To most of the world, and according to the dictionary, the word “shame” is used to describe, “a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behaviour”.

But of course not in Mzantsi. You know how we need salt to make food tasty? That’s exactly how South Africans use “shame”. Here we use “shame/shem” for almost every situation and context – from a gossiping session, to a cool conversation with your friends, and when we say something we don’t mean.

But trust me, most of the time it’s never in the context of what shame actually means.

The website explains it perfectly:

Shame / shem

Pronounced:  sh-em
A much-used phrase to express all kinds of emotions like sympathy, empathy, sarcasm, tenderness, or regret.

It comes in different variations depending on what language you speak but the most common are: ag shame, shame man, hayi shame and shem.

For example, if friends are gossiping about a couple they didn’t support from the beginning, it may sound in the conversation below like they feel bad but those who know can read between the lines

“Shem, did you hear Mbali and Themba broke up?”

“Hayi shame; that’s sad,”

“Shame man but its life; they won’t die wethu,”

So the next time someone starts or ends a sentence with shem, they might not be actually feeling sorry for you.

Do you know what now-now means? Click here to find out.

Tell us: What other underrated slang word do you use daily?