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A word or two: New generation, new world and new words


Haji Mohamed Dawjee is a South African columnist, disruptor of the peace and the author of Sorry, Not Sorry: Experiences of a Brown Woman in a White South Africa. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @sage_of_absurd

Why not give the new new South Africa a few new additions to our annual dictionary update?

First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.

While paging through the New Yorker archives the other day, I came across an article that contained a list of collective nouns. The author had cleverly decided that 2017 – the year the piece was published – was the perfect time to devise new collective nouns to describe freshly found groups of things that had developed in the world thus far.

Rather obviously, the listicle comprised mostly collective nouns that were extremely millennial-centric. Like a group of millennials who are all dressed the same, for example, is known as a brunch. Or a group of millennials who all look different is called a marketing campaign.

It was a laugh, and I laughed because it was true. We need new words that denote groups of things that exist now that never have before – or may have but now exist so often and so commonly that new terms are necessary so that we can refer to these assemblies to save a lot of time.

Of course a group of aunts is called a book club, or should be, and of course a group of crows is called a murder (this one is commonplace but formed part of the author’s list anyway).

There were others that were commonplace too but you’d be surprised how many people are just walking around aimlessly not knowing the simplest of common nouns.

For example, do you know how many people call a school of fish a university of fish? I don’t but these people are out there, believe me.

It got me thinking. The millennial stuff is still relevant today (even during Covid all you need to do is walk across the road to your local coffee and avo-and-toast haunt and count the Simon & Mary hats to realise what you are witnessing is a brunch of millennials), but we have evolved, so to speak, globally and as a nation.

Cultures change and develop, new habits are formed, bootleg jeans go out of fashion and come back again – god knows why – and rallying politicians who hand out free T-shirts for votes have become a more usual and unsurprising sighting than a flock of birds.

Every year in the Oxford dictionary there’s a new addition of a fresh appellation. For example, recent additions include: adulting – I don’t have to define this; it speaks for itself. Another addition is thirsty. It does not refer to the need to hydrate but rather is a new-fangled synonym for being horny.

All these words are universal, so to speak, but here, within the borders of our rich country, our vast tapestry of heritage and unique humour calls for a dictionary of its own.

So, I thought, why not give the new new South Africa a few new additions to our annual dictionary update?

Here’s an incomplete list, because I can’t possibly do all the work and you can tweet me if you think of any others.

Boetilicious: The unexpected attraction and sex appeal of your friend’s brother who had a postpuberty glow-up.

Bowelcano: What happens when you use too much Xylitol because you’re on a sugar-free diet and have swapped out for an alternative but forgot to read the warning label.

Bokkaneer: Someone who sells fake Springbok merchandise. A rugby pirate if you will…

Tata-Sauce: When your grandad with dementia starts to air the family’s dirty laundry over a large gathering of people who are family, and some who are not.

Mandelephant in the room: The problem with Struggle kids that nobody wants to talk about.

Lesskom: The savings in your monthly electricity budget because of loadshedding.

Spoornet: The embarrassment it’s possible to entangle oneself in online… even after you’ve, say, deleted a very graphic picture of yourself.

Melktard: Someone who is idiotically bad at baking.

Guptials: An excessive wedding ceremony where you steal some cutlery from the venue even though you’re totally loaded.

Spur-ned: When you thought your date would take you somewhere fancy but you ended up at a family steakhouse. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.


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