All languages change and evolve over time as they are used in different places. English is no different. However, Ugandanised English, or (Uglish) could be a bit of a culture shock to tourists and other foreigners. There are some phrases which have been “localised” from European or North American English that native speakers might struggle to understand (but should know) when communicating in Uganda. Fail to learn them at your own peril. They have found their way into the common vernacular with such regularity that they can be heard in schools, parliament, you name it!
We’ve compiled a small guide to help you find your way:
When looking for a little space to sit down, Ugandans will say, “Please extend!” They are not wanting your hand, or assistance, but for you to move to create some space.
Saying, “Flash me”, or “beep me” means to make an incomplete phone call. This generally happens when you want the other person to call you back at their expense. The person is not speaking of a ‘beeper’ and by no means should you disrobe or consider any other action.
“You are lost”
“Hi, you are lost,” is a classic greeting line in Uganda. This might be confusing since you don’t remember being lost or unsure of directions. However, this is simply a friendly means of saying, ‘Hey, I haven’t seen you in awhile.” Don’t worry. You are not lost.
This is based on the Luganda greeting ‘Gyebaleko’ which is translated, ‘thanks for your work’. It has nothing to do with achievement, real or imagined.
“First Come”/ “First Wait”
This also based on Luganda phrases instructing you to come but giving you the option of replying with ‘first wait’ meaning that you will finish what you’re doing first. If it’s imperative ‘now now’ will be used.
Dear foreigner, if you want to know how to express patience or urgency you should learn the words: “slowly, slowly”, or “now-now”. Adding another word is our version of letting you the urgency.
When requesting change in a matatu, we don’t say, “Can I have my change please?” Instead, we say, “Give me my balance.” If you want to be understood you cannot ask the conductor to, ‘pass me my change.’ He will think you want all his money and respond by telling you that he’ll give you your ‘balance’.
Some Ugandans call all fuel stations: Shell. Just like you might call something else by its brand name don’t be shocked when someone wants to meet them at ‘Shell’ when they mean a totally different petrol station. Location aside, the main thing to know about Shell is the pronunciation – as you will probably hear, ‘Sello’.
You can be surprised to hear about people, ‘putting on’ clothing while walking down the street or sitting in an office. This does not mean they are ‘getting dressed’ or in the act of putting on clothes. It simply means they were wearing them – for example, ‘Silvia was putting on a red dress’.
It might seem redundant since all slopes are, by nature, slanting but when we say, ‘sloping down’ we really mean it to give emphasis to ‘going downhill’.
This is a reference to someone/something that simply goes through money very quickly. No one is actually eating currency.
When someone wants to know whether you have understood, they will ask, “You get?” meaning did you understand it?
“I’m reaching now” or “I’m on my way, coming”
Usually spoken by a boda driver or someone late for a meeting this means that they have every of intention of leaving soon but are nowhere near the destination.
Menus will sometimes have strange food items that need translation: ovakedo (avocado), chapusi (chapatis), cheeps (chips) and dry tea (as is in Luganda) instead of black tea or tea without milk.
While English is an official language in Uganda remember that it is not most people’s native language and translation is still occurring which results in verb trouble such as, “Me I”, or “Me am” or phrases like, “sometimes back”, “discuss about”, “meet me those ends”, or “how comes?”
That is Uglish for you! You get?