Stellenbosch University
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Preserve your special bond with a certain Afrikaans word
Author: Corporate Communications Division
Published: 07/11/2017


A few people choose to preserve their special bond with certain Afrikaans words by buying or sponsoring the word. Koos Bekker, media entrepreneur and former chief executive of Naspers, is such a buyer of words. Bekker bought the word 'skon' (scone) for his mother because he closely associates scones with his mother. Others who bought Afrikaans words include a man who bought his wife the word 'heldin' (heroine) following her brave battle with cancer. An elderly Bloemfontein man (88) sponsored the word 'kafoefel'. His special bond with the word came after bypass surgery when his physician warned him to take things easy and not 'kafoefel' (canoodle, or kiss and cuddle) too much.

Dr Willem Botha, editor-in-chief and executive director of the Woordeboek van die Afrikaanse Taal (Dictionary of the Afrikaans Language) or the WAT, as it is generally known, says it is because of these special bonds with words that the Sponsor a Word Project of the WAT came into being in 2010.

“The purpose of Sponsor a Word is to remind Afrikaans speakers of the value and significance of words in their lives. Each of us has a special bond with one word or more than one words. These are the words that people sponsor or buy. Essentially, this a very special experience for all participants who want to make that particular word in their lives their own but, at the same time, ensure that Afrikaans in its full variety is captured in the Dictionary of the Afrikaans Language. The WAT must generate 70% of its income itself, as only 30% of its funding comes from the state," Botha continued.

A highlight of this year's Sponsor a Word is the involvement of its new patron Simon Witbooi, otherwise known as HemelBesem. Witbooi's slogan is: “Life only makes sense through words: You can take my word for it. Take ownership of your language and sponsor a word."

Previous patrons include David Kramer in 2010, followed by Charlene Truter-Lackay, Marita van der Vyver, Nataniël, Dave Pepler, Deon Meyer and Karen Zoid. Every participant receives a certificate bearing his or her name and word, has free access to the Online WAT and gets the chance to win R25 000 in Sanlam's prize draw. You can sponsor one word or more at R100 each or you can buy a word at R5 000, which means no one else may buy or sponsor that word.

From its inception, Stellenbosch University (SU) has had a strong bond with the WAT, Botha continues. The first editor-in-chief was Prof JJ Smith who also happened to be the editor of the Afrikaans family magazine Die Huisgenoot and professor of Afrikaans, French and German. The WAT is located on the SU campus, while a member of the SU Rectorate is ex officio chairperson of the WAT's board of directors. However, the WAT is an independent non-profit company.

HemelBesem feels strongly about Afrikaans and says, “Afrikaans is still growing. It is a young language and we should not be afraid to open our arms and welcome other sounds in Afrikaans. Sponsor a Word is ideally positioned to preserve and protect that growth. By buying into this concept, people expand the vocabulary (treasure chest) and inject new vigour into the language. Instead of giving physical gifts this Christmas, rather buy your loved ones a word, or sponsor one or two!"

Aweh is a word that I often use. I also enjoy all kinds of words where the emphasis is on their sound. That is probably the rapper in me," HemelBesem concluded.

Interesting facts:

  • Languages disappear at a rate of approximately one every 14 days.
  • It is estimated that over half of the nearly 7 000 languages in the world could be extinct by the end of the century.
  • The Afrikaans language, like Dutch and English, consists of nearly 1 million words, although that is an approximate number.
  • While there is a difference of opinion about individual vocabulary size, 20 000 words are more or less the estimate of an adult individual's average active vocabulary.
  • New words are constantly being coined in Afrikaans and some that have recently been included in the WAT are 'app' in addition to 'toep' (app), 'beurtkrag' (load shedding), 'e-tol' (e-toll), 'hidrobreking' (fracking, hydrofracking), 'hommeltuig' (drone), 'hutsmerker' and 'hekkie' (hashtag marker).
  • Winners of the past few years' neologism competition were 'vonkelwater' (sparkling water), 'praatkaart' (for GPS), 'wynpyn' (hangover), 'kieriekorting' (discount for pensioners), and 'weggenoot' (ex husband or wife).

More than ten thousand words have already been sponsored or purchased as part of the Sponsor a Word Project. Although more than one person may sponsor the same word, each person gets a certificate bearing his or her name and the word or words that he or she has sponsored. It costs R100 to sponsor a word, while R5 000 will buy you a word. Once you have purchased a word, nobody else may sponsor or buy that word. Every participant qualifies for the Sanlam prize draw in which R25 000 is up for grabs.

To buy or sponsor a word, visit and click on 'Borg 'n Woord' (sponsor a word).

Dr Willem Botha is with Simon Witbooi ( HemelBesem) the new patron of the 'Borg 'n Woord' (sponsor a word)​ project.