Rock up, pull in, park off. Come right, score a luck – or strip your moer, finish & klaar


South African English (SAE) contains a number of items that are not merely individual words but that usually occur in a phrase, whether it be fixed or variable. (In order not to have to say “words and phrases” all the time, we refer to them as “lexical items”.)

This post focuses on informal, slang and colloquial phrases in SAE that are mostly new – or at least recent,  contemporary, or current – and that either consist wholly of English words, or at least contain an English component. This is important because it is often too easy to think of SAE as comprising loanwords from other languages that are assimilated into local English. That, as we see here, is only part of the story.

If you’re an English-speaking South African, you’ll probably have used or heard a number of these phrases before. But you may not be aware that they are SAE – i.e. that they are, largely, particular to English in South Africa – nor just how different they are from expressions in other varieties of English.

The phrases I describe and show evidence for in this post are:

after tears, catch a wake up, come right, double up, finish and klaar, higher grade, jack up, just nje, park off, rock up, score a luck, strip my moer, train smash, what-what

(This is by no means an exhaustive list. You can use these links to jump to the items below.)

after tears

a wake after a funeral, or festivities after a wake

2012 I recently found myself at a funeral wake in Soweto when the subject of wanton pillaging and conspicuous consumption by public representatives caught centre stage among the men skinning the fallen cow meant for the “after-tears” the following day. (28 Oct. Source

2016 During the “after tears party”, conversations revolved around who was driving what, and who had moved to which suburb. (16 Jul. Source)

catch a wake up

become aware

1989 “‘To catch a wake-up‘: language awareness in the South African context”(Janks)

1993 Nomsa, catch a wake up! It’s your new boyfriend on the phone, he’s desperate to speak to you! (Mendelowitz: 9)

2003 SA bosses must catch a wake-up (18 Jun. Source)

2010 All that time in that big old house on his own, the dying and shit? He needs to catch a wake-up, live a little, is what I’m saying. (Beukes: 145)

2012 I hope some of you will catch a wakeup and realise that you are fast becoming the vanguard of your own destruction. (30 Apr. Source)

come right


(Note that this item is in Oxford Dictionaries as “have a good outcome; end well”. In the examples given there it is associated with the non-personal pronouns “it” and “they”, not the first- or second-person pronouns.)

2013 Olmeca Ibiza Nights prizewinner, Thabiso, is definitely not going home with nothing. Not only did he come right with a promotion girl at Space, and later he’ll come right at the airport while we wait to board our flight to Madrid, but at Pacha we’d spotted him sucking face with a woman who must be employed to walk the catwalk at a neighboring hotel. (17 Sep. Source)

double up

a short cut

2010 Double up – Darkie Meaning: a short cut. (17 May. Source)

2011 We have a planning commision and are members of BRICS, what good is it doing us when the planning commision comes out after much hype to tell us SA needs to create jobs, like WTF?, BRICS as a partner is only using us as a “double up” into the rest of africa. (21 Nov. Source)

finish and klaar

In DSAE as “an emphatic interjection of finality, ‘that’s that’, ‘all done’, ‘nothing more to be said’”

2010 This man killed his wife finish and klaar, and I just wish he is [sic] here for interrogation. (22 Nov. Source)

2011 We must however get to a position where killing a police officer is plainly wrong – finish and klaar. (25 Sep. Source)

2013 SA is going down, finish and klaar. (8 May. Source)

It also occurs in other forms, such as:

2014 In my case, I have a female body and identify as female. Finish en kla’. (18 Jun. Source)

higher grade

difficult, complex, complicated

2006 Why don’t people show a lot of interest for Savage 2? Is the whole fighting system too higher grade or something? (31 Mar. Source)

2007 I respect Synthasite for the great technology and it’s great and all.. but I still uphold that it’s too higher grade for the target audience, and I think that is its flaw. (19 Nov. Source)

2008 I think this forum is too higher grade for you “SUB-standard Reggie” (12 Feb. Source)

2009 Why is there no real time translation middlewear? If this is too higher grade, why not just a really good skype translator, one that actually works! (18 Jul. Source)

