Tag Archives: lemon

South African Slang and Sayings (Voetsek, Sweet Like a Lemon, Yoh, Aiyoh, Shame)

Informant Context:

Otis’ parents immigrated separately to America from South Africa in the 1980’s, during apartheid. Otis’ extended family now lives in the Bay Area, California and near Johannesburg, South Africa. Otis often visits his family in South Africa.

Transcript:

OTIS: I can think of like, some slang that my family uses a lot. Um…

INTERVIEWER: Oh, yeah.

OTIS: A lot of it is like… [laughs] a lot of it will be like, toned-down South African swear words. 

INTERVIEWER: [joins]

OTIS: I don’t really know how most of them are spelled, but you could probably find… I don’t really know, but uh, one I thought of is… is “Voetsek!” [both laugh]. And that… it—it means “get away” in Afrikaans. And it… like, it’s mainly like, a thing that you say to dogs, ’cause there’s a lot of stray dogs in like, the kind of poorer areas where my family grew up. So they would be like, if a dog is coming near them, and if the dog looks dangerous, they’d like—yell “Voetsek!” And all the dogs *know* it by now, so the dogs—

INTERVIEWER: Oh, Wow! [laughs]

OTIS: —Scatter. 

INTERVIEWER: They all—they all scatter?

OTIS: But… so when you say it to a person, [laughs] it’s kind of rude. You’re like, calling him like, a dog.

INTERVIEWER: Oh, OK. Yeah.

OTIS: Yeah. And… like, my family will like, jokingly say it to each other. When like, one of my aunts is teasing one of the other aunts, they’ll be like, “Eh, voetsek” 

INTERVIEWER: [laughs]

INTERVIEWER: Like, joking. Um… [both laugh] There’s this thing my dad like, taught me to say whenever I was visiting family in South Africa. But I’ve never heard anyone else say it, but my dad’s like, “Oh yeah, me and all my friends always say this”. It—It just means “cool”, but it’s “sweet like a lemon”.

INTERVIEWER: [laughs] Oh! 

OTIS: So…

INTERVIEWER: [voice broken by laughter] I haven’t heard that… either. Lemon’s aren’t really sweet!

OTIS: It makes zero sense! But, uh… my dad might be just like, messing with me.

INTERVIEWER: Yeah [both laugh]Do people respond when you… ’cause he—he told you to say this in front of other family. Did they understand it? 

OTIS: They’ll just be like, “Oh yeah OK” [laughs].

INTERVIEWER: Oh. [joins]

[…]

OTIS: And then like, there’s a lot of like, exclma—exclamations um [laughs]… there’s like, “yoh”! Which means [laughs]—and I-I don’t know how you gonna spell all this stuff so… 

INTERVIEWER: I try to spell it out phonetically, but [laughs].

OTIS: Y-y-yeah. It’s like “yoh”!—which means, uh… like “Whoa”! And then there’s “Aiyoh!” which is like, “that’s crazy!” And I’ll hear my dad say that stuff a lot when he’s watching his soccer games [both laugh]. And… um… Oh! OK, a lot of South Africans will say [elongated] “Shame!” But it like…! It means—it kind of means the same thing as like “it’s a shame,” like how Americans will say. But it’s kind of different. Like, they’ll mean it in like, a… they’ll say it when like, a kid does something cute. Or like, someone’s being naïve, almost? 

INTERVIEWER: Oh.

OTIS: Like, if they say like—if they say like, “Oh this… kid like my, my son like didn’t make the soccer team. He was too short.” 

INTERVIEWER: [laughs]

OTIS: Or something. I guess that’s like “it’s a shame”. 

INTERVIEWER: Yeah.

OTIS: But like, if they say something like, “Oh! The… the little kid made like, a… made like a fort, and told everyone that’s his new house.” They’d all be like “Uh! A shame, man!” They’s say that. [both laugh] 

INTERVIEWER: Oh interesting. So it’s around kids or something cute.

OTIS: Mhm.

INTERVIEWER: But also kind of something unfortunate. 

OTIS: Yeah.

INTERVIEWER: So like… so like if I told somebody that I backed into a car in the parking lot, would they say “Shame” to that? Probably not? 

OTIS: No!

INTERVIEWER: Yeah [laughs]. Whereas— 

OTIS: If you said something like… like, “Oh, I need to go get gas right now”. They’d probably said like “Oh, shame”.  

INTERVIEWER: Oh, OK. 

Informant Commentary:

The informant recalls two levels of folk sayings: one that appears cultural (or at least, regional to Pretoria), and one that appears familial. On a large scale, interjections with origins in Afrikaans or  Asian languages (in the case of “aiyoh”) are easily recognizable among those in the South African Indian culture. They might even be understandable to those outside this culture, given the right context. To use Otis’ example, the meaning term “aiyoh” might be decipherable by someone watching the same soccer game as Otis’ father. The term “shame” might be decipherable to someone watching a child build a fort in front of the family. Other sayings, such as “sweet like a lemon” are idiosyncratic to Otis’ family, in his experience.

