Newly popular words in South African English in 2016


Around the world the English language undergoes tremendous changes year after year. As one of the smaller, more peripheral (“edgy”) varieties of English, South African English (SAE) is no different. One could argue that this local variety of English is more susceptible to modification and addition than many other varieties in the world.

Jump to the start of the wordlist

One of the main reasons for this is an increase in the number of people who speak English as a first language in South Africa in the democratic era. Data from the 2011 South African census indicates that English and Afrikaans were the only two major languages in South Africa that showed an increase in the number of first-language speakers from 2001, the date of the previous census. This is at least partly due to the number of young black South Africans who have attended former Model C schools – and thus have been taught in English – and then gone on to find jobs (the few that there are!) in South Africa’s formal economy. It is no surprise that there are proportionally far more black South African lawyers, accountants, government officials and so on now than there were 20 years ago. The language of the youth has a significant impact on South African English.

Further, South Africans live in a society in which many other official languages are in use at the same time. Speakers of English in South Africa often bring words from these other languages into the English they speak and write – which may not be their mother tongue. Initially these occur as loanwords, and over time some of these loanwords are assimilated into SAE. In the past, much this kind of influence on SAE (though not all) has been has been from Afrikaans. For the reasons outlined above, this kind of influence has been changing over the last two decades.

One could say that in contemporary South African society, the prominent role of Afrikaans and other languages in co-forming the content and form of SAE is being superseded by an increasing role for especially isiZulu, isiXhosa and Setswana – though their influence in the past has not been negligible. If this is the case, we should see a greater number of words and phrases from these languages entering SAE. As examples of the latter, consider “chisa nyama” and “walala wasala” among others. Based on the research I have undertaken, I would say this changing of the sources of the majority of loanwords is certainly the case (this is something I will explore in a future post).

Of course, SAE is far from being only assimilated loanwords. Often existing English words have different meanings ascribed to them in SAE (such as dam and geyser; and here, blesser and Ben 10). Others are new coinages that (for now) are exclusive to Mzansi. Examples of these are described below.

At the same time, I am not ordinarily a big fan of dictionary publishers’ “Word of the Year” campaigns, though in the cutthroat publishing environment I understand the need for this marketing. The problem is that such choices are often a matter of foregrounding short-term fads rather than researching long-term trends. It is a matter of marketing per se than of lexical and lexicographic research nje. (Similarly, is an “otter café” going to be a thing in five years time? Perhaps not.) So the words listed below should not be taken to be some kind of “Top X” list for SAE for 2016. Rather, they are items that I have come to notice as prominent in English in South Africa in the course of this year.

Having said that, and with the caveats above, it is also true that some of the words listed here have not been around for as long as is usually necessary for inclusion in a dictionary. Traditionally, for a historical dictionary, this is five to ten years, give or take. Ephemeral slang has little place in a dictionary. Yet there are exceptions. Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu appears to have used “rainbow nation” in relation to South Africa’s new dispensation and transforming conditions for the first time in 1993. Yet rainbow was included in the 1996 A Dictionary of South African English on Historical Principles with six quotations (none of them show Tutu’s usage; all of them are from 1994)! Sometimes this is just a matter of spotting a trend, placing a wager on its longevity and running with it. Social circumstances and the practices they generate are always the base criteria for the use, renewal or coinage of common words and phrases.

Given the specific social circumstances of South Africa I don’t envisage that, for example, the practice of blessing – and hence being a blesser or blessee – is going to disappear in the next few years. People on both sides of the equation have much invested in these practices. The same may the case for Ben 10 and gqom. Fallist and Zupta, however, are designations that point to problems that must be remedied as soon as possible; the first because this country will not make much progress without a radical revamp of the education system in toto; and the second because this country will not make much progress without the removal of corrupt individuals and the practices they encourage. Yet, at the same time, these words mark significant milestones along the route South Africans are taking.

On the other hand, some of the terms described here are not new coinages in 2016. The point of this exercise is to describe words that have been popularised in 2016, though they might have been coined previously. Other than that they are South African in origin, the most important criteria for including items in a dictionary of South African English are that they show high frequency, are relatively enduring and are dispersed among different registers and social groups. My feeling is that the words described here make the cut.

A final note. What is said about the items below is not meant to constitute their incipient lexicographic ontology. In other words: this is not part of a dictionary. That I leave to those who are paid to do these things. Rather, what I am foregrounding is the lexical research that goes toward compiling such a book. Hopefully, this material – among with the investigations into the origins of Mzansi, the new meanings of words for meetings in SAE in the twenty-first century, and future posts along this line – will provide some impetus towards further work. (There are many other lexical items that could have been included here too.)

So, without further ado, here are some of the words that have become popular English in South Africa this year.


