Monday, 24 September 2012
Posted by M.H. Forsyth
If you wish to practise a South African accent, the best sample sentence is, without doubt, "Turn right at the robot, my friend".
Robot is a bit of a surprise for a foreigner, and it took me a worried while to realise that robot is just South African for traffic light.
So I had to set out to discover why. The answer, it would appear, is that South Africa has maintained a usage that has long since died out in England. Once upon a time there were traffic policemen who directed the traffic. Then, in 1927, this article appeared in the London Evening Standard, describing a strange new invention:
We, of course, changed the name to traffic lights. But in South Africa they merely shortened it to robot. So, rolling all your Rs: "Turn right at the robot, my friend."