Monday, August 27, 2007

Word Nerd in the Bush - Africa, Part IV

Readers who have been around a while will recall that I am a word nerd. I heard some great logisms while in South Africa! I'm afraid that some of the colorful expressions I heard while there are already fading. I do yet retain a few, however. Here is a selection of interesting words and phrases I learned.

bushveld: I sought this term out. I kept wondering, "this isn't the savanna. It isn't a desert. I wonder what they call the terrain here?" Finally I plucked up the courage to ask. Later in the week, while speaking to a pretty young South African woman, I used the term. She was impressed. As Kip Dynamite would say, "yesssss!"

spoor: tracks. This word seems to encompass not only animal tracks but any evidence of something passing through an area. It somehow fits perfectly.

as well: a common English phrase, to be sure. But non-American English-speakers seem to use this phrase exclusively, never using "also" or "too." It appears to be used as a filler or transition phrase as well, much like we might use "you know." It definitely stuck in my head.

robot: probably the strangest expression that I learned while there, they use the term "robot" for "traffic light." "Go to the first robot and take a left, you can't miss it."

sort: another perfectly commonplace word that non-Americans use in a wide variety of ways. Where we might use organized, settled, resolve, comfortable, figured out, ready, or fixed, English-speakers from other countries often use the catch-all "sorted." I found the expression to be perfectly understandable, though it sounded unusual and distinctive in my ear. I liked it.

braai: barbeque! We had three braais: one brunch and two dinners. One of our dinnertime braais was a surprise meal in the bush. We had been driving in the game viewer, and it was well after dark, and I noticed we weren't heading back to the lodge. Suddenly we pulled into a clearing where a big campfire blazed and some men had set a lovely table. Norman, our chef, was waiting with some flame roasted bacon and cherry kabobs and a giant liquor table.

courgette: zucchini. Interestingly, Norman, whose English wasn't very good, was able to tell me that courgette & zucchini were the same thing, whereas Esmay, one of our other chefs, whose English was very good, did not know the American English word for the vegetable.

farm: I was kind of worried when I heard this term. You see, much of the Venetia-Limpopo Nature Reserve is reclaimed "farmland." I thought, "are we going to even see wild Africa?" Luckily my concern was unfounded: South Africans use the term "farm" the way we would use the term "ranch." The reserve is an unspoiled wilderness that had previously been fenced by "farmers" to keep game in a tighter area.

yoghurt: I love the way the Brits say this word. And the spelling is pretty great as well. I learned that it is Turkish in origin.

dam: blame the Dutch for this one. Anyone piles up a mound of dirt somehere and it's a dam. Doesn't seem to matter whether there is water about or not.

boma: fenced enclosure. I'd heard the term before, but I thought it just a strange and exotic term. But somehow being in South Africa made me realize that people need a word for the concept. And for me, like so many other nouns, the word assumed the form of the thing itself, and the word and the thing became inextricably linked. So it was with boma.


J G-W said...

Why don'tcha tell us WHERE you heard the word "boma" before, Nerd?

These are great words. Amazing how language is interwoven with place, so that the place doesn't make as much sense without the unique language to explain it, and the language doesn't make as much sense without experiencing the place it exists in.

Knight of Nothing said...

Well, hey. My nerd cred is bona fide in this space (c.f., my post on nerd night!). I didn't want to get off track by talking about our Nyambe-tanda campaign :-)

But what you say about words is so true: language is tied to a place and a people. I didn't understand that when I studied languages in high school.

J G-W said...

What I find even more fascinating is how a language forces us into different ways of thinking.

When I am speaking French, for example, I find myself willing and able to say things I would not likely say in English, and vice versa. My friend Jim, who's learning Italian has been finding the same thing.