2010 According to SAA spokesman, Joystix Hlongwana, friendly or outgoing cabin crew are potentially fatal to the self-esteem of their colleagues, most of whom signed up to become flight attendants because beauty college was too higher grade and the job allows them to chew gum for a living. (18 May. Source)

2011 They should put you in the cricket team because clearly you have the same amount of brain power as our national team i.e. none (in case deciphering that was too higher grade for you) (21 Jan. Source)

jack up

(Note that this item is in Oxford Dictionaries as “(informal) inject oneself with an illegal drug” and “(Australian) give up or refuse to participate in something”)

improve, bolster

2006 Police to jack up breath tests (22 Dec. Source)

2010 Pulumani said letters of warning would be sent to other principals “that they need to jack up their performance”. (12 Jan. Source)

2011 Task force to jack up matric results (1 Sep. Source)

just nje

just, like

2004 Thanks yo. Can’t be seen to be making false claims, just nje randomly. (9 Nov. Source)

2007 He was once a hot radio jock, tv presenter and just nje a hot man. He pissed off a lot of people, then he disappeared. (13 Jun. Source)

2008 For me, sport is emotive, there’s a lot outpouring of expression that sport has and so you also need to have your facts straight, you can’t just argue nje blowing hot air. (14 Jul. Source)

2013 “As gay black men, we tend to meet other men online – to make friends or get laid. You can’t just nje go out there and be gay. We rather use Facebook,” says my companion. (21 Apr. Source)

park off

sit down, relax

2007 Chill out. When you park off, you sit down and relax. “Shall we park off and watch Riding Giants for the 40th time?” (Pike: 264)

2016 In recent weeks Malema has travelled to various nooks and crannies, digging for votes ahead of the local government polls. Last month he parked off in Mpumalanga, running a no-whistles-and-bells three-day blitzkrieg, driving his message of dignity. (15 Jun. Source)

rock up

(Note that this item is in DSAE – and has been a part of SAE since the 1970s – as “to arrive … unexpectedly, late, or inappropriately”. It is also in Oxford Dictionaries as “(British informal) arrive; turn up”. However, Oxford English Dictionary acknowledges it is originally South African.)

2004 She barely made it through the recording of her 1994 release, Abantu Bayakhuluma, rocking up at the studio already wired to the eyeballs on coke. (Beukes: 229)

2006 This is the much harder way to achieve perfection. Just be on time. You say two o’clock, rock up at two o’clock. That is the perfect achievement. Otherwise, agree to arrive at two-fifteen. Then rock up at two-fifteen, exactly. Perfect. (Miyeni: 62)

2012 I’m intrigued to see how the vertical garden goes too, so I rock up the next day for the launch. (3 Dec. Source)

2013 Diederichs also said black people would not be excluded from the side if they if they conformed to Afrikaner values and principles. “If, for example, a black guy rocks up and conforms to the Afrikaner culture and heritage his race would not come into question and he would be allowed in the team,” he added. (22 Apr. Source)

2016 Just about everyone in the stadium was wearing ANC regalia and President Zuma was offered a divine blessing for the “third term”. What would have happened if Julius Malema had rocked up with two hundred of his mates wearing red? (25 May. Source)

score a luck

get lucky

2006 “It doesn’t make sense,” she said. “Except it worked. It may as well’ve been me.” His voice kept even. “I cracked. Left the cops. Went on the booze big time. They scored a luck. …” (Nicol & Hichens: 146)

2007 I’m in the process of fitting a VHF, only cos I scored a luck. (26 Mar. Source)

2008 A friend of mine bought a new P4 and gave me his old one, so I scored a luck! (11 Nov. Source)

2011 Got an advert in the letterbox and went to go take a peep out of curiosity and scored a luck. (22 May. Source)

strip my/your/his/her moer

become angry, fly into a rage

2005 Let me not say a word cause I am just gonna strip my moer and do something that I don’t wanna do! (3 Oct. Source)

2007 Hofmeyr denies that he is a politician, saying “I’m an activist, I don’t have to wait for a mandate to strip my moer …” (17 Feb. Source)

