Yesterday was one of my best days in the big city thus far. My friend, Wendy, had her birthday some time ago but we only celebrated it yesterday. We had lunch at an Italian restaurant (with a Portuguese owner) to celebrate. It was an intimate lunch with her mom Siphelele, brother Nqobile and friend Louise.
While waiting for what seemed like a lifetime for our food, we had a discussion about South African linguistics (not as boring as it sounds). Louise mentioned how she had heard someone say “askies” in Nairobi. We were all quite amazed as we thought that this was a South African saying. My analogy is that the word is derived from “excuse me”. In South Africa, we use this word to say sorry, or when asking to be excused, so my analogy makes perfect sense to me.
Siphelele went on to mention how we sometimes (okay more than “sometimes”) we use the word Shame (pronounced as shem). Someone wouold pay you a complement and add “shem” to the end, for example, “Your hair looks nice shem!” – Sips went on to say how much she hates this. She analyses it as “Your hair looks nice, but I pity you for the effort you put in to get it that way”. The thing with South Africans is that we change the meanings of some words or phrases to suit the context and/or situation we are using them in.
Siphs also told us about a colleague of hers who is originally from France. When it was time for this colleague to go back to her home country, she said that she would always remember South Africans as sympathetic people. “They always say ‘Ag shame’ when you are going through something” – she said.
This was a very interesting conversation for me because I realized that almost unknowingly, we change the meaning of words to suit our own vocabulary and to mean exactly what we want them to. Is this how language evolved? How were words, language and grammar created? Just a thought…
P.S: Think about how often and in which context you use the word “shem” – I know!
P.P.S: We spoke about other things too (just in case you think we’re a bunch of nerds- not that there is anything wrong with being a nerd.)
P.P.P.S: I should go to bed before I continue blabbing. Goodnight!