5 Common Nollywood Phrases Africans Rarely Use

Nekpen Osuan February 03, 2015

Nollywood Movies

If you’ve never heard of Nollywood, Africa’s booming film industry, you should find excitement in learning that there are really successful Africans with careers outside of medicine, business, law, and accounting. Nollywood is a multi-million dollar industry that draws actors, investors, and fans from around the world.

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Fans enjoy its scintillating plots and familiar yet absurd characters. Whether you watch streaming content online from platforms like IrokoTV or you chose a DVD your family lent you, there is a winding plot and intricate love story for everyone.

Nollywood has experienced exceptional growth in the last two decades. Actors and actresses in the films often take on roles that often contrast their glamorous red carpet appearances.

Though many aspects of Nollywood movies are true to local language and culture, other phrases are for theatrical effect. Africans and non-Africans, alike, enjoy the writing but not everything mentioned should be repeated if you want to seem normal.

Consequently, here’s a list of my top 5 things you hear often in Nollywood movies but rarely in real life:

  • Suitable Mate – This term is used to describe a person who is seen as an ideal spouse. As Nollywood will tell you, Africans are somewhat obsessed with marriage and sometimes love and consent are seen as non-essentials. A “suitable mate” implies that a woman (or man) has to be ideal and compatible based on their class, education level, family, and wealth background. And while Africans on the continent and abroad do think of marriage as a partnership of similar individuals, the phrase “suitable mate” is usually a term for the archives.
  • Gallivant – To gallivant means to travel or go to different places for fun. In Nollywood films, this term is often associated with women who enjoy going out and leading a lavish social life. Men do not typically gallivant in Nollywood, they simply have fun. Most Africans don’t use this word to describe their activities because it holds a negative connotation — some might say “waka waka” but most would just say, “Hanging out,” without the judgment.
  • Heir Apparent – This phrase refers to a person who is first in line of succession and cannot be displaced from inheritance by the birth of another person. The heir apparent is typically the son of a king or chief. This term is often used in narratives that tell of times when Africa was still under monarch, tribal, or feudal leadership. Some parts of Africa are still under leadership by lineage but most are ruled by elected leadership.
  • Kid Brother/Sister – This term refers to siblings who are younger in age and comes from African ties to British language. Today, most would just say “junior brother/sister” to refer to younger siblings instead of “kid,” because kid sounds like a child in modern English.
  • Pretty – I am going to get pushback on this, but I think the word “pretty” is a western adjective that most Africans on the continent do not use. On this front, I think Nollywood is actually a bit more inclusive of western colloquialism. Most Africans prefer to describe someone who is pretty as “handsome,” ” fine,” or “beautiful.” The use of the word “pretty” is increasingly part local vernacular but not yet quite common.

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Last Edited by:Abena Agyeman-Fisher Updated: February 3, 2015


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