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Afrikaans is well known as a language with tongue-in-cheek and powerful expressions. Today, we’ll explore some of the most familiar Afrikaans idioms and their meanings. Not Afrikaans? Fear not, below you will find Afrikaans idioms translated to English!

The origin of Afrikaans idioms

It is not known exactly when this phenomenon began, but boy are we glad it did. Some Afrikaans idioms are derived from other languages such as English, Dutch, and German. There are however idioms that are widely used in more than one language. For example “Alle paaie lei na Rome” in Afrikaans has counterparts in many European languages:

German: “Alle Wege führen nach Rom
Norwegian: “Alle veier fører til Rom
English: “All roads lead to Rome

Oxford Dictionary defines the word idiom as: ” a group of words whose meaning is different from the meanings of the individual words”. This cannot be truer of our own Afrikaans idioms. Think “Moenie die hoender ruk nie”, it has nothing to do with a chicken, but rather means “Don’t overdo it”. Idiomatic expressions can often mean something that is not at all derived from the words they are composed of.

Afrikaans Idioms and their meanings!

  • “Die appel val nie vêr van die boom af nie”
    Meaning: You are a lot like your father or mother.
  • “So ‘n bek moet jem kry”
    Meaning: When someone says something rings true or is very witty and sharp.
  • “As die kat weg is, is die muis baas”
    Meaning: If the boss (parent) is away, the workers (children) are in charge.
  • “Hy loop twee rye spore”
    Meaning: To be drunk or intoxicated.
  • “Die koeël is deur die kerk (en die koster is gekwes)”
    Meaning: What’s done is done. The situation cannot be changed. (Also used when someone claims to be in love).
  • “Al dra ‘n aap ‘n goue ring, hy is en bly ‘n lelike ding”
    Meaning: Pretty clothes or jewellery cannot make an ugly person pretty.
  • “Die berg het ‘n muis gebaar”
    Meaning: Something you were excited about, came to be nothing special.
  • “Bly sit met die gebakte pere”
    Meaning: Still struggling with other people’s trouble/ problems.
  • “‘n Gegewe perd moet jy nie in die bek kyk nie”
    Meaning: You must not criticise a gift you have received.
  • “Van ‘n padda vere probeer pluk”
    Meaning: To try and achieve the impossible.
  • “As dit pap reën, moet jy skep”
    Meaning: Make the most out of an opportunity while it is still there.
  • “Hoë bome vang die meeste wind”
    Meaning: People in high places are criticised the most.
  • “Dit gaan maar broekskeur”
    Meaning: It is not going so well (financially).
  • “Hoe meer siele, hoe meer vreugde”
    Meaning: The more, the merrier.
  • “Soos ‘n splinternuwe sikspens lyk”
    Meaning: To be dressed in a neat manner.
  • “Met ‘n stink spoed beweeg”
    Meaning: To move extremely fast.
  • “Iemand met twee regterhande”
    Meaning: Someone who is very handy/ good at making things.
  • “Jakkals trou met wolf se vrou”
    Meaning: A brief and typically light fall of rain while the sun is shining.
  • “Mal Jan onder die hoenders”
    Meaning: One boy amongst many girls.
  • “Die môrestond het goud in die mond”
    Meaning: Early bird catches the worm. If you are up early, you can get a lot done.
  •  “Met vlieënde vaandels slaag”
    Meaning: To succeed with great success.
  • “Ek het ‘n voëltjie hoor fluit dat…”
    Meaning: Rumour has it…
  • “Tussen die boom en die bas”
    Meaning: It is neither going bad or well, it is just going okay.
  • “Een swaeltjie maak nie ‘n somer nie”
    Meaning: One event doesn’t change everything. One good sign is not enough.
  • “God’s water oor God’s akker”
    Meaning: One does not care about the situation.
  • “Ou bok hou van jong blare”
    Meaning: Old men like younger women.
  • “Dis net die oortjies van die seekoei”
    Meaning: It’s just the tip of the iceberg. It is only a small part of the truth/ situation.
  • “Sy turf sit”
    Meaning: His plan failed.
  • “Wors in die hondestal soek”
    Meaning: To look for something you can’t find.
  • “Iemand heuning om die mond smeer”
    Meaning: To woo or butter someone up with flattery.

Bonus: “Jy kan hom met ‘n blaas ertjies die skrik op die lyf jag”
Meaning: A person who is scared, scares easily.

Let us know which Afrikaans idioms you use the most and what you would like to see next!

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