Languages are fascinating. Direct translations from one language to the next add a whole new memorable flavor to the complicated journey learning a new language often sets us on.
Having lived in South Africa full time for over nine years now, I still find myself at least once a week having a good chuckle at an Afrikaans word or two. Many of them are so descriptive that once someone is kind enough to take the time and explain to me or I work out the exact translation to English myself, I will often rather use the direct translation instead of the actual English word.
Let me start with some of the more basic observations I have made… A person’s name, or surname as is the case in this example. Our vet is the wonderful Dr Snyman; which, at first glance, the name Snyman seems like an ordinary enough sort of a name. Nothing particularly extraordinary or funny there… however, when you take into account that sny in Afrikaans means cut and the fact that he is a vet… Well Dr Cut Man is just fantastic! So fantastic that he is referred to as ‘The Cut Man’ on our farm, however wisely enough, not to his face… M, if you are reading this, just smile!
There are also the extremely descriptive names that Afrikaans people give relatives who are not blood relations, Mother in law is skoonma meaning literally, clean mother. I have visions of the word being conjured up by someone who must have really drawn the short stick in that department! The same can be said for step-mother, which is stiefma meaning strict mother (I kid you not!). And to round it off nicely, in Afrikaans you would refer to your brother-in-law as your swaer meaning your heavy!
The Afrikaans language does not stop there with their wholly descriptive words… Irate people regularly say they will donder someone, in other words thunder that person… Alternatively, depending on the level of irritation you are feeling, you could lightening them; bliksem (which I have to add is such a wonderful word to say and one that I am guilty of overusing on a regular basis!)
Animal names are another category that have been given a healthy does of the literal translation; a hippopotamus is a seekoie meaning sea cow, while a giraffe is a kameelperd or camel horse.
The other noticeable feature of Afrikaans is the love for making one MASSIVE word from lots of small ones. It is almost as if the person who first scribbled the name down it was running out of paper and rather than waste precious space on the actual spaces between words, he just threw it all together and no one noticed the difference.
Take kafferwaatlemoenkonfytstukke for example… This is watermelon jam
Or bokdrolspoegkompetisie… This is a little more difficult to explain, in that it describes a sport where people put deer or bok droppings in their mouth and then see who can spit them the farthest… Really.
There are also some beautiful sounding Afrikaans words which just roll off the tongue such as babelaas for hungover or potjiekos which is a type of stew cooked long and slow in a pot over an open fire.
Such a lovely descriptive language that is well worth taking the time to learn!
Be Good xxx