Analysis:

A small detail Otis mentioned about the dogs in South Africa give the term “voetsek” a deeper significance. Otis stated that “all the dogs know it by now,” implying that over time, the dog population came to gather the same meaning from the word “voetsek” as humans. In this way, the dogs seems to be part of the in-group who understand this term. If the term was said to a group of dogs from the region and a group of humans from outside the region, in “scatter[ing]”, the dogs would demonstrate a better understanding of this folk term than the humans would. This is a post-humanist analysis of this one, particular saying: folklore shared among non-humans. As for the collection of sayings as a whole—there is a significant amount of evidence online to suggest that these are widely used terms, not only among South African Indians, but South Africans of other ethnicities as well. “Aiyoh” appears more idiosyncratic to Asian (particularly Indian and Chinese) cultures, and “sweet like a lemon” might have a wider usage than Otis suggests, but is obscure compared to the rest. 

Iranian Flu Medicine

Main Piece

Heat up one whole lemon and 3 garlic cloves until soft and mash with a fork. Strain the mixture and take one spoonful every morning to prevent sickness. 

Background

My informant was born and raised in Iran. She remembers the flu, and how it ravaged through her elementary school. Her mother, to protect her, made a blended concoction consisting of one whole lemon, including the peel and pulp, and three or four cloves of garlic. Because she did not have any kitchen equipment that could properly blend the ingredients together, she resorted to heating up the lemon and garlic until it was soft enough to mash with a fork. After mashing, she would strain the mixture to get rid of any extra-large pieces, and fed one teaspoon-full to my informant every morning before school. My informant adds that she hated the taste but took this “medicine” every morning nonetheless because her mother insisted it would keep her safe. My informant concludes that the medicine must have worked, as she was the only child in her class that did not fall sick with the flu. 

Context

This medicine is made when someone is sick or in danger of falling sick. The purpose is to prevent or cure illnesses. 

My Thoughts

Being born and raised in America and going through the American school system, I never paid much attention to medicinal practices that were not Westernized. When my informant told me about this medicine, I was skeptical and doubted that it would actually be effective. But further upon further research, I discovered that the ingredients used in this recipe contain many natural antibiotics and vitamin C. Therefore, the workings of this folk medicine are completely logical and valid. In America, Western medicine is the widely accepted practice, and most ethnic home remedies are frowned upon. But there is logic to these home remedies, or they would not be so widely used in other countries. Using ingredients such as garlic in folk medicine is an ancient practice. For further information about garlic’s role in folk medicine, see the cited article under the subheading titled “Medicinal History.”

Sources:

Kilham, Chris. “Garlic.” MEDICINE HUNTER | Medicine Hunter, www.medicinehunter.com/Garlic#:~:text=As%20a%20folk%20remedy%2C%20garlic,gastroenteritis%2C%20and%20to%20expel%20worms.&text=The%20father%20of%20medicine%2C%20Hippocrates,and%20for%20healing%20abdominal%20growths. Accessed 18 Feb. 2021.

Icky Tea

The informant talked about a folk remedy she learned from her mother and passed on to her children.
“You make it at the first sign of cold symptoms: scratchy throat, watery eyes, aches.
It is equal parts bay leaf, sage, and cinnamon. The cinnamon at the bottom gets all slimy like snot.
I had drank all the water at every rest stop from utah to minnesota and I had got some sort of water sick or something. Originally it had cayenne pepper and lemon in it too. That was practically un-drinkable. Now we separate it out into cayenne and lemon then the tea.
My grandma said if I didn’t get better in 12 hours, they’d take me to the hospital because I was like, 12 and really sick. But we upped the dose and I she got better really quick.
Now we take the cayenne as a pill,  drink lemon-honey tea and do the rest of the icky tea in a cup.”

No one quite knows what about this works but, I tried it last time I was sick and it worked like a charm.

A Natural Cold Remedy – Ecuador

My informant was born and raised in Ibarra, Ecuador until she left to live in the U.S. when she was sixteen years old.  Whenever she and her brothers had a cold or a sore throat, her mother made a drink for them made from lemon juice, a little bit of orange juice and honey.  Her mother would then heat it up on the stove, which my informant says helped a lot since the steam would reduce congestion and the warmth would relieve sore throats.  She also says that you have to drink it with a straw or it will ruin your tooth enamel.  The remedy has a long tradition in her family: her grandmother prepared it for her mother, her great-grandmother prepared it for her grandmother, her great-great grandmother prepared it for her great-grandmother, etc.  She says, “Everyone in Ecuador does it… I think [laughs]… Or a lot of people I knew did it.”  It provides a lot of Vitamin C as well so it offers a cheaper and more natural alternative to medications.  The honey not only cuts the acidity of the lemon juice, but also adds anti-bacterial elements into the “cocktail.” “Unless we were really sick, we didn’t go to the doctor… Especially not for simple colds.”  To this day, she still prepares the remedy when she is feeling under the weather.  When I asked if she would do the same for her children, she replied: “Of course, it’s a family tradition!”