dictionary below for some of the most essential. Elsewhere, we travel to the Okavango Delta by public transport, see what the US critics made of the year’s biggest Oscar winners, stare the global recession in the eye and consider what we’d save from a burning globe.

Matthew Freemantle
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