Ugandan English – Wikipedia the free encyclopedia
Some Ugandan English words have a peculiar meaning widely understood within Uganda but mystifying to foreigners. The origin of these usages may be obscure. The best known example is probably to extend, which in Uganda means move over on a seat to make room for someone else.
Another example, “pop”,is used to replace words like bring and come for example: Danny, pop that bottle here or Heno, pop to my house.
Terms for buildingsEdit
Sometimes the usage has a traceable origin. A basement is called a godown, though the usual meaning of warehouse is also known in Uganda as proper English.citation needed
A building labelled hotel in a small town is likely to be a restaurant.
Terms for clothingEdit
The verb to put on is often substituted for to dress, to be dressed, or to wear. One may hear remarks such as “That lady is rich, don’t you see how she is putting on,” and “The police are looking for a man putting on a red shirt.”
Terms for communicationEdit
Mobile phone services are prepaid.
A person finding himself with inadequate prepaid time to make a call will ring up the intended recipient of the call and hang up immediately. The receiver of the call, hearing the phone ring once and seeing the number, understands himself to have been beeped. Alternatively this is called being flashed on account of the brief flashing of the screen.
The understood message is I wish to talk to you at your expense.
Terms for education and trainingEdit
In the worlds of business and development, the word “facilitation” or the expression “to facilitate someone” have fundamentally different meanings in Uganda from those in Europe or the US. In Uganda, it most often means paying them for something. It is often a payment in part to cover some expenses, but is expected to go beyond just the “out-of-pocket” costs the recipient has incurred.
Sometimes it can amount to the equivalent of a week or two’s wages just for attending a meeting for a day or two. In business in Europe or the US it usually means to help organise progress amongst a group of people in some way, and almost never involves paying them anything. This is rather about helping them by doing preparation and analysis; by chairing and minute-taking at meetings; and by mobilising, coaching and advising.
Terms for family membersEdit
Children whose fathers are brothers are considered siblings in most Ugandan tribes.
The English word cousin conflates them with the children of a maternal uncle or those of aunts, who in a patrilineal society belong to a different clan. Thus the terms cousin brother or cousin sister are used to identify the “close” cousins.
Terms for food and farmingEdit
Irish means (Irish) potatoes, while “potatoes” means sweet potatoes.
Farming is often referred to as digging, and fields under cultivation, even large ones, may be referred to as gardens.3
Terms for languageEdit
The word vernacular, rarely used in ordinary conversation in most of the English speaking world, is common in Uganda, used to mean local language.
This owes its origin to the fact that in most primary schools, pupils are punished for speaking “vernacular”, that is other languages other than English. Since the local languages are many, they are usually classified as “vernacular”.
Terms for moneyEdit
When money is spent extravagantly on outings, shopping, recreations and the like, Ugandans are said to be “eating money.” This is also a common phrase in reference to embezzlement, corruption, or misappropriation of funds, for example: “The Minister ate the money,” or “He was fired from his job because he ate money.” This phrase also applies to living a lavish or abundant lifestyle, hence “You are eating money,” which commonly means one is successful and doing well.
When someone borrows money from you. Normally you would say that they owe you some money.
In Uganda the term demand is used instead. For example I demand John ten thousand shillings meaning John owes me ten thousand shillings.
When you go out with friends to drink or shopping and you take the bill, the term House is used. For example We went out with Kenneth last night and he housed us meaning We went out with Kenneth last night and he paid for the drinks
Foreign currency is forex, and currency exchange bureaus are forex bureaux.4
In American British English, a dishonoured check is said to bounce; Ugandans have adopted this phrase to refer to the inability to meet with the intended person, goal, or appointment: “I came to your place and bounced.”
Terms for qualityEdit
Somehow is interspersed frequently, and means slightly, occasionally, or can imply doubt.
When asked if you liked the food, and you enjoyed it slightly, you could simply reply ‘somehow’.
The word fake can be used to chastise a person about something. For example, if one’s friend went on an exciting evening out without inviting the other friend, you might hear the latter complain, saying “Eeh, you man, you are fake!”
Terms for religionEdit
A save-dee is someone who has found God, often referred to in other English-speaking countries as being saved.
Words for social events and greetingsEdit
Congs is frequently used as shortening of congratulations. Wel be back is a bastardised way of saying welcome back, but it used much more commonly.citation needed
The word lost is used to mean that you haven’t seen the person in a long time. One would say “Eeeh, but you are lost.”
The phrase “ok please” is used to convey agreement or acknowledgement.
It can also be used to signal a transition. For instance, if a person is preparing to leave, he might break a moment of silence with “ok please” and then announce that he is leaving. “Thank you please” has a similar meaning, but can also mean thank you. “Please” never means please. If Ugandans want something, they say “You give me…” Please is not required.
Terms for transport and giving directionsEdit
Forms of transport are referred to as means.
For instance: ‘I could not reach the party last night; I had no means’.original research?
A “taxi” is a van used like a bus, carrying many persons along a fixed route. A taxi taking one passenger at a time on a negotiable route is referred to as a special hire. A tow truck is a breakdown.
A motorbike or bicycle used for the same purpose is a bodaboda.
The term originated at the Uganda Kenya border crossing at Busia, where a kilometre separates the downtown area from the border post on the Ugandan side. Travellers dropped off at the bus/taxi station by buses or taxis, or those coming to Uganda from the Kenya side, were ferried over this distance by enterprising cyclists, who would attract business by calling “border, border”.
The title Captain is applied to all pilots, not just those in command of a plane. Pilot is often used to refer to the driver of a bus, (minivan) taxi or “special hire”.
When people walk they say they “foot”.
When giving directions, the following expressions are common: to slope means going in a particular direction which is not necessarily downhill; to branch means to turn.
