just flash me

from peperuka
Nate came home from school the other day telling me that I say words wrong because “the R is supposed to be silent.” As far as I know, there aren’t silent Rs in English. But there are in Kenyan English!

Since English is so widely spoken, and all education is done in English, Kenyans have their very own pronunciation, word usage, and idioms, which they teach kids in school, including silent Rs. That won't confuse you much when you're speaking English with a Kenyan because you will consider it simply part of the accent. What might confuse you (and has confused me) is odd word usage. Some of it is British, and I will try to leave those out.

Iron box - I think of an actual box made of iron, where maybe you store important things. Maybe it's fireproof. No. This is an iron for clothes.

Tissue paper - It's not thin sheets for wrapping breakables or stuffing in a gift bag. It's toilet paper.

Overspeeding - This is kind of self-explanatory, just redundant. It means speeding.

Flu - It could be flu, or cold, or allergies, or anything involving a runny nose. In a similar vein, any illness that includes coughing is asthma. And speaking of vein, in Swahili, the word vein is used for many different types of body parts, and it may be translated into English that way. It's difficult to find out exactly what is ailing a person.

Sweet - They use the noun sweet for candy, as in "Would you like a sweet?" That's normal, British English. The one that's specific to Kenya is the adjective. Kenyans are so obsessed with sugar, their only word to describe something that tastes good is sweet. It doesn't matter if it is savory, spicy, tart, or bitter. If it tastes good in Kenya, it's sweet. Furthermore, there is no such thing as "too sweet."

Flash - Don't be alarmed if a Kenyan threatens to flash you (or if they ask you to flash them)! It means to call someone and hang up on the first ring because you have no credit on your (prepaid) phone, and you hope they do and will call you back.

Hotel - It took me ages to figure this one out. Yes, it could be a hotel, but it is probably just a diner.

Paper bag - In the US, paper and plastic are opposite types of bags, one made of brown paper, the other of thin plastic. In Kenya, paper bag means plastic bag. "Paper or plastic?" "Are those different things?"

Youth - I've experienced this one in other countries, as well, but I thought it worth mentioning. In our church, the youth aren't the teenagers. They are the unmarried adults. I mean, let's really drive home the point that you aren't a true grown-up until you're married, shall we?

Me I - Here's another self-explanatory one, but very common in Kenyan English. Just to emphasize that I'm talking about myself, I will say "Me I" instead of just "I." It's so popular, you can even get a "Me I" shirt (but the one pictured is sold out right now).


  1. One of my favourites is "undertaking", as in "Overspeeding, overloading and undertaking are all illegal, but so common that nobody pays them much attention."

    British and Aussie English both have the "silent r" which serves to lengthen the vowel eg worm, arm, barn, mourn, sperm, earn, ornament, burn, corn.

    1. I never really considered that R to be silent, since it changes the sound of the vowel, but I'm no expert on British (or Aussie) English.

  2. I also love when people say that something happened at "7 AM in the morning." :) And many people also call a plastic bag a "plastic paper bag." Haha! But my real favorite is the general confusion between the letter U and the letter A. The two sounds are pronounced the same, so many Kenyans confuse which letter belongs with which word. For example, you'll see someone write, "We need a new contract for our stuff (staff)." Okay, I could go on and on.... :) Great post!

    1. Oh the u/a sounds! My sons adopt the Kenyan accent so often, though they can differentiate between cut and cat, bus and bass. Sometimes when I don't understand them,I have to ask them to "say it in American." :)

  3. I love your list. We lived in India, and hotel, youth, and iron box had the same definitions there!


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