14 Afrikaans words that just c

14 Afrikaans words that just can’t be translated

Afrikaans is a funny old language with many of its expressions taking on a very literal meaning.

14 Afrikaans words that just c

Note: This is a rerun of an article originally published in January 2017.

A Facebook friend recently posted about actor / rapper / writer Lin-Manuel Miranda Tweeting about the word “spookasem” this week. Miranda was chuffed to find out that the direct translation for this was “ghost breath”.

That direct translation – and the subsequent thread on said friend’s wall – got me thinking about some other words that just translate so wonderfully hilariously. Afrikaans sayings are often so very literal.

Some of the words that popped up on the thread was murg pampoentjie (baby marrow or directly translated as marrow pumpkin) and vloermoer (tantrum or floor beating)…but here are a few more.

Note: not all of these words are official translations and not all of them are commonly used. Many are slang words. Chances are if you mention them to your parents or grandparents, they’d have heard of them.


Direct translation: fiddlebox

Actual meaning: cubbyhole


Direct translation: teasing little man

Actual meaning: a sort of lizard, usually an agama


Direct translation: step softly

Actual meaning: chameleon


Direction translation: shoulder fly

Actual meaning: backseat driver


Direction translation: balls failure

Actual meaning: balls up


Direct translation: look around tobacco

Actual meaning: weed

Brakkie sakkie / woefkardoes

Direct translation: doggie bag

Actual meaning: Same


Direction translation: falling hat

Actual meaning: helmet


Direction translation: rhyme speaker

Actual meaning: rapper

Papier vampier

Direction translation: paper vampire

Actual meaning: stapler


Direct translation: We’re not sure there is one!

Actual meaning: to completely destroy something


Direct translation: Jumping corn

Actual meaning: popcorn


Direct translation: flat pants

Actual meaning: coward


Direct translation: kitten anger

Actual meaning: getting up to no good

We’re sure there are loads more we’ve missed. Send us your favourite Afrikaans words to editor@thesouthafrican.com and we’ll add them to the list. Or check out the list of more Afrikaans words that just don’t translate well to see what our readers have sent in.

Also read:

10 South African words we use for food which confuse the rest of the world

9 South African places vs their UK counterparts

Nine words British people use that mean something different to South Africans