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In Swahili, we tend to gloss over those crude, ‘unsayables’ and use socially acceptable words in their stead. This we do especially when addressing elders, superiors or generally people that we are not very familiar with.

Below is the short list I could come up with at 3 in the morning, so hopefully when my head’s cleared up I’ll add onto it! Feel free to suggest to me any other polite forms you may have heard of and let’s educate each other.

  • DON’T SAY “Choo”; SAY “msala” (toilet)
  • DON’T SAY “Kwenda chooni”; SAY “kwenda kujisaidia” (to go to the toilet)
  • DON’T SAY “Kuwa na mimba”; SAY “kuwa mjamzito/kuwa na ujauzito” (to be expectant)
  • DON’T SAY “Kuzaa”; SAY “kujifungua” (to deliver a baby)
  • DON’T SAY “Kufa”; SAY “kufariki” (to pass away)
  • DON’T SAY “Kukojoa”; SAY kwenda haja ndogo (going for number 1)
  • DON’T SAY “Kunya”; SAY “kwenda haja kubwa” (going for number 2)

Note: For mimba, kuzaa and kufa you can use these with animals but if you use them to refer to people you may hear someone tell you off like, “kwani hao wanyama?!” (are they animals?!).

(Thanks to my dearie student Sarah for her question about choo vs msala that inspired this post).


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