Zamglish a.k.a Zambian English
You will find here a list of uniquely Zambian English words and phrases. The language is constantly evolving and changing so I will do my best to keep updating the list. Please feel free to leave your contributions on my blog. Enjoy!
Yes in Zambia this snake is known by the same name. However, Cobra is also a well known brand name for a popular floor polish and is now used as the generic name for all floor polish. In Zambia we shine our floors until you can see your reflection in them.
Again, this brand name is used as the generic name for all cola flavoured drinks. If you want to get anything other than Coca-Cola, you will need to state so several times over and ignore the bemused looks.
As above, this brand name is used as the generic name for all toothpaste. I was well out of childhood before I realised that Colgate was not the English name for toothpaste. Not that it matters. Colgate equals toothpaste, of which there are many brands. Everybody in Zambia knows this. Where's the problem?
In Zambia inanimate objects have the ability to 'cry'. Car engines or ambulance, police and fire engine sirens all cry when started or turned on. So, you will often hear in conversation phrases like 'Did you hear the ambulance crying?' or 'We had to push the car to make it cry.'
Culture (pronounced 'catcha')
As in 'The new catcha'. A term coined by the new MMD government formed after the first multiparty democratic elections in Zambia. The term was originally used to denote a change from the old socialist politics to the new western-style democracy.
The most obvious sign of this was the change in choice of clothing by the politicians in government - out went the safari suits with the chairman Mao collars beloved of the previous government and in came the sharp suits and footwear (complete with boosted heels for some).
The term is now used by Zambians to denote any change in behaviour, appearance, etc., usually said with a slight mocking tone.
We Zambians have the unique ability to hear smells, as in 'I can hear chicken roasting '. To be fair, this is a result of direct translation from the local lingo to English.
For most people this a time to relax and pursue those leisure activitites that you have been dreaming about all year or even travel abroad and see a bit of the world. Not so, to a Zambian. Holiday means taking the two day trip to the family ancestral home, i.e. the village, to spend some time with the family - those that haven't already migrated into the towns and cities, that is. If we do travel further afield, it is not sit on some beach or visit some famous tourist attraction. Oh no! To a Zambia it means a chance to 'do makwebo' and make some serious money to supplement the paltry monthly salary.
If you say 'Honda' to a Zambian, it means only one thing - a motor cycle. It is the generic name for all motor bikes. If you are referring to a car you need to be specific and say so. For example, if you say 'Honda Civic' then we will understand you mean the car.
How are you keeping up?
How is life?/How are you?
I can’t get you/I don't get you.
I don’t understand what you are saying.
For those of us who grew up in Zambia in the 70s, Mazoe orange crush from Zimbabwe was a firm favourite. We remembered it with fondness long after it disappeared from our shelfs in the 80s and it became the generic name for any juice, squash, cordial, etc., whether made from oranges or not, and whether real or artificially flavoured.
Derived from the word 'move'. Usually used to admonish someone, as in 'You are too movious', meaning 'you are to be found everywhere, you are seen everywhere, you are all over the place. Subtext - try staying home once in a while.
One each. 'Give them one, one' sounds so much better than 'Give them one each' don't you think?
Traffic lights. Don't ask me why or how. I grew up using that word and it makes perfect sense to me.
Salad (also saladi)
It is the name of a dish based largely on a mixture of raw vegetables in Zambia as well. But, it is also the brand name of a vegetable oil and has now become the generic name for all cooking oil.
Surf (pronounced 'safu')
Generic name for all washing (detergent) powder. Derived from a brand that was very popular in the 70s and 80s. In fact, it is still very popular to this day.
We come from together.
No, it is not a misspelling of some Zambian town or village. It is indeed the English word that the dictionary defines as 'in or into a single group, mass or place' and it makes perfect sense, as you will see. Stay with me. The Zamglish phrase translates into the English 'We are related' as in 'we belong to the same family, extended family, clan, village, tribe, etc.' Used in the context of proudly declaring your relationship to another or delightly exclaiming your pleasure at discovering that you are indeed 'from together'. See? Perfectly logical!
We shall revenge!
Not a threat of retribution as you might quite reasonably assume, but a more benign expression of a desire to reciprocate a good deed, usually in the social text e.g. after merry making at a braii (a.k.a. barbecue), a party, a particularly good boozing session, etc.
What do you make it?
What time is it?
Where are you keeping up?
Where are you staying?