More Language Fun

We’ve had some fun observations about language all throughout this experience. The ones in the beginning (chronicled here and here) were part of the overall recognition, “Wow, we ARE in a different place!” The language differences have grown more subtle the longer we’re here and as we gain ease with the accents and regionalisms. Elsa Ruth has picked up an adorable accent which is really notable after a school day spent with friends. I still get nervous talking on the phone with people – the lack of sound clarity and facial expressions usually has me second guessing if I have understood correctly. It is still a delight to discover some new-to-us differences now and again. Here are a few:

I love this one… headbands are even cuter when they’re called “Alice Bands,” don’t you think? A nod to Alice in Wonderland I guess.


If you get a cut you will feel better after covering it with a plaster. (Though it sounds less like a building material if you pronounce it “Plah-stuh”).


At first I wasn’t too sure whether or not “sarmies” was just a pronunciation difference for sandwiches or rather an entirely different word. Having seen it on a few menus and on this back-to-school promo sign in the grocery recently – now I know it’s a legitimate word here!


Whilst (!!) South Africans have an English style in general – not prone to exaggerations, they do shine when it comes to two types of expressions:

  • “Shame!” How many times a day we hear this, I could not say. But it is the go-to empathy phrase in responding to anything unfortunate big or small (car stolen, sickness, running late, forgotten lunch, etc.) When said by an Afrikaner you get to hear even more emphasis, “Ag shame!” Equally interesting is to hear it used about adorable things – puppies, babies, or a child who lost a tooth.
  • It seems that terms of endearment have really fallen by the modern wayside in America. If you hear someone call you “honey” or “dear” the speaker is probably an older woman or a nurse in a Midwestern town, right? Not so in South Africa. I hear them all the time directed at me or my children.   Mostly it’s the standard ones that wouldn’t surprise you: pumpkin, sweetie, lamb, darling (“dah-ling”) etc. But I will never forget hearing someone ask Elsa Ruth, “How was school, my little sausage?”

How would you feel taking someone to this area of a hospital?


The terms we use,“Emergency Room” or “Urgent Care,” are not the norm, rather here it’s the “Casualty Ward.” We learned this not too long ago when we delivered a car accident victim to hospital (yes… it’s not “the hospital” but just “to hospital.”) I felt like telling the gate monitor, “But she’s STILL alive!” when he pointed us toward the casualty entrance. Sure enough there was no other option; casualty ward is exactly where she needed to go for care.

“Ag, shame!”


2 thoughts on “More Language Fun

  1. I just love reading about your adventures. Matters not what I am supposed to be doing…..if I see a new post ! I stop everything to read!

    Sending Minnesota love and hugs to all of you, Gail

    Sent from my iPad


  2. Your Alice band is so colorful and beautiful Elas Ruth! What are your favorite sarmies these days Simon? 🙂 I do miss the language of South Africa- so I just love this latest post! I can totally hear an Afrikaner saying “Ag shame!” Just that way! I wonder if you’ve heard many native Xhosa speakers yet using their amazing clicks? LOVE to hear Xhosa spoken!!

    I couldn’t hep but notice on that hospital sign that the other word for visitors looks awfully like berserkers…ever feel that way too in the beloved country?! :).

    The children’s play is one week away! Missing you Elsa Ruth and Simon!!

    Prayers, hugs and peace to you friends!! Tifani


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