Zimbabwe News and Internet Radio

The words we corrupted into Shona

By Simba Mazoyo

There are so many words we swiftly use in our day to day Shona conversations unaware that they are not even Shona. Some are corrupted outputs of English, IsiNdebele or even Afrikaans. Below is my list of twenty-one such words and their brief stories, in the Zimbabwean context.

Welcome to Zimbabwe sign
Welcome to Zimbabwe sign

1.Makandiwa – Contour ridges

These are elongated heaps of soil used to reduce soil erosion in rural and farming areas. Agritex extension workers (madhumeni) have been famous for insisting on these since Rhodesia. It is said some Zimbabweans believed being forced to construct these, was oppression. We even have a chimurenga song by Thomas Mapfumo which has a line, ‘Nhamo yemakandiwa makaiwona.’ 

Related Articles
1 of 3

2.Misarinya – Miscellaneous 

The act of being naughty and fidgeting to the annoyance of others, especially Shona elders. If you grew up in Zimbabwe you know misarinya were an automatic ticket to real spanking. 

3.Dhirihori   – Drying hall

The usually tall-standing building used for curing tobacco. 

4.Bhabharasi – Bar balance

It is said Europeans used to drink on a tab then wake up the following morning with a hangover. They would then drink their bar balance to cure the hangover and thus we have corrupted the phrase to ‘bhabharasi’.

5.Jon’osi – Young Ox

That young castrated bull used for pulling the hand plough (gejo). 

6.Hovhorosi – Overalls

Working attire consisting of a joined top and bottom part. There is even a joke where when one is loitering, they are asked why they are purposelessly going in circles like a fart inside a ‘hovhorosi’.

7.Motokari – Motor Car


8.Sendiraini – Centre Line

That narrow path/road running between two housing blocks. In suburbs such as Highfield the roads are called ‘lines’, so in parts like Lusaka, there are ‘big lines’, ‘short lines’ and ‘centre lines’. Many elicit deeds happen musendiraini, especially at night. Talk of weed and groping.

9.Futseke – Voetsek (Afrikaans)

Originally an Afrikaans word. Now a word used to insult, either seriously or as affection between friends. Zimbabwean friends may calmly say no to a each other’s request by saying, ‘futseke!’. The same word can start a fist fight though.

10.Bhikiri – Billy cane

That large metal mug or jug used as a container when milking the rural cow. Others use it to store sugar.

11.Bhururu – Me bru (Afrikaans)

Word now famous to refer to a close friend, but originally used by Boers as they meant, my brother, me bru.

12.Chinjausi – Change house

Word common in farming areas of Zimbabwe in reference to that outside stand-alone bathroom.

13.Bhurukwacha – Black watch

An arm of the Rhodesia police infamous before independence as it used physical force more than reason. It consisted of black man and most of them were labelled illiterate

14.Dhanduru – Dining hall

Zimbabweans who built brick and asbestos houses in rural areas always had that main sitting room where the family sat on chairs, ate and listened to the radio. Carelessly borrowing from English, they called it mudhanduru.

15.Speya – Spare bedroom

In urban areas all bedrooms not the main bedroom were/are referred to as spare bedrooms. God knows how this came up. From spare bedroom, it was shortened to just ‘speya’.

16.Chipendani – Pen whistle

Self-explanatory. Small Instrument played by blowing air into it. 

17.Kuruku – Crook

Someone that no one in a community trusts. That person who can misrepresent and con you anytime.

18.Bhareta – Beret

A soft, round, flat-crowned hat, usually of woven, hand-knitted wool, crocheted cotton, wool felt, or acrylic fibre. (wikipedia.com). The Zimbabwean military police which dons the red berets is even nicknamed ‘ma-red bhareta’

19.Boysky – Boys Khaya

That’s the word we usually use to name a stand-alone cottage. Khaya means house or home. Since boys usually stayed in their own stand-alone room at a South African homestead, Zimbabweans corrupted the phrase to Boysky in reference to any cottage.

20.Wenera – WNLA

Abbreviation for Witwatersrand Native Labour Association,more popularly as “Wenela“. Set up by the gold mines in South Africa as a recruiting agency for migrant workers. Over the years we have corrupted the word in reference to South Africa the country. We all have that grandparent or uncle who went to Wenera and never stops telling both true and fictitious stories from his time.

 21.The twenty first one is on you my friend…lol