2009 Since I have my bike I have more money in my pocket, more time on my hands and I am less inclined to strip my moer when something stupid happens – why, because I am not tired anymore. (11 Oct. Source)

2010 When I strip my moer and foam at the mouth about the ANC, am I being objective about South Africa? I don’t know.” (2 Jul. Source)

2012 There’s a cute one, there with the off-the-shoulder top and the bunny slippers. There’s always one. Justin strikes up a conversation as he gets his draught. The new guy strips his moer. “Are you gonna play or you gonna talk to girls all night?” (28 Nov. Source)

train smash (usually preceded by “not a”)

a catastrophe

2013 Last week I argued that the ability to think critically is in short supply in our country. A few people were upset by that claim, but many also hastened to agree. In today’s column entry, I want to go beyond the diagnostic conclusion and explain why it’s not a train smash. (9 Dec. Source)

2014 This year, the ANC lost 213 827 votes or 1.84% of the number of votes it won in 2009. “That’s no train smash by any account,” he said. (2 Jun. Source)


an unnamed or unrecalled thing, person, property or attribute

1986 I am not allowed to talk to any other banned or listed what-what person or attend any meetings or gatherings, even social gatherings. (Baard: 71)

2006 Funny type of oke, couldn’t tell me his name, still waiting for his new ID, witness protection what-what, I don’t know. (Vladislavic: ?)

2007 Bra X thumped his fist on our little table that hardly had space for a fist, there were so many glasses and bottles and what-what. (7 Oct. Source)

2008 Well, usually take the price in USA and double it. Due to import what what. (11 Apr. Source)

2010 Okay, so there’s no flying cars and what what, but if you search hard enough and give yourself enough time, you might just find yourself escaping in reality itself. (25 Nov. Source)

2011 Internationally renowned detective Julius ‘Sherlock’ Malema says it was not difficult to prove that all South Africa’s whites are criminals. “Elementary, my dear What-What,” said Malema. (9 May. Source)

2012 Janette was from DRC. Raised in SA, though. Her English was Model-C style, from her schooling in Grahamstown. You wouldn’t know she wasn’t South African if you didn’t try speak Xhosa to her or something. But some people know. The lady behind the counter at Home Affairs knew. “From where? From DRC? You think you can come here and tell us what-what? Well you can kiss Mauritius goodbye.” (28 Oct. Source)

2013 It is a method designed to subvert and destabilise the dominant discourse, the liberal what-what and it relies on a forthright, rude and sometimes socially repulsive method to do just that. (1 Apr. Source)

2014 I know what the Songezo Mjongiles of this world say: how we, the neo-liberal, fascist what-what media, have always had it in for the ruling party, and God help the planning minister who says otherwise. (8 Jan. Source)


Baard, F. (1986) My spirit is not banned. As told to Barbie Schreiner. Harare: Zimbabwe Publishing House

Beukes, L. (2004) Maverick:Extraordinary women from South Africa’s past. Cape Town: Oshun

Beukes, L. (2010) Zoo City. Johannesburg: Jacana

Dictionary Unit for South African English (2011-2014) Unpublished research notes

Janks, H. (1989) “To catch a wake-up”: language awareness in the South African context. Unpublished Masters thesis, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg

Mendelowitz, B. (1993) Project X: a different history lesson. Manzini: Macmillan Boleswa

Miyeni, E. (2006) O’Mandingo!: The Only Black at a Dinner Party. Johannesburg: Jacana Media

Nicol, M. & Joanne Hichens (2006) Out to Score. Cape Town: Umuzi

Pike, S. (2007) Surfing South Africa. Cape Town: Double Storey Books

Ivan Vladislavić (2006) Portrait With Keys: Joburg & What-What. Johannesburg

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2 thoughts on “Rock up, pull in, park off. Come right, score a luck – or strip your moer, finish & klaar

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