“To give someone a push” means to accompany a person home for some distance. When a car “sleeps” outside, it means it stays outside, not in the compound or in the garage.
Terms for witchcraftEdit
A practitioner of witchcraft is referred to as a Witch doctor.
The origin is unclear, and is not a direct translation from a Ugandan language. A practitioner of witchcraft in Uganda is referred to as a Witch-doctor, though this term is often also used to refer to practitioners of local medicines (e.g. herbal medicines). Nightdancer, however, refers to a person who has been possessed by a spirit, causing them to dance naked in the wee hours of the night, and very often causing them to defecate and smear human excrement on people’s door posts.
This usage can be found throughout Uganda, regardless of tribal origin. It eventually became synonymous with witch-doctors, as they were usually possessed by these spirits. Nightdancer, is also commonly used to refer to cannibals, not that this is a common practice. For example a parent may say, You will become a nightdancer. to a child who is biting their fingernails.
This implies that the child may eventually start eating human flesh instead of just fingernails.
The word downer is used instead of lower, used in opposition to upper. For example: “I broke my upper leg, but my downer leg was hurting, too.”
“Sorry” tends to be used in different ways in Uganda and England. Ugandans are perfectly correct to use the word to express sympathy and sadness for something undesirable that has happened to someone by saying “Oh, sorry” or “I’m sorry”.
However in England direct use like this is now usually an expression of regret with some responsibility attached – a form of apology. If they were not involved and just mean to express sympathy, they are likely to be less direct – “I’m sorry to hear that” or “that’s really sad”, or “that’s terrible”.
Ever is used to mean often, in the same way always is used in American English. It’s the opposite of the exaggeration never.
For example, if someone is often late, a Ugandan might say “She is ever late.”
The Broadway play The Vagina Monologues had a brief, but notorious, appearance on the Ugandan stage before being banned by government censors. The brouhaha led to the entry of the word monologue into Ugandan English as a euphemism for vagina. The newspaper Red Pepper popularised the use of the word kandahar and after the 2010 World Cup, vuvuzela for vagina, and whopper for penis.
The adjective whole is used to emphasise disapproval of conduct unbecoming a person’s rank or station.
Examples: “How can a whole Minister go to that cheap nightclub?” or “How can a whole headmaster dress so badly?” The usage is a direct translation from several Ugandan languages.
Among younger people, proggie is common when referring to one’s social plans, e.g. Susan, what’s your proggie for the weekend, let’s hook up.
The word Zibbs is an often used word to mean problems. Example: I failed the exam, now those are other zibbs
The adverb Just is often used at the end of the statement to express obviousness. Example: During a phone call, one would tell a friend, I am at home eating food, just.
In the dialect of English used in Karamoja, to enjoy can be used as “to be married to”, as in the sentence, “I used to enjoy Narot but now, since the divorce, I am enjoying Nakoto.”
Ugandan words are often inserted into English because the English equivalent doesn t convey the sense the Ugandan speaker intends.
The standard English term brother-in-law applies to both a spouse s brother and a spouse s sister s husband.
A man s relationship with these two entails two quite different sets of obligations and norms in Ugandan society. Thus Luganda speakers will often use muko (wife s brother) and musangi (literally one you met, meaning you met at the girl’s home while wooing her) to make the distinction.
Sometimes only a prefix is borrowed. In Luganda the prefix ka- before a noun denotes smallness.
A Member of Parliament, referring to a 5-foot-tall (1.5 m) Finance Minister, said in a debate “the ka-man is innocent.”citation neededKa-child and ka-thing are also common. Thus, in most cases its used to refer to the size of an object. For example many cell phones in Uganda have flash lights, or “torches,” as an accessory of the phones.
Ugandans refer to this light as the “katorchi” since the light emitted from the phone comes from a small bulb at the top. But it can also be diminutive, such as in the case when a woman is telling her friends how she was bothered by an overly flirtatious young man on the taxi, “Eh! this ka-boy really disturbed me on the taxi.
He would not stop asking for my number.” Here the ka is used not so much to refer to whether or not the boy was short or tall, but rather as a way to reflect how he bothered her. Ka-timba, however, in the context of building construction refers to a thin piece of steel (such as re-bar), rather than the wood which one might expect. On the other hand, akatimba (obutimba, plural) is the name for a mosquito net. Thus, as is common in Uganda, one world will have multiple, if not numerous, meanings depending on the context in which it is used, as will the prefixes.
The Luganda conjunction nti is often slipped into English sentences instead of that.
Thus, one will hear a quotation like “The Minister said nti corruption will not be tolerated.” If the speaker is skeptical he will use mbu instead of nti: “The Minister said mbu corruption will not be tolerated” implies that it s just talk; business will go on as usual.
In some Ugandan languages, the same verb can be used express thanks, congratulations, and appreciation of a job well done. It is normal for an African working in his own garden to be thanked for his work by a passing stranger. If one buys a new car in Uganda, or wins a race, one should not be surprised to find themselves being thanked.
People are also thanked early in the morning as a form of greeting.
Therefore, a Luganda speaker may translate “gyebale” by saying “well done”. They are just greeting others by way of thanking them for their usual work, not necessarily for a particular task.
The expression well done is extrapolated to specific actions. Examples include well fought, to soldiers on the winning side after a war; well bought, to someone with a new car or house; and even well put on, to a well-dressed person.nb 1
Ugandans often create portmanteaus from Luganda English words.
For example, “I am going to change into a dress” becomes “I’m going to ku-changi-nga.” In other cases, they add -ing at the end of a Luganda word; thus, a young girl can say “That gentleman was kwaana-ring me” to mean the gentleman was chatting me up.