Synopsis: This is a short humorous piece where Scott tried to learn some expressions in Afrikaans; along the way he weaves in some history about this "strangest of languages".
In One Lesson
Capetown, South Africa. – Among other strange trivia, my expense account will contain an item for two little books which are a boy's best friend in South Africa: "Juta's Pocket Dictionary of Afrikaans-English Phrases" and "Expressions in Afrikaans."
I have been studying both met gretigheid (with avidity) and voetjie-vir-voetjie (little by little) and heen un weer (hither and thither) and–oh, let's see met mag en weld (hammer and tons). It is great to be educated.
Afrikaans is just about my favourite language, apart from being the second official language of South Africa. Some people who speak it sound like the bad Nazis in those movies that came out right after the war. Others sound as jolly as the Katzenjammer Kids.
There are lots of double O's–oops and ops and such–and when a fellow really gets going it is sometimes hard to know whether he's having a conversation or a nasty attack of indigestion.
But it is beautifully descriptive, too. If you want to say that your watch has run down (the kind of thing a fellow says every day) you say that it is "afloop." If you want to say that you are in despair you say that you are "in wanhoop." Wanhoop! Isn't that the perfect word for despair?
Only yesterday, having lunch with some Afrikaaners, I glanced at my watch, murmured "afloop," shrugged and said, "in wanhoop" and drew a nice round of applause.
I said somewhere overhead that Afrikaans is the second official language of South Africa, English being the first, but nearly everybody who speaks both and those who speak only one usually speak Afrikaans (which, by the way, you pronounce "Afrikaans.") With about 70 percent of the "white" population Afrikaans is the favored means of communication.
This means, of course, that the country is not only split about six ways by the color question, but right smack down the middle with the language question and explains why I have my constant portable library. A man never knows when we might need just the right word in an emergency.
Unhappily, like most of these books, "One Thousand Phrases and Expressions" gives you just about everything you couldn't possibly use.
I do not expect, in South Africa, for example, to be informing anyone that I am in seventh heaven )"in die sewed hemel"), or at the top of a tree ("op die boonste sport"), and I won't be here, I sincerely hope, to wish anyone a Merry Christmas ("''n Geseende Kersefees").
About all I can do is with the elevator boy a good morning ("Goei More") and tell him that my watch is "afloop."
There seems to be a lot of mystery about how Afrikaans got that way, but the simplest explanation (if not quite right) is that it is a sort of vernacular and phonetic Dutch. It contains also stray bits of Bantu (or native dialect), Portuguese, Malayan, French, and English, which may explain why an ocean liner is called a "stoomboot". Those who speak pure Dutch can hardly bear to hear this sort of thing (the double negatives drive them crazy), but it serves them right for leaving home.
Most of the experts think it really got its start among the early Boer settlers, a pretty unsociable bunch of boys, who went into the hinterland and rode rapidly by horseback for half an hour from a central point (their way of deciding how much land they were entitled to).
Apart from being men who liked to be left alone and felt hemmed in if they could see neighbour's smoke on the horizon, the Boers were mostly uneducated and, in reading their Bibles, which they did every night after beating the natives, they probably developed this strangest of languages. That's one story, anyway.
In speaking about it the other day I compared it to French-Canadian as opposed to true French, but since then I've learned that there isn't nearly the difference in those two as between Afrikaans and Netherlandish.
To win over someone is to "oorhaal" him and if you are as deaf as a post you are "so doof as 'n kwartel" and now you know as much as I do.