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Afrikaans proverbs and idioms which no one else will understand

By November 2, 2015September 27th,

Afrikaans proverbs and idioms which no one else will understand

November 2, 2015

Living abroad is wonderful! You honestly can’t believe you’ve come this far and that you’ve been able to start a new dream in a new world. You’re experiencing new food, new cultures, new ways of driving, shopping, socialising and doing pretty much everything you’ve done before.

The only thing is… well, you have to be honest, you really can’t express yourself the way you used to. Sometimes, when you’ve had a bit of a rough day, it’s simply lekkerder to let a few Afrikaans expletives and expressions slip.

And in honour of those fantastic Afrikaans sayings, we’re bringing you a list of 10 idioms and expressions you simply need to teach your foreign friends.

10 Afrikaans ‘sêgoed’ we simply can’t shake

1. So ‘n bek moet jem kry

Literal translation: Such a mouth should get jam

Contextual translation: The only translation we can think of for this one is “give that man a bells!”. This saying is used when someone ‘says’ something which simply rings true or is very witty and sharp.

2. ʼn Koei kan moontlik ʼn haas vang

Literal translation: A cow can possibly catch a rabbit

Contextual translation: This is the Afrikaans equivalent of “pigs might fly”. We really think it just sounds better in Afrikaans.

3. ʼn Man van twaalf ambagte en dertien ongelukke

Literal translation: a Man of twelve trades and thirteen accidents

Contextual translation: The English version of this proverb is “Jack of all trades, master of none”, but bringing accidents into the mix gives this saying a necessary Afrikaans punch.

4. Ook ʼn stuiwer in die armbus/armbeurs gooi

Literal translation: Also throw a half penny into the charity bus

Contextual translation: In English, one would say “give your two cents” or “put an oar in”, for those who also want their opinions on a subject heard. But it simply doesn’t have the same ring to it in English.

5. Jy kan hom met ʼn blaas ertjies die skrik op die lyf jag

Literal translation: You can chase the fright on his body with a bladder of peas

Contextual translation: In English, you would say that a person frights easily or is scared. How boring. We prefer sayings that involve chasing fright and bladders filled with peas.

6. Alte goed is buurmansgek

Literal translation: Much too good is neighbours’ craze

Contextual translation: This idiom can be translated to English as “those who do too much good are often taken advantage of”.

7. Iemand heuning om die mond smeer

Literal translation: Rub honey around someone’s mouth

Contextual translation: There really isn’t a better way to say that you are wooing or buttering someone up than saying it in Afrikaans.

8. Jakkals trou met wolf se vrou

Literal translation: Fox is marrying wolf’s wife

Contextual translation: In English you may refer to sun showers, or rain that falls while the sun is shining. There really is no translation in English that comes close to describing this South African phenomenon.

9. Vinkel en koljander, die een is soos die ander

Literal translation: Fennel and coriander, the one is like the other

Contextual translation: The English idiom states that it’s six of one and half a dozen of the other – which means that two people or things are exactly the same. But the English doesn’t hold the poetic undertones of Afrikaans; they are not like vinkel and koljander.

10. Wors in die hondestal soek

Literal translation: Searching for sausage in the dog stable

Contextual translation: In English, one would say that you are looking for something you won’t find. We can’t help giggling when we think of someone looking for a sausage in the doghouse though.

So for those of you longing for a bit of Afrikaans flair, we say go out and preach! You may have a new home, new passport (mayhaps), new job, new school and new dreams, but your language will always be South African!


  • Newlaine Poggenpoel says:

    Love it!

  • James says:

    Jakkals trou met wolf se vrou is the english for this one ” monkeys wedding

  • Mareli says:

    I think nr 6 might be more accurate translated as “Much too good is neighbours’ fool”

    “gek” can translate to either “to be crazy about something” or “to be a fool”. So in this context – if you’re doing well you might end up other people’s fool if you’re not careful, due to them taking advantage of you.

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