Thursday, September 22, 2011

September 22, 2011 4:15 PM

Ugandans use a lot of different phrases.  Some of this is British English and some of it is Uganglish.  Sometimes I wonder if they really understand what they are saying.  Here are some examples of some commonly used words and phrases.

a. Trousers
What we call pants they call trousers.  I’m not sure if this is British English or just a Ugandan thing.

b. Pants
Pants is what they call men’s underwear.  So if you ask someone about their pants they may get embarrassed or offended, because you are asking about their underwear, which, even in the U.S., someone would think is kind of strange.

c.  Knickers
Knickers is what they call women’s underwear.

d. Pick
This one has a couple different meanings.  The one that is most easily understood is that people will say “Can you pick me some sugar?” or “I will come pick you.”  This is the same as using the phrase “pick up”.  They simply just drop the “up”.  The other way they use it is to say “Are you picking me?”  When someone says this they mean “Do you understand me?”  They are literally asking if you are able to pick out the words they are saying.  I’m pretty sure this is Uganglish.  It is their interpretation of English.

e.  Chips
This is British English for French Fries.

f.   Boot
This is British English for the trunk of a car.

g.  Sir/Sebo and Madam
The word for sir in all Bantu languages is Sebo, so they tend to use this even when they are speaking English.  They typically don’t use the word sir very much.  They usually say “sebo” if they want a man’s attention.  On the other hand, for women they say “Madam”.  For example, all of my students will greet me in class by saying “Good Morning Madam”.

h.  Balance
This is the word they use for “change”.  For example, if you are buying something and you want your change, you would ask for your balance.  This is basic Uganglish.

i.  Toilet
Instead of saying bathroom or restroom, they say toilet.  I find this interesting because most of the time they are not talking about an actual toilet.  They are talking about a pit latrine.

j. Bathroom
Bathroom is what they call their bathing area.  So if you said you were going to the bathroom, a Ugandan might be a little confused because they think you are going to bath or shower.

k. Dodging
This is British English for “avoiding”.  So they will say, for example, that some of the teachers have been dodging their lessons, meaning they haven’t been going to their lessons.

l.  A program
Program is what they say instead of plans.  They will ask if you have a program on a specific day or are you free.  This simply means “do you have any plans or are you free?”

m.You are most welcome
When they want to greet you and welcome you, they will say “you are most welcome”.  Whereas we would say more simply “Welcome”.  I guess they feel the need to emphasize it a little

n. Somehow far/somehow near
Ugandans use the word “somehow” different than we would.  When they say something is “somehow near”, what they mean is that it is kind of close.  And if something is said to be “somehow far”, they mean that it is not really that close.  So if you are arguing the price of a taxi ride, you might be saying it is somehow near and that it should not cost that much money.

o. You are lost
Like I’ve said before, if they say “you are lost”, they mean that you haven’t been around.

p. Now Now
Ugandans are never very timely, so when they say now, they may mean in a few hours.  They use the phrase “now now” in order to emphasize that they are actually talking about now.  So if you want to know if a taxi or a bus is leaving now, you have to ask if they are leaving “now now”.

q.  Extend
This is a word they use if you are in a taxi and they want you to move over so they can squeeze more people in.  You can try to explain to them that if you extend you will actually be taking up more space, not less, but this is one thing that I think Ugandans will never understand.

r.  Tomorrow
I told one of my neighbors today that my mom was coming to visit in two weeks and that she would be here on October 7th.  In response to that he said “oh she will be here tomorrow!”  After arguing with him for a few minutes, trying to explain that October 7th is not tomorrow, he explained to me that “tomorrow” is an expression they use to mean that she is coming very soon.  This one makes no sense to me.  They say tomorrow, but they don’t mean tomorrow…

I don’ think there are any Ugandans who have learned English as a first language.  And they typically learn English from other Ugandans who are not native English speakers.  I think this is part of the reason they speak the way they do and not the way we would in America.  They do use some British English, but a lot of their phrases and words are straight up Uganglish.  It’s almost as if they have their own syntax.

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