Ben 10

A toy boy; a younger man who engages in a sexual relationship with an older woman, providing sexual favours in return for money and other gifts

2012 @Kimmo she way too old for him. Shame no wonder she is fighting with everything she has. Poor Mam’Ruby and her Ben Ten. (7 Jun. Source)

2013 The Ben 10 phenomenon – older women dating younger men – is getting more popular in South Africa. … Elna McIntosh, a Johannesburg-based sexologist, says that there is a misconception that the appeal of Ben 10s is only about sex. … “Yes, the sex might be great, but the main appeal to older women having a younger partner is convenience. Ben 10s are an easy option.” she says. (8 May. Source)

2013 When the barely legal Ben 10 asks you on a date, even if you fear that it will be at McDonalds, you say yes. (25 Oct. Source)

2016 This Ben 10 did not care how his sugar mama’s husband felt about her cheating on him. (24 Mar. Source)

2016 Cherubic TV actress Tina Jaxa has joined a growing list of Mzansi women who romanticise Ben10s. (17 Apr. Source)

2016 Rich Curvy Sugar Mamma LOOKING for BEN 10 on Facebook. A rich woman took to social media to look for the right man that will take care of her every need. According to her, older men are a problem as they are into young women so she opts for younger men who she intends to train and teach what she wants and how she wants to be treated. (25 Apr. Source)

2016 The unsuspecting Ben 10 Asenathi got the fright of his life when he went into a toilet and saw a strange “gift” there. … “It was a scary present from the 58-year-old sugar mama I have been dating for the past two weeks.” Asenathi said that it was the demanding behaviour of his gogo lover that made him end the relationship after only a fortnight. (9 Nov. Source)


A sugar daddy; a man who engages in sexual relationships with a younger women, distributing monetary or other favours and in return for sex

2016 He was slick too. He was a nice guy, and didn’t make it seem like it was a tit for tat transaction like the blessers of today. (10 Jun. Source)

2016 It is these blessers that are spreading HIV and Aids, because they are here, there and everywhere. And that is why we are saying down with blessers down! (25 Jun. Source)

2016 In the laws of blesser/blessee one must provide money and the other must give sex… (14 Jul. Source)

2016 The man who infected her with the AIDS virus was a “sugar daddy” or, in local parlance, a “blesser” – an older man who “blesses” a younger, often poorer girl with money and gifts and expects sex in return. … “Blessers” has overtaken “sugar daddies” as the common term in South Africa, emerging from the widely-used “blessed” hashtag on social media posts and photographs. (16 Jul. Source)

Also used figuratively, hence:

2016 Malema drew laughter from his supporters when he said: “The ANC must go down. Zuma must fall because he is a blesser. An old man who behaves like a blesser, doesn’t deserve your vote.” (29 Jul. Source)

2016 He said a vote for a party is not “’til death to us part'”. “There are no blessers in parties. We want government to be a blesser to the poor only,” he said to laughter. (5 Aug. Source)

2016 Enough talks, deliver the services as you promised remember we want a government that will be a blesser to the poor. (26 Aug. Source)


Nothing; absent; fokol

2016 Over the weekend it was reported that members of her father’s church had allegedly complained about Babes’ being ‘dololo’ in church‚ yet the bishop has been encouraging young people to attend church regularly. (6 Sep. Source)

2016 There is no news here …. Just a mere complement and acknowledgement of her beauty was going to do….Kibosh distracting us with dololo news and send us her photo album i.e maybe of her at the beach haibo…. (6 Sep. Source)

2016 Babes has added some spice to the situation saying that she sees dololo wrong with not knowing Pravin. (10 Sep. Source)




A person involved in and subscribing to the aims of student movements that erupted in South Africa in 2015 and continued into 2016; initially the #RhodesMustFall movement and later the #FeesMustFall movement; a radical young student

[2015 I am also a Rhodes Must Fallist. Should fellow Rhodes Must Fallists and I quit UCT because we’ve dared to point out that it remains a problematic colonial construct? (19 Jun. Source)]

2016 The one thing that these protests have done is reveal the underlying patriarchy and homophobia that has existed within Fallist movements since their inception last year. (16 Apr. Source)

2016 I say this without assigning moral equivalence: I do not of course believe the intransigence of AfriForum is the same as the intransigence of the Fallists. (11 Oct. Source)

2016 At UCT, the Fallists’ demand for free, decolonised education has now been taken up by the administration. (16 Oct. Source)

2016 Indeed, one of the more noteworthy revelations of the Fallist student movement has been its exposure of the mediocrity and ignorance – not of the students but of South African academics. (16 Oct. Source)


(Yes, the source of the name of this blog – in the same way that “Dada” was the name chosen for that movement.)

A style of South African music; described as a musically pared down version of (South African/Mzansi) house or kwaito

2013 Durban-born artist Okmalumkoolkat is as obsessed with pushing the city’s dance styles as he is in bringing its gqom life to the world. … Pushing gqom (the scabrous underground version of Durban kwaito music) to the world is one of Okmalumkoolkat’s current preoccupations. “I’ve got everyone interested in gqom,” he says nonchalantly. (21 Nov. Source)

2016 The self-proclaimed queen of gqom is heating up the local music charts with her breakout single Wololo and her scotching hot dance moves. (5 Sep. Source)

Here’s Babes Wodumo, the “queen of gqom” showing her take on the music style in 2016:


A portmanteau of Zuma, the president of South Africa (2009 to present) and Gupta, the name of a family said to be induly influencing the South African president, to the extent that the relationship may constitute corruption

2016 Zupta Contagion: Hard questions ANC must ask, but can’t (23 Sep. Source)

2016 Pravin’s submittal of his affidavit to the courts regarding the Guptas and Banks is a clear sign that he will no longer bow to Zupta’s evil. (7 Nov. Source)

A person involved in this relationship:

2016 Just minutes after President Jacob Zuma started delivering his State of the Nation Address, Economic Freedom Front MP Godrich Gardee asked the president to take his seat. “Sit down, Mr Zupta,” said Gardee, raising a point of privilege. (11 Feb. Source)

Image source:


2 thoughts on “Newly popular words in South African English in 2016

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