Introduction to Uglish

Wasuze otya nno?


The view of Kampala from the minaret of the National Gaddafi Mosque.


I dare to greet you in Luganda as I believe you’ve read my previous post about the language. If not, simply go here before you read this post:)

Today I’m sticking to linguistics, however, this time I’m going to talk only about English. Why, as a non-native speaker, have I decided to talk about the English language? Simply because it’s very different here from the speech patterns I observed and adopted in the UK.

Uglish (pronounced as you-glish, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s ugly) means Ugandan English and it’s a unique dialect with a strong local flavour.


English as an official language in Uganda is highly influenced by the speech patterns of 40 local tongues. Most of Ugandans adapt the original pronunciation of English words to their own tribal languages. For example, for native Luganda speakers the sound /r/ does not exist in the beginning of the word, so the word railway gets /l/ instead of /r/, and the result is /leyirwe/;D. What’s more, Luganda doesn’t allow the sound /kju/. Thus, cute is pronounced /tʃut/.


In brief, meaning of words in Uglish is peculiar for foreigners and very well understood for Ugandans. I’ll give you the list of just a few differences with some of my comments;).

a mum/ a dad – these words are used out of the family context. It’s not weird in Uganda to call your CEO per mum/dad if you have a good relationship at work with her/him (the case of my company).

please – PLEASE NEVER MEANS PLEASE. If Ugandans want something, they say: You give me… Please is not required as the tone of the voice is normally enough to convey politeness. This is probably the hardest thing to learn unless you want to feel offended all the time. In the beginning, I really felt it was rude since the British etiquette is completely opposite.

Traffic – often Ugandans make a shortcut and say there is a traffic in the city which simply means traffic jams, because, logically, there’s always some traffic.

a boda-boda – a motorcycle, quite and fast and convenient in traffic jams but the main source of traffic accidents in Kampala. The National Hospital in Mulago has a special department for boda-boda injuries.

a conductor – a person on the taxi that has 2 main functions: collecting money from passengers and shouting the taxi’s direction on the street to get more passengers. He usually squeezes in the front row. I don’t recommend sitting there as he doesn’t count himself as a passenger and still squeezes the others so 4 people sit in 1 row…

to foot – to walk; not really pleasurable experience in Kampala.

a taxi – a van used like a bus, carrying many persons along a fixed route, very crowded and very uncomfortable but quite cheap. If you want a real taxi like in Europe, you need to call a so called special hire.

Food – refers to starches ONLY. This is something understandable if you realise their diet is mainly based on carbohydrates.

chiapatti – a form of flatbread, a good snack.

Irish – simply Irish potatoes (European normal potatoes). Be careful about just saying potatoes unless you want to get sweet potatoes which I don’t really recommend…

macrones – pasta, spaghetti, which is generally fried in oil, the word comes directly from Italian macaroni, I guess.

matoke – a dish of starchy bananas; quite filling.

meat – in spoken Uglish refers to beef, goat meat or pork; chicken and fish are another category (perhaps because

chicken is a luxury here it has a separate place in a dictionary).

pawpaw or popo – in supermarkets this is the name for papaya.

a rolex – a chiapatti with scrambled eggs inside, a typical rolled street food. It’s quite good but you need to know good, safe places to eat out.

Other expressions

to be lost – means that you haven’t seen the person in a long time. For instance, I was once asked at work where I was because they hadn’t seen me for a couple of days. So, I wasn’t absent that time, I was lost. Very weird.

to demand – to owe money someone; e.g.: I demand John ten thousand shillings means John owes me ten thousand shillings.

downer – used instead of lower, in opposition to upper; e.g.: I broke my upper leg, but my downer leg was paining, too.

to eat money – refers to corruption, e.g.: The Minister ate the money. It can also mean living a lavish or abundant lifestyle; e.g.: You are eating money means one is successful and doing well. This very expression can be really confusing!

ever – used to mean often, it’s the opposite of the exaggeration never, e.g. if someone is often late, a Ugandan might say: She is ever late.

forex – a foreign currency is forex, so bureau de change becomes forex bureau.

to pop – replace words like bring and come, e.g.: Danny, pop that bottle here.

to put on – substitutes to dress, to be dressed, or to wear, e.g.: That lady is rich, don’t you see how she is putting on.


And many, many other expresssion which I probably won’t discover and remember. Anyway, Uglish can be quite amusing.


Ugandans often combine 2 sentences into one using the word and. For instance, a barber will say: Sit down and I cut your hair. The usage makes sense in the majority of local tongues in which the word and is implied, not stated.

The personal pronoun is often added to imperative sentences. Thus, one can hear: Go to Entebbe. Please go to Entebbe will become: You go to Entebbe. In the same fashion, Please come here is You come.

Writing long blogs like this one is nice once you’ve got good Internet connection and something refreshing.


Standard English spelling rules aren’t respected, even in publications. Frequent change is the confusion of /u/ and /a/. An example would be the use of batter for butter. Micheal and Racheal is another difference. There’s a confusion between /a/ and /e/. Most of the Ugandans I’ve met didn’t spell my English name (the equivalent to my Polish original, Michał) correctly. Instead of Michael, they always write: Micheal. I have no clue why…

More about Uglish: