There are some very popular African phrases/words and words of African origin that are universally accepted, considered “English” and are featured in some of the most popular dictionaries out there.
In light of this, Face2Face Africa has compiled some of these popular African words and phrases and their origins. The definition of all the words and phrases except “Ubuntu” are sourced from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
Check them out below and feel free to share with us other African words or phrases that weren’t included!
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1. Hakuna Matata
Meaning: There are no problems : don’t worry about it.
Origin: Swahili phrase
Meaning: Severe malnutrition in infants and children especially of impoverished regions caused by a diet low in protein
Origin: Ga language (Ghana)
Meaning: Chiefly South, often disparaging : a white person or a person of predominantly white ancestry —used chiefly by African-Americans.
Origin: Efik and Ibibio language (Nigeria)
Meaning: A musical instrument with a drumlike body, a fretted neck, and usually four or five strings which may be plucked or strummed.
Meaning: Any of a breed of small curly-tailed dogs of African origin that do not bark.
Origin: Lingala (DRC/ Republic of Congo)
Meaning: A large-eyed antelope (Litocranius walleri) of eastern Africa with a long neck and limbs.
Meaning: A fetish, charm, or amulet of West African peoples
Origin: Yoruba (Nigeria)
Meaning: An African thumb piano derived from the zanza.
Meaning: An African American cultural festival held from December 26 to January 1.
Meaning: A large brownish antelope (Aepyceros melampus) of southeastern Africa that in the male has slender curved horns with ridges.
Meaning: Any of several chiefly arboreal venomous green or black elapid snakes (genus Dendroaspis) of sub-Saharan Africa.
Meaning: A xylophone of southern Africa and Central America with resonators beneath each bar.
Meaning: An object of superstitious homage and fear. | A complicated often ritualistic observance with elaborate trappings. | complicated activity or language usually intended to obscure and confuse. | Unnecessarily involved and incomprehensible language : GIBBERISH. | Language, behavior, or beliefs based on superstition.
Origin: West Africa
Meaning: A magic spell, hex, or charm.
Meaning: A system of belief among blacks chiefly of the British West Indies and the Guianas that is characterized by the use of magic ritual to ward off misfortune or to cause harm.
Origin: West Africa
Meaning: A tall annual herb (Abelmoschus esculentus) of the mallow family that is cultivated for its mucilaginous green pods used especially in soups or stews.
Origin: Igbo language (Nigeria)
Meaning: The caravan and equipment of a hunting expedition especially in eastern Africa. |Journey or Exhibition.
18. Tsetse fly
Meaning: Any of several dipteran flies (genus Glossina) that occur in Africa south of the Sahara and include vectors of human and animal trypanosomes.
Origin of Tsetse: Tswana language (Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia)
Meaning: A religion that is derived from African polytheism and ancestor worship and is practiced chiefly in Haiti.
Origin: Ewe and Fon language (Ghana, Togo, Benin)
Meaning: A will-less and speechless human (as in voodoo belief and in fictional stories) held to have died and been supernaturally reanimated. | The supernatural power that according to voodoo belief may enter into and reanimate a dead body. | A person held to resemble the so-called walking dead. | A person markedly strange in appearance or behavior. | A mixed drink made of several kinds of rum, liqueur, and fruit juice.
Meaning: A quality that includes the essential human virtues; compassion and humanity. (Oxford Dictionary)
Origin: Xhosa and Zulu