11 Unusual travel words to inspire wanderlust... kind of

2018-02-08 13:30 - Anje Rautenbach
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Anje Rautenbach

a strong desire to travel.
Origin: German

Wanderlust is just one of many loanwords when it comes to travel. We’ve all seen those images on social media: one beautiful landscape and then a foreign word, perhaps from Swedish origin, Latin or an origin unknown, with a description and then the part of speech that word belongs to, be it a noun or an adjective.

There is for example:

Eudaimonia (n.), a state of being happy whilst travelling and everything feels great (Greek origin).Vagary (v.), a whimsical or roaming journey (Latin origin).Fernweh (n.), an ache to get away and travel to a distant place (German origin).

And while we can say supercalifragilisticexpialidocious without having a problem, these foreign words – so prettily displayed in travel-inspired visuals – can be real tongue twisters. Especially those Swedish ones; saying Livsnjutare will most probably make you sound like a drunk person on cocaine (and of course the meaning of Livsnjutare is ‘enjoyer of life’).

And speaking of a drunk person on cocaine, there is also the French word: Cockaigne (n.). The meaning? An imaginary land of luxury and idleness. Excusez moi? Cockaigne, cocaine, coincidence, imaginary land? Okay, au revoir.

But from all of the loanwords and whimsical foreign ones, this one hits home time and again.

And while travellers get all warm and fuzzy when the meaning of a non-English word hits home and describes their love for travel, you don’t often see more familiar (understandable) buzzwords creeping onto wanderers social media pages or onto travellers’ skin as a souvenir tattoo after a trip.

The Moroccan Scholar, Ibn Battuta, travelled extensively for a period of thirty years and visited most of the Islamic world as well as non-Muslim lands during the medieval era. He was a geographer and explorer by trade and said, “Traveling—it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.”

But sometimes (I’m sure Mr. Battuta will agree), you are a storyteller at a loss for words to sum up an unforgettable moment, destination, sunset, nature, experience or interaction with a word. And while you are in that wow moment, difficult-to-pronounce-words like eudaimonia, vagar and fernweh might escape you - alongside others such as schwellenangst, sturmfrei and yugen – because let’s face it: South Africa has a lot of official languages but Latin ain’t one of them.

So why not bring it closer to home, and express ourselves with these 11 unusual words, unique to South Africa.

Disclaimer: some of these words may or may not exist. Use with caution, at your own risk and take it with a pinch of salt.


More than 25 million people have visited Table Mountain by cable car since 1929 and it is the most photographed mountain in South Africa. Don’t say anything bad about Table Mountain, a Capetonian with Tablesession will hunt you down.


Here is a simple math test: If South Africa’s population is 56 million and Joburg’s population is 13 million, how many South Africans are scared to visit Johannesburg? 43 million (and counting).


Anything goes. While this word is used to express positivity and affection, it can also be used in a negative situation. For example: Man gets flat tyre, man walks to tyre, kicks it with a very ‘moerig’ expression on his face and says, “lekker man, lekker.”


Barking dog chasing you in the street? A simple ‘voetsek’ will keep him at bay. South Africans are often perplexed by the fact that this tactic does not apply to dogs in other countries.


Caravanning and camping with the bare minimum is so 1990. Everything must be packed. Breadmaker? Check. Bar fridge x 2? Check. Satellite dish? Check. All contents of house? Check, check and check.


This is all about the ocean, common among those living close to the ocean. For those who suffer from seafever but resides inland, it can quickly become expensive as they focus so much on the idea of surfing/fishing/supping/kayaking/diving for the first time during the December holidays that all equipment (plus appropriate Billabong and Roxy apparel) is bought pre-vacation and it is all hopes and dreams until someone says, “Sharks? There are sharks?” or “Eeeeuww, seaweed” or “This damn wind.”


Radiators come and go, road conditions depend on your luck, your suspension is a true testimony of your skills and there’s always the, “Honey, did you remember to deflate the tyres?” The Kalaworry condition is often experienced by skillful drivers on behalf of the unschooled fearless first timers.


Blyde River Canyon, WOW. God’s Window, WOW. Lisbon Falls, WOW. Mac Mac Falls, WOW. Burke’s Luck Potholes, WOW. Longtom Pass, WOW. Three Rondavels, WOW.


Not a typo, not a homophone. You first say PE (as in the city or the school subject) and then you add the ‘ness’.


Often used in conjunction with ‘boet’, provincial rugby team mementos, beer and PT shorts.


Do you remember that picture you drew of an island with a palm tree with four big palm leafs? When vacation is in the equation, that is what ‘overseas’ looks like.

Do you remember that word that hit home? Noimacki? Did you pin it? Did you share it on social media?

Noimacki is actually not from Japanese origin, it is from no origin. In reality the word means, “NO, I’M ACtually KIdding (noimacki). See what I did there with the first two letters of each word? Sounds Japanese though, Maki sushi for anyone?

Don’t believe everything you read; next time you see one of those foreign words written on a pretty stock image, make sure it means what the pretty stock image says it means. You never know when some Swedish, Greek or French person is trying to amp up the humour and take us all for a ride with a joke or two.

The only exception is the German words. You can believe those. Germans don’t make jokes.

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