Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A Guide to African HIV Slang (again)

(So, I deleted the original post because someone put an ad that I couldn't erase in the comments. What a pain.)

Read the whole article: Mind Your Language, from via Here are code words for HIV/AIDS from all over Africa. What people call the disease can give you some idea of its place in a community, how people think it is contracted, etc.


Angola (Portuguese)

Pisar pisar na min - Contracting HIV is like having "stepped on a landmine"

Bichinho - "Little bug" (the virus)

Kenya (Kikuyu, spoken mainly in central Kenya)

kagunyo - "The worm" (euphemism for HIV)

Nigeria (Hausa, spoken mainly in the north)

Kabari Salama aalaiku - Literally translates as "Excuse me, grave" (reference to AIDS)

Tewo Zamani - Translates as the “sickness of this generation” (another reference to AIDS)

Nigeria (Igbo, spoken mainly in the east)

Ato nai ise - "Five and three" (5 + 3 = 8, and "eight" sounds like "AIDS")

Oria Obiri na aja ocha - "Sickness that ends in death" (euphemism for AIDS)

Nigeria (Yoruba, spoken mainly in the west)

Eedi - "Curse"

Arun ti ogbogun - "Sickness without cure"

Nigeria (Pidgin, the unofficial lingua franca)

He don carry - "He carries the virus"

Nigeria (English)

HIV - He Intends Victory (acronym of HIV and a phrase popular among born-again Christians)

South Africa (IsiXhosa and IsiZulu)

Udlala ilotto - "Playing the lotto" /ubambe ilotto - "won the lotto" (said of someone suspected of being HIV positive; Lotto is the national lottery)

Unyathele icable - Contracting HIV is like "stepping on a live wire"

South Africa (English)

House in Vereeniging - (Acronym of HIV; "bought a house in Vereeniging", a town about 50km south of Johannesburg, refers to someone suspected of being HIV positive)

Driving a "Z3"/ "having three kids"/ the "three letters" - All refer to the three letters in the HIV acronym

Tracker - If you are suspected of being HIV positive people say God is tracking you, like the popular southern African service that tracks and recovers stolen vehicles

Tanzania (KiSwahili)

amesimamia msumari - "Standing on a nail"; euphemism for being skinny, or being small enough to fit on a nail's head, referring to AIDS-related weight loss

kukanyaga miwaya - Contracting HIV is like "stepping on a live wire"

mdudu - "The bug" (refers to HIV)

Uganda (English)

Slim - Euphemism for HIV/AIDS as a result of the associated weight loss; less popular since the advent of ARVs

Uganda (Luganda, spoken mainly in the central region)

Okugwa mubatemu - You have been waylaid by thugs (contracted HIV)

Zambia (Nyanja, spoken mainly in the east and the capital, Lusaka)

Kanayaka - "It has lit up" (refers to a positive reaction from an HIV test)

Ka-onde-onde - "Thing that makes you thinner and thinner" (HIV)

Zambia (Bemba, spoken mainly in the north and Lusaka)

Bamalwele ya akashishi - "Those that suffer from the germ" (HIV-positive people)

Kaleza - "Razor blade" (Refers to a person being thin as a result of AIDS-related weight loss)

Zimbabwe (Shona)

Ari pachirongwa - "He/she is on a (treatment) programme"

Akarohwa nematsoti - "He/she has been beaten by thieves"

Mukondas - Abbreviation of "mukondombera" (epidemic)

Ari kumwa mangai - "He/she is drinking mangai" (mangai is boiled corn seeds, which represent antiretroviral (ARV) drugs)

Akabatwa - "He/she was caught" (received a positive diagnosis)

Zvirwere zvemazuvano - "The current diseases" (the HIV epidemic)

Akatsika banana - "He/she has stepped on a banana and slipped" (someone who has tested positive and therefore will "fall" or die as a result)

Shuramatongo - "A bad omen for relatives"

Zimbabwe (English)

Red card - Like a football player being sent off, life is over

Go slow - Taken to mean that he/she is now progressing slowly towards death

TB2 - Refers to high rates of HIV and TB co-infection (used to denote AIDS)

RVR - Slang for ARVs, adapted from Mitsubishi's RVR sports utility vehicle

John the Baptist - When someone has TB or HIV, he/she is said to have been baptised by "John the Baptist", who has come to announce the coming of AIDS

FTT - "Failure to thrive" (adapted from the medical phrase, now used to describe HIV-positive children)

Boarding pass - Implies that HIV is a boarding pass to death

Departure lounge - An HIV-infected person is in the departure lounge awaiting death


Anonymous said...

(this is from the old post)

loved this post. From a fellow Tulanian and African activist. From Lova

Anonymous said...

Exciting! Just one day after my post, it was picked up by a more popular blog. The author actually took more time than me in analyzing the implications of disease-slang. You can read her post at:

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Sorry for offtopic