Thursday, 27 October 2011

Kugel and kwaito

Question: What do kugel and kwaito have in common? Answer: Whatever you’d like them to have in common if you can come up with something profound! But for today’s article the answer is a fairly simple one: they are both interesting South African words – besides the fact that they also both start with k, which is why I happened to find them close together in the dictionary.

·         Kugel 
Most South Africans who use this word today probably use it primarily to refer to a certain female stereotype: a girl or woman “of the wealthier class, whose interests are men, money and fashion” and who supposedly speaks in a “recognisable drawling dialect developed within the group” (Dictionary of South African English). I once saw a university student write the word as coogirl – an interesting case of what is called “folk etymology”. It would probably come as a surprise to many, as it did to me, that the Concise Oxford lists only one meaning for kugel: “(in Jewish cookery) a kind of savoury pudding of potatoes or other vegetables”. Do a Google search for the word and (almost) all you’ll find will be loads and loads of recipes!

What, then, is the connection between these two apparently very different meanings of kugel?

According to the internet-based Wikipedia Free Encyclopedia the word began to be used “by the elder generation [of South African Jews] as a scornful term for a young Jewish woman who forsook traditional Jewish values in favour of those of secular high society, becoming overly materialistic and excessively groomed; the kugel being a plain pudding garnished as a delicacy”.

The word bagel is sometimes used for someone seen as the male counterpart of a kugel.

·         Kwaito
The entry for Kwaito on the website South reads: “Kwaito is known as the musical voice of young, black, urban South Africa. It's a mixture of all that 1990s South African youth grew up on: SA disco, hip hop, R&B, Ragga, and a heavy, heavy dose of American and British house music” ( (accessed 27 October 2011). According to the Concise Oxford it is “a style of popular music similar to hip hop, featuring vocals recited over an instrumental backing with strong bass lines”. The word comes from the name of a group of 1950s gangsters called Amakwaito, and the kwaito part of that name comes from the Afrikaans word kwaai, which, among other things, can mean “strict”, “hot-tempered” or “harsh”. – ws –

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