Dictionary of South African English


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New Release

The release of the Mobile Edition of the online Dictionary of South African English marks the completion of a major digitisation phase from early pilot online editions to a fully-fledged web application thoroughly adapted for Desktop and Mobile devices. The same advanced feature set is now available on both platforms, preserving advanced Desktop features and user experience that rescale seamlessly on Android and iOS.

The Desktop Edition’s mascot entry was aardvark, the proverbial first word in the English dictionary for this “ungainly”, “sticky-tongued” species of anteater. The 2020 Mobile Edition pays tribute to its threatened evolutionary cousin, the scaly anteater or pangolin.

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Lockdown Lingo

A televised address on 29 April 2020 saw the first recorded use of the word zol as a verb, when South African Minister Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma curbed the enthusiasm of “those who zol” (smoke hand-rolled cigarettes) by announcing the extension of a temporary ban on tobacco products.

The minister’s statement was lampooned in David Scott’s parody of the South African national anthem, which in turn revived several slang terms for cigarettes and tobacco such as entjie, skyf and gwaai. Dagga – one of the oldest South African English words, dating back to 1670 – also received honourable mention.

For related words, see the dictionary’s list of terms for Smoking and Drug Use.

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Local Events

The South African Centre for Digital Language Resources (SADiLaR) and the Dictionary Unit for South African English (DSAE) have come together to showcase the influence of indigenous South African languages on the regional variety of English.

Visit SADiLaR’s celebration of South African English With a Little Indigenous Spice for a quirky series of video clips highlighting local English borrowings from our 10 other official languages. From isiZulu to siSwati and gatvol to toyi-toyi (both words entering South African English in the 1980s), SADiLaR generously illustrates our country’s zesty linguistic usage and its multilingual influences.