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Wednesday
Sep032008

AIDS slang speaks volumes

You can learn a lot about the perception of HIV by looking at the words people use to talk about it. I’ve just found this list of HIV slang from plusnews.org.  The terms come from some of the African countries hardest hit by the HIV pandemic.

The outlook for a person who contracts HIV in Africa is improving, but as these terms reveal the perception on the streets is rather bleak. Many of the slang phrases are also quite clever, like ‘Five and three’ (because eight sounds like AIDS). Let us know if you have any terms to add to the list and we’ll pass them on to plusnews.  

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

Photo courtesy of General Idea, Toronto

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Reader Comments (41)

Hi there,Can't wait to hear what your readers have to say. Just one thing, the site is www.plusnews.org not .com. Thanks again!
September 4, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLaura Lopez
Hi Martyn,

Your blog sounds very interesting to me and and every time I visit it, I could learn something on HIV, AIDS, Exavir Load...

Regarding the AIDS slang, I would like to add some slang on it in Vietnamese:

- "Benh et" = "AIDS disease".- "Can benh the ky" = "a century disease"- "hip" = "HIV"- and others...

Cuong Do Duy - Vietnam
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