Category Archives: English

Shakespeare´s insults

Better a witty fool than a foolish wit is a personal favourite.

Perhaps I should invest some time in learning a few intelligent insults. Only problem is the people they´d be directed at probably wouldn’t´t understand them. So sad.



Emphasising the importance of spelling

I suspect you will laugh, I did too, especially when he mentions the dad and then the mom saying no… mmm wonder why?

Don´t care about spelling, that´s okay until you order a horse and get hores instead.



Language tips if you visit South Africa


Ag (ah-ch): An expression of irritation or resignation. “Ag no man!” “Ag, these things happen”

Awê (ah-weh): A greeting. “Awê, brother!”

Babbelas (bah-bah-luss): Derived from the isiZulu word, ‘i-babalazi’, meaning drunk; adopted into the Afrikaans language as a term for ‘hangover’. “I have a serious babbelas!”

Bakkie (bah-kee): 1. A bowl. “Put those leftovers in a bakkie.” 2. A pick-up truck.  “We all jumped on the back of my dad’s bakkie and went to the beach.”

Befok (buh-fawk): 1. Really good, amazing, cool.

2. Crazy, mad, insane. “You tried to put your cat in the braai? Are you befok?”

Bergie (bear-ghee): Derived from berg, Afrikaans for ‘mountain’. Originally used to refer to vagrants living in the forests of Table Mountain, the word is now a mainstream term used to describe vagrants in Cape Town.

Bra (brah), bru (brew): Derived from broer, Afrikaans for ‘brother’; a term of affection for male friends; equivalent to dude. “Howzit my bru!”“Jislaaik bra, it’s been ages since I last saw you!”

Braai (br-eye): Barbeque (noun and verb). “Let’s throw a tjop on the braai.” “We’re going to braai at a friend’s house.”

Duidelik (day-duh-lik): Cool, awesome, amazing. “That bra’s car looks duidelik!”

Eish (ay-sh): isiZulu interjection; an exclamation meaning ‘oh my’, ‘wow’, ‘oh dear’, ‘good heavens’. A: “Did you hear? My brother got into a fight with a bergie!” B: “Eish! Is he hurt!”

Ek sê, Eksê (Eh-k-s-eh): Afrikaans for, ‘I say’. Used either at the beginning or end of a statement. “Ek sê my bru, let’s braai tomorrow.” “This party is duidelik, ek sê!”

Eina (Ay-nah): An exclamation used when pain is experienced, ‘ouch!’. “Eina! Don’t pinch me.”

Entjie (eh-n-chee): A cigarette. “Come smoke an entjie with me.”

Guardjie, gaatjie (gah-chee): The guard who calls for passengers and takes in the money on a minibus taxi.

hhayi-bo (isiZulu), hayibo (isiXhosa) (haai-boh): An interjection meaning ‘hey’; ‘no way’.“Hayibo wena, you can’t park there!”

Howzit (how-zit): A greeting meaning ‘hi’; shortened form of ‘how’s it going?’

Is it?: Used as acknowledgement of a statement, but not to ask a question – as one might assume. Most closely related to the English word ‘really’. A: “This guy mugged me and said I must take off my takkies!” B: “Is it?”

Ja (yaah): Afrikaans for ‘yes’. A: “Do you want to go to a dance club tonight?” B: “Ja, why not?”

Ja-nee (yah-near): Afrikaans for yes-no. Meaning ‘Sure!’ or ‘That’s a fact!’ Usually used in agreement with a statement. A: “These petrol price hikes are going to be the death of me.” B: “Ja-nee, I think I need to invest in a bicycle.”

Jol (jaw-l): (noun and verb) 1. A party or dance club. “We’re going to the jol.” “That party was an absolute jol!” 2. Used to describe the act of cheating. “I heard he was jolling with another girl.”

Jislaaik (yiss-like): An expression of astonishment. “Jislaaik, did you see that car go?”

Kak (kuh-k): 1. Afrikaans for ‘shit’.  Rubbish, nonsense, inferior, crap or useless. “What a kak phone.” “Your driving is kak.”  2. Extremely, very. “That girl is kak hot!”

Kwaai (kw-eye): Derived from the Afrikaans word for ‘angry’, ‘vicious’, ‘bad-tempered’.  Cool, awesome, great. “Those shoes are kwaai.”

