South Africans have a fairly complicated relationship with the word now and even though we can try to explain it, the reality is you still might not get it.
Johannesburg, South Africa (24 January 2018) – South Africans speak English, but that doesn’t mean you’ll always understand us. Our “robots” are nothing like R2D2, “just now” doesn’t mean immediately, and “babbelas” is not a shampoo.
South African English has a flavour all its own, borrowing freely from Afrikaans, which is similar to Dutch and Flemish, as well as from the country’s many African languages. Some words come from colonial-era Malay and Portuguese immigrants.
And there are five ways to describe the present time in South Africa with four distinct forms of now.
The following should give you some idea when trying to understand Right Now, Now, Just Now and Now Now, although it most probably won’t. There are people who have lived in South Africa for 30 years and still don’t get it.
Present Time: At this Time.
Relating to the current period of time, at this time… not to be confused with Right Now.
Right Now: Right Now.
More urgent than now with a higher probability of something actually happening. No guarantees though.
Now: Eventually, Maybe.
South African English is lekker but don’t be fooled by the word Now! Now spoken by a South African is more like the exact opposite of the word as we know it. If you’re told “now,” what the other person really means is maybe later, but definitely not now.
Basically almost not quite, absolutely now… maybe.
Now Now: Shortly.
A term widely used in South African conversations relating to the period of time which will elapse before the given task, time or opportunity will present itself.
The actual word is derived from the Afrikaans ”nou-nou” (which can be used both in future- and immediate past-tense) idiomatically used to mean soon (sooner than just now in South Africa, but similar to just now in the United Kingdom).
It’s more immediate than Now but still may never happen.
Just Now: Later.
If a South African tells you they will do something “just now”, they mean they’ll do it in the near future – not immediately, as in, “I’ll do the dishes just now.”
Realistically its an unknown amount of time… could refer to a few minutes, tomorrow or never.