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Fun Ghana Vocabulary, Part Two: Surprising Words and Phrases

You liked Part One of Ghanaian Vocabulary Fun so much that you demanded a second installment. So without further ado, here is…

Entertaining and Surprising Ghanaian Phrases, Part Two!

Me practicing carrying bags on my head with Ghanaian students.
Me practicing carrying bags on my head with Ghanaian students.

1.) “I was running.” – This does not mean that the person was going for a healthy sprint to stay in shape. No– it means they had raging diarrhea!

Ex: “Sorry I couldn’t come to class… I was running and didn’t want to leave the washroom.” (Makes a gesture with the hand on the stomach and gives a sheepish laugh.)

2.) (Said as the person is walking away) “I’m coming!” – You may stutter: “Wait, you’re not coming, you’re going away!” But this extremely common phrase actually means: “I’m leaving now but I’ll be right back.” Apparently it’s a direct translation from the Ewe language which doesn’t totally compute in English!

An interesting fast food sign in Ghana.
An interesting fast food sign in Ghana.

3.) “At-deeyendov-dahdaye…” – This is what it sounds like to my American ears when a Ghanaian says, as they often do, “At the end of the day.” The meaning is equivalent to: “When all is said and done,” or “In conclusion” and usually is followed by a wise lesson or rule about human interactions.

Ex: “At-deeyendov-dahdaye, if your “no” means “no” and your “yes” means “yes,” the students will respect you.”

4.) “Troublesome” / “Disturbs a lot” – I find these phrases really, really cute. They are used to refer to extremely annoying people (or animals) who you still kind of like.

Ex: “Oooh that Seth… he is sooo troublesome! He disturbs a LOT!” (Everyone laughs knowingly and lovingly.)

5.) “Bored with me” – This does not mean (yawn) “tired of me.” No– it means “ANGRY with me!” Enraged! I’m not quite sure why, but it does.

Ex: “Why should she get bored with me and slam the door if I simply asked her where she went?”

Me with Millicent.
Me with Millicent.

And now for some WESTERN words that make absolutely no sense in Sogakope, Ghana!

A.) Tampon – For a variety of reasons, women hardly ever use tampons in developing countries. In fact, tampons are nearly impossible to find in Sogakope, Ghana.

This means that, if you accidentally let that word “tampon” slip out of your mouth in front of a local woman, the woman will ask you what the heck you are talking about. You will then likely pull an exemplar tampon out of your bag to explain its function and use.

At this point, the woman will shriek, throw her hands over her eyes, and gasp something about the damage you are doing to your womanhood. There’s not much you can do at this point but laugh, say, “Well, many women in my country use them without trauma!” then slip the little cotton swab back in your bag.

B.) Jewish – Ghana is a very religious country (in a joyous, tolerant manner): Christian (predominantly), Muslim, and Traditionalist. But Jewish? Pretty much no one will know what you are talking about. The best success I’ve had in explaining it has been to say: “It is the religion that came before Christianity, and so it uses the Old Testament but not the New Testament.” (Though I did end up on a billboard for Synagogue Restaurant in Ghana…)

On this note, do you like the “G-d Provides Fast Food” and “Motto: Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!” signs pictured? Ghana is full of such signs. Here, G-d proudly supports everyone, from barbers to refrigerator repair shops!

A sign for a Sogakope church.
A sign for a Sogakope church.

C.) McDonald’s / Hamburgers – Ooo how refreshing! While teaching “Vocabulary in Context” during reading class in Dabala, one student raised his hand. “What does “Hamburger” mean?” he asked.

I explained that a hamburger is an extremely typical American food– as typical as banku and fufu are in Ghana– and that it is a lump of ground meat between puffy slices of bread.

“You’ve heard of McDonald’s restaurants, right?” I asked, certain that the multinational beast had tentacled its way deep into every country. Twenty-five eyes blinked blankly back at me. “Whoa–” I said, “You’ve never heard of McDonald’s?! Awesome!”

So there’s your international vocabulary lesson for the day. Let us now close with a most popular and wonderful Ghanaian phrase: “You are trying!” This lovely phrase means: “Well, you haven’t quite got it, but your effort makes up for it.”

Each day we strive, semi-successfully, to understand each other’s words and intentions without collapsing into helpless heaps of confusion. If we keep on trying, eventually we will get it! And in the process, we’ll surely have a good laugh or ten.


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Saturday 30th of March 2013

Thanks for sending this my way! I hope I won't be "running" without tampons ;)


Saturday 30th of March 2013

Haha! Here's one more post that might help:


Friday 3rd of June 2011

#1 is simply disturbing. Just simply disturbing.

Craig Zabransky

Monday 23rd of May 2011

It's always amazing at the subtle language differences... And yes it's exactly that - enjoyable. Great, fun, post stay adventurous, Craig


Monday 19th of July 2010

A country (or at least a town) that doesn't know McDonald's? Sweet!! There are better burgers available. For fast food burgers, the gold standard (in my humble opinion) is In N Out. They only have six items on the menu, all items are fresh, never frozen, and the burgers are great! Next time you're in California, Nevada, or here in Arizona, give it a try.

As for regular burgers, treating the kids to a barbeque might be interesting.


Sunday 4th of July 2010

Love it! Especially #3!

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