Lekker (leh-kah): 1. Nice, delicious. “Local is lekker!” 2. Extremely, very. “South Africans are lekker sexy!”

Mielie (mee-lee): Afrikaans term for corn, corn-on-the-cob.

Nee (nee-ah): Afrikaans for ‘no’.

Naartjie (naah-chee): Afrikaans term for citrus unshiu, a seedless, easy peeling species of citrus also known as a ‘satsuma mandarin’.

Potjie, potjiekos (poi-kee-kaws): Afrikaans term for pot food/stew comprised of meat, chicken, vegetables or seafood slow-cooked over low coals in a three-legged cast iron pot.

Shame: A term of endearment and sympathy (not condescending). “Ag shame, sorry to hear about your cat.” “Oh shame! Look how cute your baby is!”

Shisa Nyama (shee-seen-yah-mah): isiZulu origin – while shisa means ‘burn’ or to be hot andnyama means ‘meat’, used together the term means ‘braai’ or ‘barbeque’. “Come on, let’s go to Mzoli’s for a lekker shisa nyama!”

Sisi (see-see): Derived from both isiXhosa and isiZulu words for sister, usisi and osisi (plural).“Hayibo sisi, you must stop smoking so many entjies!”

Sosatie (soo-saah-tees): Kebabs, skewered meat. “Let’s throw a few sosaties on the braai.”

Takkies (tack-kees): Trainers, sneakers, running shoes. “I want to start running, again but I need a new pair of takkies.”

Tjommie, chommie (choh-mee): Afrikaans slang for ‘friend’. “Hey tjommie, when are we going to the beach again?”

Vrot (frawt): Rotten; most often used to describe food that’s gone off or a state of being sick.“Those tomatoes are vrot.” “Champagne makes me feel vrot!”

Voetsek (foot-sek): Afrikaans for ‘get lost’, much like the British expression, ‘bog off’. “Hey voetsek man!”

Wena (weh-nah): isiXhosa and isiZulu for ‘you’. “Hey wena, where’s the R20 you owe me?”

Wys (vay-ss): Show, tell, describe. “Don’t wys me, I know where I’m going.”

Clearly I´m not an author but I am still trying to write that book to scratch the item off my bucket list. A book that will never be published mainly because it´s work in progress, much like the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, an ongoing project that will probably take me a hundred years or more to complete.

The big difference being that Gaudi created a true masterpiece, the Sagrada Familia is not just a cathedral, that whole structure and everything within it´s wall, and outside, is a work of art. The only similarity between my work and Gaudi´s is the time invested in it and let´s be honest, his time was extremely well invested.
So for those who are authors, that have finalised a book, even if you haven´t published, if it took you long to write it, who did you blame, if anyone?


An app to help improve your writing style

This Web App Identifies Unnecessary Words In Your Writing

Expresso is a little tool to edit texts and improve your writing style. It will teach you to express yourself through writing more efficiently and help make your texts more readable, precise, and engaging.

I often complain that authors don´t pay enough attention to spelling and grammar and publish books without proper editing. Although I understand that editing can be expensive and not all authors can afford it, it does not change the fact that a book needs proofreading and some editing before publishing. For those that can´t afford a professional editor this might be a useful tool worth trying.

As a native Portuguese speaker I can certainly see the humour in this

How a Portuguese-to-English Phrasebook Became a Cult Comedy Sensation

Meet 1883’s most absurd language guide.

Mark Twain, a fan of English As She Is Spoke. (Photo: Library of Congress/LC-DIG-ds-05448)

In the middle of the 19th century, a relatively unknown author named Pedro Carolino rapidly gained intercontinental popularity over a small Portuguese-to-English phrasebook. English as She Is Spoke (or O novo guia da conversação em portuguez e inglez) was originally intended to help Portuguese speakers dabble in the English tongue, but was penned by a man who spoke little to no English himself. And, instead of helping Portuguese speakers learn a second language, it became a cult classic for fans of inept and unintentional humor.

It quickly gained notoriety among English speakers, including author Mark Twain, who wrote the introduction for the first English edition, published in 1883. Twain endorsed the book, saying “Nobody can add to the absurdity of this book, nobody can imitate it successfully, nobody can hope to produce its fellow; it is perfect.”

