Kenya; The Home of New Word Meanings and Comical Colloquialism.

Kenya; The Home of New Word Meanings and Comical Colloquialism.

This last week, I decided to ask for help identifying some of the new terms and phrases that have recently locked airwaves and ‘broken’ the internet in Kenya. Except for those I listed, I only managed just a handful of the few generous Kenyans who heeded my call.

 I was a little bit curious about sharing the post lest somebody make some fun of it, but I am glad nobody did. Nevertheless, I am only left to wonder if I made fun of myself through the post. For those reading this who are not Kenyans, it is a rare peek into the creativity of Kenyans. Our mastery of languages, especially English and Kiswahili is on another level.


There are words only found in Kenya and there are others whose meaning is different from your everyday knowledge. For instance, the word Canaan could not be what you know it to mean. In Biblical times, it was a region in Israel where the Israelites were promised away from Pharaoh’s bondage and which they looked forward to enjoying milk and honey.

Today, that place would be found in present-day Israel extending to some parts of Syria and Lebanon. But trust me, there is a proverbial Canaan in Kenya. I cannot figure it out accurately as it is not physical but even symbolically, I don’t foresee milk and honey. If anything, the promise is that of freedom from slavery and bondage. I am yet to understand how many years we are remaining with before we clock the ancient 430 years Israel had spent in Egypt for our ‘Canaan’ promise to come to sight.

Zakayo and Judas

In the same Bible where we find Canaan, there is a story about a man who is described as short in stature and was a tax collector who wanted to see Jesus on a very serious note until he had to climb a tree. Then there was Judas who had betrayed Jesus with a kiss on the night of his crucifixion after selling Him for thirty pieces of silver.

If anything is to go by, there has been name-calling of Zakayos and Judases in Kenya. Looking at it keenly and it is not about individuals but rather systems. There is a faction built on Zakayoism and another on Judaism of ‘Juda’s act’ rather than Jewish people as a society. The first faction is built on over-taxation as a pathway to prosperity while the second one is on betrayal.

Even the meaning of prosperity maybe means something different to different people in Kenya. There could be collective prosperity based on rationalism as you may know it and in other cases arbitrary on some random basis void of any collective basis and having more of the individualistic inclination.

Pipe dream and hot hair

These phrases have been used in circumstances meant to illustrate their meaning yet in a comical way. For instance, hot hair which was used sometime last year during the presidential petition judgment reading at the supreme court of Kenya has ended up being a colloquial term for anything ‘senseless’.

Whenever the government gives promises or tries to sell some ‘sweet policies,’ they are easily swayed aside as hot air and as pipe dreams especially if there are conflicting components in those policies relative to the promises.

As for hot air, I am not sure if the point is the air being hot. For me, the issue could be more about the air itself rather than it being hot or cold. What is cold or hot air tangibly anyway? For pipe dreams, they are just that; pipe dreams.

Welcome to Kenya where things don’t mean what they look like 

Waganga na manabii (witch doctors and prophets)

I am used to the fact that witch doctors are only synonymous with what they do in oga (Nigerian) movies only until I was reminded by a certain song sung years back in Swahili to the effect that… hata kwetu wapo (even in our place they exist). And for prophets, I know a few from the Bible.

In my beloved country of Kenya, the witch doctors take to podiums to politic with their fellow prophets in broad daylight. Very unique I tell you. The beauty of it all, they address each other as such. The only problem, much as I don’t believe in either of them, comes to the prophecy and delivery of hope or healing for the land from the ‘spell’ it is under from both factions.

I am tempted to think that the spell of the witch doctors is equal to the redeeming power of the prophets and mathematically they cancel each out. What that means is that the laws of nature prevail, and, in that case, it is everyone for themselves and God for us all.

Nusu mkate (half bread) and inheritances

In Kenya, you may go to the shop and order a half-bread, and instead of getting the literal bread you get one hard look and without any more words leave empty-handed. Why? The other meaning of half bread is half government. So be sure of what you ask for, how you ask for it, and the prevailing seasons.

In the same Kenya, there are different meanings for inheritances. Leaders don’t succeed others; they inherit from them. Whereas people inherit things previously owned by others, in our country which is democratically owned by the people and never by the leaders gets inherited by the leaders. I hope I did not confuse you.

Even in inheritance, and by the way, does anybody have any choice anyway, the leaders still complain about the inheritance they receive. In the process, I get left wondering if ours is a democracy as we claim or an aristocracy. Truthfully, irrespective of who is pointing fingers at whom and which promises are being made from which side, ours is more of an aristocracy. The power is a preserve of an elite few.

With my coffers empty, my word vocabulary dilapidated, and my stomach demonstrating, I better pen it off here and grab a meal.

Signed off.

Geoffrey Ndege

Geoffrey Ndege

Geoffrey Ndege is the Editor and topical contributor for the Daily Focus. He writes in the areas of Science, Politics, Policy, Technology, Current Affairs, Opinion, Agriculture, Energy, Education, Entrepreneurship, Governance, International Emerging Issues, Society, and culture. For featuring, promotions or support write to us at
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