We often use similes without realizing, when we desire to emphasize the meaning of an idea or an image. But similes allow us insight into a different culture, as you can notice from these Afrikaans similes and their English translations.
Ons gebruik gereeld vergelykings, somtyds sonder dat ons dit besef, om ‘n idee of beeld te versterk. Vergelykings gee ons ook insig in ander kulture, soos jy kan opmerk van herdie Afrikaanse vergelykings en hulle (direkte) Engelse vertalings.
so arm soos ‘n kerkmuis = as poor as a church mouse
This simile is probably deriving from an older one, as hungry as a church mouse – illustrating how the Catholic and the Orthodox priests were careful not to mess the smallest crumb of the sacramental bread.
Die vergelyking het heelwaarskynlik sy oorsprong van ‘n ouer een, “so honger soos ‘n kerkmuis”, wat illustreer hoe versigtig die Katolieke en Ortodokse priesters was om nie die kleinste krummel van die heilige nagmaalbrood te mors nie.
so bitter soos gal = as bitter as bile
so bleek soos ‘n laken = as pale as a sheet
In English we would rather say as pale as death, as pale as a ghost, as white as a sheet)
so blind soos ‘n mol = as blind as a mole
so blou soos die hemel / die berge = as blue as the sky / as blue as a mountain
so dapper soos ‘n leeu = as brave as a lion
so dood soos ‘n mossie = as dead as a sparrow
This simile might derive from as dead as a dodo (referring to the dodo being an extinct species), although I think that as dead as a door nail is more used.
so doof soos ‘n kwartel = as deaf as a quail
Quails are widespread in South Africa and very easy to catch. The expression is based on a misunderstanding between Dutch and German. In German “doof” means “dumb”. Because quails are easy to catch or be lured with simple tricks, the Germans called them “doof” and the word entered Dutch and then Afrikaans.
In English we would say as deaf as a post.
so dom soos ‘n esel = as stupid as a donkey
so donker soos die nag = as dark as the night
so dronk soos ‘n matroos = as drunk as a sailor
so droog soos kurk / strooi = as dry as cork / as dry as straw (as dry as a bone is used in English)
so dun soos ‘n plank = as thin as a plank (rather as thin as a rail in English)
so fris soos ‘n perd = as healthy as a horse
This is an interesting Afrikaans idiom as the English equivalent originates in the NE of the USA and is best used in summer. In English we would rather say as healthy / as fit as a butcher’s dog. This makes sense as a butcher’s dog would have a diet based on meat and other scraps, thus keeping him healthier than the stray dogs.
so geduldig soos Job = as patient as Job
so geel soos goud = as yellow as gold
geld soos bossies = money like weeds (has a lot of money)
so gereeld soos klokslag = as regular as clockwork
so giftig soos ‘n slang = as poisonous as a snake
so goed soos goud = as good as gold (completely genuine)
This simile most probably draws from the end of the 19th century when banknotes were first introduced in the USA. These were actually IOUs, written promises for a later payment, in gold and silver. Thus the expression, IOUs were “as genuine as gold”, as good as gold.
“And how did little Tim behave?” asked Mrs. Cratchit…Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, 1843
“As good as gold,” said Bob, “and better.”
so glad soos seep = as smooth as soap
so groen soos gras = as green as grass
so groot soos ‘n reus = as big as a giant
so hard soos klip = as hard as stone
so helder soos kristal = as clear as crystal
so honger soos ‘n wolf = as hungry as a wolf
so koel soos ‘n komkommer = as cool as cucumber
As cool as a cucumber dates back to the beginning of the 18th century. Cool here does not refer to low temperature, but rather to someone unruffled. As cool as a cucumber was first recorded in 1732, in John Gay’s New Song on New Similes.
so koud soos ys = as cold as ice
so krom soos ‘n hoepel = as crooked as a hoop
so kwaai soos ‘n tierwyfie = as vicious as a tigress
so lelik soos die nag = as ugly as the night
so lig soos ‘n veer = as light as a feather
so lui soos ‘n donkie = as lazy as a donkey
so maer soos ‘n kraai = as thin / skinny as a crow
so mak soos ‘n lam = as tame as a lamb
so maklik soos pyp opsteek = as easy as lighting a pipe
so moeg soos ‘n hond = as tired as a dog
As tired as a dog draws back to the 9th century, originating in the adjectival phrase dog-tired. It is said that Alfred the Great, King of Wessex and King of the Anglo-Saxons used to send his sons, Athelbrod and Edwin, out hunting accompanied by their dogs. Whichever son would catch more game would be seated at their father’s right hand side at the dinner table that evening. The hunt would leave both young princes as tired as a dog.
so nat soos ‘n kat = as wet as a cat
so nuuskierig soos ‘n aap = as curious as a monkey
so oud soos die berge = as old as the mountains
so plat soos ‘n pannekoek = as flat as a pancake
pronk soos ‘n pou = shows off like a peacock
so reg soos ‘n roer = as straight as a barrel (of a gun)
so rond soos ‘n koeël = as round as a bullet
so rooi soos bloed = as red as blood
so regop soos ‘n kers = as upright as a candle
rook soos ‘n skoorsteen = smokes like a chimney
so sag soos sy = as soft as silk
so seker soos twee maal twee vier is = as sure as knowing two times two is four
sing soos ‘n nagtegaal = sings like a nightingale
so skerp soos ‘n lemmetjie = as sharp as a razor blade
so skraal soos ‘n riet = as slim as a reed
so skurf soos ‘n padda = (skin) as scabby / dry as a toad
slaap soos ‘n klip = sleeps like a stone
The former version of sleep like a stone would be sleep like a log – metaphorically mentioned in English as early as the 17th century:
“foundering is when she will neither veere nor steare, the sea will so ouer rake her, except you free out the water, she will lie like a log, and so consequently sinke.”John Smith, A Sea Grammar, 1627
so slim soos ‘n jakkals = as clever, crafty as a jackal
so soet soos suiker / stroop = as sweet as sugar / syrup
so stadig soos ‘n trapsuutjies = as slow as a chameleon
so steeks soos ‘n donkie = as stubborn as a donkey
so sterk soos ‘n os = as strong as an ox
so stil soos ‘n muis = as quiet as a mouse
stink soos ‘n muishond = stinks like a skunk
so suur soos asyn = as sour as vinegar
so swaar soos lood = as heavy as lead
so swak soos ‘n lammetjie = as weak as a lamb
so swart soos die nag = as black as the night
swem soos ‘n vis = swims like a fish
sweet soos ‘n perd = sweats like a horse
so taai soos ‘n ratel = as tough as a honey badger
so trots soos ‘n pou = as proud as a peacock
so vas soos ‘n rots = as steady as a rock
so vinnig soos ‘n windhond = as fast as a greyhound
so wit soos sneeu = as white as snow
Imagine the pure, pristine snow of a sunny winter’s morning. Shakespeare was one of the first to use this powerful simile:
… What if this cursed handShakespeare, Hamlet, 1602
Were thicker than itself with brother’s blood,
Is there not rain enough in the sweet heavens
To wash it white as snow? …
Thank you for reading Afrikaanse Vergelykings, Afrikaans simile, a comprehensive and fun guide.