The niceties of language

Text: “Manate tsa puo”

Translation: The niceties of language; to beautify language or to pepper your speech with colorful language etc


K is a middle aged woman who was born and raised in Botswana and lives there currently. This is a common phrase in Setswana —the national language of Botswana. This saying references the customs of the Setswana language. A lot of speech in Setswana is in metaphors and proverbs, making it very difficult to translate directly to english. This phrase is often said to ease people who are having trouble understanding Setswana. It is essentially saying, this language is often unnecessarily convoluted, therefore you mustn’t feel bad when you do not understand. K used and heard this saying very often in her work in advertisement while working with business clientele who were not native Setswana speakers.


A saying such as this comes from an astute awareness of the perspective of outsiders that is incredibly interesting to observe in Botswana culture. Known for being very friendly and welcoming people, who are also very proud of their culture, it is unsurprising to have a saying that acknowledges the difficulties outsiders may face, encouraging them, while simultaneously complementing their language’s idiosyncrasies.