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These 20 South African words have just been added to the Oxford English Dictionary

A glass half-full view of South Africa


The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) has published its latest update which includes a selection of words from South Africa.

South African English responds to the geographical, botanical, zoological, cultural, social or political landscapes around it.

Naming or describing things or concepts help South Africans make sense of their shared living spaces and history, and words included in this update are certainly indicative of this, said Dr Phillip Louw, dictionary content development manager at Oxford University Press South Africa.

“It is really exciting to be involved in the OED’s efforts to document South African English more comprehensively,” he said.

“As a historical dictionary, the OED not only captures the development of our unique variety of English, but also the history of our country as it’s reflected in the language that we use to define our reality.

“The picture is not always a simple one, though, and this latest update is no exception: the included words bear witness to a painful past and attempts at redress, while also casting light on the rich cultural diversity of our nation.”

New words

Black economic empowerment, black empowerment, and BEE are included in the update, all used to describe a government programme incentivising the provision of employment and business opportunities for black people, with the aim of redressing their economic marginalisation during apartheid.

There are also a number of words used to describe living or meeting spaces.

Hok and hokkie both describe various kinds of small or confined spaces: a booth, a shack, or an enclosure for domestic animals.

A lapa is a courtyard used for cooking, eating and socialising, typically enclosed by a fence or wall and sometimes covered by a roof. Lapa is also used to describe an enclosed area comprising the cluster of huts belonging to an extended family group and, in tourist resorts and game reserves, an open-sided structure typically consisting of a thatched roof supported by pillars, used for leisure and entertainment.

Lekgotla is an enclosure or public space where community assemblies take place, a gathering of the people of a village or community to discuss important issues, and a traditional court of law consisting of village members.

Two words of Zulu origin are included in the update. Imbizo is a meeting or gathering of the Zulu people called by a traditional leader, while Isicathamiya is a style of unaccompanied singing originating amongst rural Zulu male choirs.

Wherever you are in South Africa, it’s unlikely you will be dof (dim-witted or uninformed) enough not to know that Joburg and Jozi are nicknames for the city of Johannesburg.

Nor to be unfamiliar with bok, which, in addition to describing an antelope or goat, is a nickname for a South African sports team, especially the national rugby team.

Let’s hope no member of the team is a hensopper – a person who gives up on something (the term was originated as a term for a Boer who surrendered to the British during the Boer War).

You can find a full list of the additions here. Alternatively, the list of the South African words being added are outlined below:

  1. Bantu Education;
  2. Black Economic Empowerment;
  3. Black Empowerment;
  4. BEE;
  5. Bok;
  6. Dof;
  7. Gramadoelas;
  8. Hok;
  9. Hokkie;
  10. Imbizo;
  11. Isicathamiya;
  12. Lapa;
  13. Lekgotla;
  14. Makgotla;
  15. Joburg;
  16. Jozi;
  17. Hensopper;
  18. Kanna;
  19. Koevoet;
  20. Yebo.

Read: The South African cities with the best quality of life





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