The Slang List

Don't stand there with a mouth full of teeth. Spit fire in 2015

Words: Max Dylan Lazarus | Illustration: Sabrina Scott

I genuinely don’t have much of a clue what everyone is talking about these days. I arrive in the office on a Monday and listen to the cool crowd talking about how lit the party was and have you seen how Cassper sonned AKA one hunna percent worse than Meek Mills got it, he so trill – and there I am, lost, confused, trying to jump in by shoehorning a YOLO into my sentences while doing The Harlem Shake and basically coming across like Amy Poehler in Mean Girls.

Point is if you’re not on the ball it’s very easy to get left behind, especially in the modern South African work and university environment where every cultural influence jumps in to shape the lexicon. American hip-hop, SA black Twitter, Afrikaans culture, whatever it is that those okes brought up in The Bluff in Durban speak... South African language is a tricky thing, and I genuinely struggle to keep up with the new slang. So I went around the office and got people to write down their favourite colloquialisms. I didn’t know many of them prior to this, and I struggled to get my head around most of them, but if I can understand them, then by God so can you. Here we go:

So put simply, you just don’t want to be ratchet. The word has done the rounds since the early 2000s, moving from the Dirty South all the way around the world through the likes of Lil’ Wayne, T.I., Nicky Minaj and others. It’s a pretty nasty word that basically describes the worst elements of ghetto gham along with inflated sense of sexual attractiveness despite being a bit of a disaster. Listen, you don’t want it. It’s basic. Just don’t be ratchet. 

How to use it: Check out Karen from accounts rocking her leggings and heels, twerking at the board presentation – that girl so ratchet.

How not to use it: Work up a sweat at the Health & Ratchet club.

Who shouldn’t say it? Straight, white men. It’s pejorative after all, so don’t be throwing those words around thoughtlessly. There’s a bit more leeway if you’re totally fabulous, as it’s been somewhat reclaimed as a compliment for someone who’s a hot mess. Think Ke$ha. But like also in a good way. You know? No? Ok let’s move on.

To succeed in something amazing. To absolutely kill it.

How to use it: “Yo Tim your PowerPoint presentation at the AGM slayed so hard!”

How not to use it: Don’t take it too far and start calling someone a Slayer. This isn’t Buffy.

Who shouldn’t use it: Do not use in conversation with the resident office misanthrope; the one that stares at the urinals, constantly mouth-breathes and has potentially murdered. There’s one in every office. Don’t talk to that person about slaying. You’ll likely trigger something dangerous.

When I first read this one I thought it meant being in a relationship (look ma, I’m the reincarnation of Al Bundy from Married With Children!) Nah it’s really great actually – picture someone who’s constantly slaying. Success, success, success – doing good and spreading that goodness. That person is serving life! But it also ties heavily into appearance, so if you’re serving face and you’re beating a face on the regular, then you’re well on your way. If you’re still lost don’t even worry – it all comes from drag queen culture, so just put on RuPaul’s Drag Race, check out this dictionary and get educated. Yasss!

How to use it: “I’m serving life!” – so good.

“I’m serving life without parole!” – amazing!

“I’m on death row!” – too far, condolences to your family.

How not to use it: On your CV I guess?

Note: If you can’t get some sass in your ass don’t even bother. Don’t you dare say this in a deadpan voice unless you happen to be on the way to prison, convicted on charges of ruining all fun.


Okay so I’m plugging hard for this to become Superbalist’s slogan. Oh you don’t listen to Okmalumkoolkat? Then let’s pull up the handbrake so that we can understand this fully. Swenk is pure SA, coming from swank, which comes from swanky. Easy enough right? Now korobela, that there is your love potion, a classic South African muti. Administered in powdery herb form, it’s said to fix up your sex-life faster than you can message “Netflix & chill”. So swenk korobela – basically you’re a sure-fire swag dispensary my friend. Slaying with style, serving life without parole. Congratulations. 

How to use it: With the right pronunciation, that’s first. Otherwise you’re just channelling Zille stirring the pap pot.

How not to use it: While at the artisanal organic food market. Don’t you dare! Don’t you f**kin’ dare! Nothing at that sorry place is swenk korobela. God damn.

Who should say it: Who should or shouldn’t isn’t the point. You wanna know what’s happening in SA you’ve gotta make the effort. We’re sitting 20-what years post-Democracy and white South Africans can’t understand what’s going on over on black Twitter? White people just get away with pet hotels, Ugg boots and the J&B Met, no explanation needed for the rest of SA? Nah, us Anglos must just try harder, this here’s a two-way street.