The cover for O Novo Guia de Conversação, em Portuguez e Inglez, em Duas Partes. (Photo: Public Domain)

It is presumed that Carolino wrote the book through the aid of a Portuguese-to-French dictionary and a French-to-English dictionary, using the former for an initial translation of a word or phrase from Portuguese, and the latter to convert it from French into English. The result, of course, is a mishmash of cloudy gibberish.

For instance, the second chapter is titled “Familiar Phrases,” and features sentences intended to help the weary Portuguese traveler in everyday conversation. These phrases include classics like “He has spit in my coat”; “take that boy and whip him to much”; and the oft-used “these apricots and these peaches make me and to come water in mouth.”

The book opens with a preface written in an idiosyncratic style of English. It details the book’s intended audience, stating that it “may be worth the acceptation of the studious persons, and especially of the Youth, of which we dedicate him particularly.” Perhaps predictably, English as She Is Spoke did not become popular among Portuguese-speaking students. In fact, it was never published in Portugal, although it did find an audience 133 years later in Brazil, when it was released as a comedy title.

A photochrom of the Tower of London, 1890. The book, published in 1855, was intended to help Portuguese speakers to improve their English language skills. (Photo: Library of Congress/LC-DIG-ppmsc-08566)

Literary journals, small newspapers, and other niche groups helped spread the word about Carolino’s work before it was given its first proper release as a humor book, first in Britain in 1883, and then in the United States later that year. Endorsements by esteemed writers like Twain and James Millington helped the unusual phrasebook grow a fanbase, and it subsequently received many requests for republishing. The book is even rumored to be the inspiration for the popular “Dirty Hungarian Phrasebook” skit from Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

The book itself is a guessing game of intention and phrases contorted in the unorthodox translation process. If English as She Is Spoke is to be believed, trade occupations might include Coffeeman, Porkshop-Keeper, and Chinaman. The list of aquatic life noted under the heading “Fishes and Shell-Fishes” features well-known sea creatures like the Wolf, the Hedge-hog, and a Sorte of Fish. The section entitled “Games” is even more open to interpretation: the listed games include Mall, Pile, and Keel. (The book is often falsely attributed to Jose Da Fonseca, a popular linguist of the time period, but many believe that Carolino listed him as a co-author to give the work more credibility.)

The title page for English As She is Spoke. (Photo: Public Domain)

There is also a section featuring potential dialogues for everyday situations, such as visiting the dentist, purchasing a book, or visiting a sick family member. Of course, the conversations are mostly incomprehensible, but the chapter closes on an ironic high note, in this discussion about learning a language:

“Do speak French alwais?”
“Some times: though I flay it yet.”
“You jest, you does express you self very well.”

Perhaps the most notorious section of the book is an aptly named chapter entitled “Idiotisms and Proverbs,” which again features phrases that careen between barely understandable and completely nonsensical. Examples of Carolino’s twice-translated proverbs include: “nothing some money, nothing of Swiss”; “friendship of a child is water into a basket”; “take out the live coals with the hand of the cat”; and simply “to fatten the foot.”

The translations of idioms and proverbs. (Photo: Public Domain)

review of the baffling phrasebook in an 1860 volume of Harvard Magazine opens with a disclaimer stating that the magazine is not intending to insult readers’ intelligence by publishing such excerpts, asserting that they “speak for themselves.”The work in question “purports to be a ‘New Guide to Conversation in the Portuguese and English Tongues,’” the reviewer dryly comments, but “No one, I think, will feel disposed to question its title to novelty.”

English as She Is Spoke is a charming book created by a gentleman who only wanted to help teach the English language to his peers, but instead created a literary disaster that became a linguistic phenomenon. The book has been republished a number of times, the most recent edition printed in 2004 by Collins Library. (A scan of an 1884 pressing can be viewed for free at the Public Domain Review.) Sadly, this was Pedro Carolino’s only published work, although it is an accidental piece of transcendent art with a legacy that has lasted centuries.

One could ponder why Carolino took on the task of creating a phrasebook in a language he did not speak, but sometimes it is better not to look a gift horse in the mouth; or as Carolino says, “a horse baared don’t look him the tooth.”