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April 18, 2011


The joys of Ugandan English

by quaesitor

Not quite sure how I came across this wonderful Wiki page – but for any who have ever lived or visited Uganda, or East Africa generally for that matter, it is a treasure trove. Definitely worth printing out as a precautionary measure to keep in your back pocket.

Which reminded me of some things we wrote in our monthly newsletter when we were living there… exactly 7 years ago  – simply can’t believe it was that long ago now.

Here are a couple of excerpts:

From April 2004
This is an accurate transcript of a telephone conversation Rachel had with the Uganda Electricity Board (UEB) a few weeks back, when we had a power cut at an unusual time of day (i.e. not what we normally have, which is “load-shedding”, so no power between 7pm and 9pm perhaps once or twice a week).
Rachel: Good Morning. How are you?
UEB: Good morning. Fine. How are you?
Rachel: Fine. I’d like to report a problem with the power please.
UEB: OK. Please go ahead.
Rachel: We have had no power for the last couple of hours on Makindye.
UEB: Can you tell me where that is, please?
Rachel: We are in Kizungu Zone, Makindye Hill, Kampala.
UEB: There’s been a problem at the Dam (i.e. Owen Falls Dam, Jinja, on the source of the R Nile, which is the hydro plant feeding the whole country). The whole country is off.
Rachel: Oh. Thank you.
Rachel (muttering under her breath) – well why didn’t you tell me that in the first place?

And as a help to any future visitors:

There is also quite a lot of Ugandan English that one has to master in order to understand what people are on about. Here are a few definitions to give you a head start:

  • Beep: To phone someone’s mobile phone, making it ring once and then cutting off, in the expectation that the person will ring you back (i.e. because you genuinely have no airtime left or you’re just stingy) [as in ‘Don’t beep me, because I won’t respond’]
  • Bounce: to turn up at someone’s place only to find that they’re not there. [as in ‘I bounced at your house yesterday’]
  • Ever: used here as the opposite of never (perfectly logical, if you think about it) [as in ‘I’m ever here’]
  • Foot: not just a noun – in Ugandan English it is also a verb. [as in ‘I footed it to the shops’]
  • Over: British English does add this to the front of words to imply excessive exertion – it’s just that here, people use it with any word they can think of. [as in ‘I overfooted it yesterday’]
  • Pick: Users of British English would perhaps be better used to following this word with the preposition “up” [as in ‘I’ll pick you from the airport’]
  • Shift: anytime you travel to a particular place.

I would suggest that all of these deserve adoption into British English…

Click on the photo for other sights and signs from our Kampala days…


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