You’re at the party and shit’s about ta get lit. Everyone’s gettin’ faded, all sorts of crunk, not quite rekt (yet), but everyone’s definitely feelin’ wavy at the very least. You turn to your day-ones, everyone’s smiling, you take your shots, you know the party’s still peaking and you about to be turnt!

How to use it: Just as you’re about to down that first drink. Any of the following works: “Let’s get TURNT”, “I’m so TURNT”, “Shit got TURNT”.

How not to use it: “To everything TURNT, TURNT, TURNT, there is a season TURNT, TURNT, TURNT, and a time to every purpose under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)

Note: There’s no apostrophe. This isn’t Punk’d, thankyouverymuch.

As Urban Dictionary describe it: “An adjective used in hip-hop culture to describe someone who is considered to be well respected, coming from a combination of the words ‘true’ and ‘real’.” And let’s make it perfectly clear; Urban Dictionary carries more authority than Oxford these days. It's pretty much no bullshit, no games – real.

How to use it: It’s so trill. Keep it trill.

How not to use it: Take a trill pill, daddio.

Who says it? I mean, other than every rapper from the last 15 years, not many people outside of hip hop circles. Certainly no one at my synagogue. It had a brief resurgence at the start of last year when #BEEN #TRILL emerged in NYC as a ubiquitous high/low clothing brand through the power of Tumblr and the internet – I didn’t know this but this was before I was working at Superbalist and writing about what hip people do with their lives. Actually nah, my job here is to explain what these words mean, I’m not here to try convince you that they’re cool. As far as I’m concerned this word is two years away from being the new chillax.

Who shouldn’t say it? Anyone wearing chinos.

First thing’s first, this here is a verb. I know right, totally revelatory stuff. I absolutely love this one. So think of any famous rap feuds of recent time, the guy who strikes that winning blow, he’s sonned the other guy. And it’s not a classic father-son dynamic – that’s special. What’s happening here is that person A is owning person B so hard he’s becoming his stepfather. Everything implied and more. 

How to use it: At your office rival: “Boy I’m gonna son you!”

How not to use it: At your actual son: “Boy, I’m gonna son you!”

Who shouldn’t use it: Pre-teens and midwives.

So if you’re being salty just picture those little teardrops drying up on your cheeks. You’re agitated and upset, and those metaphorical tears are making you oh so salty. Don’t confuse it with being spicy, which is everyone on SA Twitter, pretty much all the time. This is often an associated trait of Softboys (not so much Fucbois).

How to use it: “Karen from accounts won’t go on a date with me – damn I’m salty!”

How not to use it: In any kind of affectionate way, ever. Your boyfriend is NOT a salty sausage. Shut up.

Keep in mind: Words develop new meanings organically over time. Just because there’s salty and spicy now in addition to sweet and bitter doesn’t mean you can throw the whole tongue-map into conversations – umami will NEVER be a human trait.

When you’re packing, you’re packing. Type it into your Google-box, your Instagram-Twitter machine, and prepare to see the finest bootys SA has to offer. Seriously though, with it being about time I learnt more African words than just “Nkalakatha”, I shower praise onto the mighty Soundcloud for teaching me so many wonderful new things.

How to use it: With a hashtag, and your sexiest selfie, sent straight to bae.

How not to use it: In reference to your boss or your mother-in-law. Or your boss’s mother-in-law.

Interesting fact: If you get really turnt and try use this word instead of “Agadoo” in the Black Lace song by the same name then you’re literally erasing all of the good that the TRC ever resulted in.

No one likes the word horny. I wonder if anyone ever has. Was it ruined by Austin Powers or did Mike Meyers just illustrate its awfulness? Either way, there haven’t been any real useful alternatives for some time. Lustful is a bit too Divine Comedy if you ask me. So here comes thirst. You’re thirsty. He thirsty. She got the thirst. We all thirsting. Drink it down.

How to use it: “Trust your instincts, obey your thirst”

How not to use it: In reference to baby while breastfeeding.


Thirst trap: welcome to social media, Grandpa. A thirst trap is someone who posts pictures and whatnot to elicit thirst in others. My primary reference for this is my office colleague Dudu Ntoni who says that Drake is currently a massive thirst trap, and that I really need to up my game.

So you see a white girl in a really nice new dress. When you walk up to her and tell her you like it you get flooded with a barrage of words: “Oh you like it – I dunno I think I love it also – I got it at this little place I wasn’t sure if I was going to get it but how can I say no when…”

Ugh, painful.

But when you see a black girl in a really nice new dress, and you walk up to her and tell her that, you get two words and two words only: “Oko oko!”

What does it mean: Always!

How to use it: With the correct intonation: The second ‘Oko’ has a much longer sounding first O.

When to use: Always! Man, this is just the right way to respond to a compliment. Take it and own it!