Read of the Week

Say again?

Malcolm Venter and Jean Branford


Review: Brian Joss

It’s a given that South African English (SAE), apart from the accent, is unique, and though we have borrowed phrases and words from other languages, we have coined our own.

Say again? delves into the other side of English, the English that we invented.

Phrases like yes-no, come right, sweet, sharp sharp and graze will be familiar to most of us. Robot too is another word, elsewhere in the world they’re described as traffic lights. And along with robot we have our own unique car guards.

When it comes to food then we can pick up a walkie talkie, (in Joburg walkie talkies are called runaways), or a smiley for supper on our way home from work. Then there is also the famous gatsby, a Cape Town speciality, and from Durban we get Bunny Chow. And if you don’t know yet, February 27 is National Milk Tart (melktert) Day. Melktert is a classic South African dish, probably brought here by the 17th Century Dutch settlers. Other phrases that are our own are: where do you stay (live)?; pavement special or Heinz 57, a mixed breed of mongrel dog. The authors, however, left out “stoepkakkertjie”.

Other examples of SAE include the Blue Light Brigade, reservoirs (elsewhere an artificial lake), here a dam or a portable container filled with water which is sometimes referred to as a Rainbow Reservoir. Other South Africanisms include come again, meaning please repeat what you said, another one is Toby threw the cat with a stone, a common linguistic error that Afrikaans speakers make when they speak English. Each of the 12 chapters features words and phrases from different aspects of life with examples of their usage. Matricless is another word and it’s thanks to Hlaudi Motsoeneng, the chief operating officer of the SABC, that it has earned a place in the SAE lexicon. You would expect a book like this to be as dry as dust. It’s not, it’s lively and the amusing sketches add to the entertainment value. You’ll want to dip into it again and again, when you’ll learn something new. To borrow from *Horace: “the book instructs and delights”.

Branford has a PhD in Dialect Lexicopgraphy and is the compiler of A Dictionary of South African English (reviewed) and Venter, a former principal of Edgemead High School, has a Doctorate in Linguistics.

*Quintus Horatius Flaccus was the leading Roman lyric poet during the time of Augustus, aka Octavian, and what he said was “either to instruct or delight”.

Say again? does it in spades.