Muireann taking photos in Uganda


Mac Cool's Uganda Letter

Photographs and Stories by Muireann Mac Cool


G l o s s a r y

English is a mighty versatile language that is moulded and shaped by the culture of its speakers. Just as I speak Hiberno-English so too do Ugandans speak their own flavour of English. This Glossary is an amateurs attempt to get down on paper some of the interesting words and their meanings. It also contains Luganda and Swahili words that have been incorporated into everyday speech.

Word Meaning
Beep Beep
verb: To beep ones mobile phone. The beeper dials your number until your phone rings once displaying the caller identity of the beeper on the screen. The beeper hopes that you will call them back. Sometimes beeping communicates another message e.g. "I'm here" or "Yes"
boda boda bow-dah bow-dah
A boda boda is form of public transport where passenger(s) are driven on the back of a moped or bicycle. Abbreviated as boda and believed to be a mispronunciation of the words “border to border”. It is a fast yet dangerous transport in the city but vital and effective in the countryside of Uganda.
Break down Break down
noun: A tow truck that helps tow broken down vehiciles
Chop Wires Chop wyaz
Complain, get disgruntled and give out or get on a soap box lecture style.
Colgate Colgate
Luganda word for tooth paste. Not only refers to the Colgate brand.
Detooth Dee-tooth
verb: to extract money.Noun (detoothers). To understand detoothing you have to understand detoothers. These are people that extract money from you as easily as a dentist extracts teeth. Prostitutes, vagabonds, layabouts and street urchins all fall into this category. Certain unemployed oppurtunists do also.
Ease yourself
Verb: To go to the toilet
Executive Xeck-que-tive
adj. Another word for "smart" but moving the compliment up a notch. Clean, formal, luxurious and top quality. This adjective can be used to compliment anything from furniture to shoes
Extend Extend/ extendi
Move over
Flukers Flu-kas
Uninvited guests at a party i.e. party crashers
footing footing
To Foot: To walk
Ground nuts
Ground nuts or "g"nuts (as they are commonly referred to) are peanuts.
Hitch Hiking
Pub crawling- moving from one bar to another on a night out on the town
i eeeeeeee
[Sound: to express incredulity] Should be made in high pitched voice and the raises at the end.
Irish I-rish
Potato or potatoes. Used to differentiate between sweet potatoes and potatoes.
Jaja Jah jah ("j" for jar)
Grandmother or Grandfather (the gender is irrelevant)
Ka Kah
Something (this is usually small- other words are used when the oject or the 'thing' is bigger)
Kavera Kah-v air-ah
Plastic bag (luganda)
Kawa Kah-wa
Cool, great, cute etc. Luganda word.
Ki Komando Chi Comando
Survival on the street/ hardknock life/ Struggling/ Struggles. Can be used as an adjective to describe a person on the street or who survives. Affectionately used.
kinigeria Chi- Nigeria
Kinigeria describes 'nollywood' movies from Nigeria or the melodrama african horror/tradegy genre that others are copying. Ki Ki is the prefix which can mean 'thing' but in this case: 'it' + from Nigeria. Sometimes the Ugandan versions of Kinigerian/ Kinigeria are referred to as kiugandan. Sometimes the word can refer to clothes, manerisms from the movies etc.
Kiwani Chi-wan-ee
lie/fraud/scam/con. The word was coined by Bobi Wine in his song about lies and scams which he called kiwani.
Kyeyo Chay-yoh
"Work, on the side". Popularly now meaning the work done illegally or legally abroad.E.g. Nsubuga is in UK doing Kyeyo. Kyeyo also refers to part time work that is done on top of working another full time job.
ladder Ladda
Stairs, steps, ladder or any type of structure that involves a person or things to move up along it.
load shedding load shedding
The electricity board routinely cuts off the power supply to areas throughout Uganda. This is refered to as load shedding. Electricity appears to be cut off randomly in some places though usually if you have it tonight you won't tomorrow night.
Long call long call
n. To defecate. Used in a sentence like this "i'm going for a long call". It doesn't mean that you are going to ring someone on the phone for a long time.
Lost lost
"You are lost" means "Long time no see".
Matatu Maa tat oo
Share Taxi- See Taxi entry below.
Matatu Maa tat oo
Share Taxi- See Taxi entry below.
Matoke Mah-toh-key
Banana - Type of stable food similar to plantain
Mob Mob
a lot. Can also mean full or cool. The place was mob. That chocolate is mob.
Muzungu Moo-zun-goo
White foreigner. There are other words to describe Americans, Indians and Chinesse but mostly all non black Africans are commonly refered to as muzungu. Plural is "Bazungu".
Night dancer night dancer
A mythical canibal that dances naked in the night after eating someone. If you see one you become one. They are a cross between a warewolf and a vampire in that they like blood but are only provoked into being nightdancers after seeing particular triggers. Dead body being a big one- or so i'm told
oba ohbah
Or (from the Luganda)
Pops pops
Rolex rolex
Delicious snack made at the roadside. Not expensive watch but a omelete with cabbages, onion and tomotoes rolled up in a chapatti. Wandegeya famous for them and is considered the ideal snack for a campuser.
Safari Safari
Journey. Holiday where you leave your home village or town and go somewhere, though still within Uganda. Can also refer to the tourist practice of seeing animals in game parks
Senga Sen-gah
Paternal aunt (sister to father). Also used to refer to close family female friend that is trusted as if she was the paternal aunt. Maternal aunts are known as Maama (which is ever so slightly confusing).
Sha Ssh-ah
No Way! Used with much emphasis and in some cases a camp hand gesture "sha" is not a word but more a semi verbal exclamation. "No way" is probably too mild a translation for this dramatic sound that tells the other person "outrageous it can't be, I don't believe" all in one sound
Shift Shift
Verb:To shift: To move house/ To move all your possesions to your new house
Short Call Short call
Urinate. "i'm going for a short call" means "i'm going to the toilet to urinate as opposed to "I'm going to ring someone for a short time"
Sim Sim Sim Sim
Seasame Seeds
Smart Smart
An adjective that refers mostly to being well dressed or formally dressed. It can all be used to refered to objects that are clean and well made. A very commonly used word used in place of beautiful. So it is a real compliment when someone says it even though it might sound understated to most foreign English speakers.
Sour sour
adjective used to say food tastes bad. This can be said irrespective of whether the dish is sweet or savoury. Opposite is "Sweet".
Special Special
n: private hire taxi
Unmarked or marked bus stop or spot in the road where a taxi or boda boda can pick up or leave off passengers easily
Sweet Sweet
Adjective that means nice or tasty but doesn't refer to the sugar in the food. The adjective is used in other situations too, similar to how I imagine a Californian surfer uses the word.
Tail Tail
In reference to a dress it means a train.
taxi taxi
A taxi known locally as "matatu" is a hiace minibus with seating for 14 passengers. These might be considered as buses in Europe. A taxi as known in Ireland would be called a "special hire" in Uganda.
Teething Teeeteen
Verb. Smiling so much or laughing so much. Usually used in a negative way but also positive.
thick tick or thick
Adjective to say something is good or cute.

English is the administrative language of Uganda, children learn their school subjects through English and big business is conducted in English. Where I live (in Kampala), the mother tongue of people from central Uganda is Luganda.