The word “Sheng” is actually derived from the two national languages: SwaHili and ENGlish. The specific letters were merged to form the famous ‘SHENG’ name, a name coined for Kenyan slangs. Though Sheng has recently become so popular it actually originated in the 1950s in Nairobi’s city slum commonly known as “Eastligh” short for Eastlands. Sheng words are majorly borrowed from the Swahili and English words, also from various Kenyan ethnic groups including the Kikuyu, Luo, Kamba and Luhya.

Like any other slang, Sheng in Kenya is used mainly by youth and children including the young generation commonly referred to as the digital gen. The thing with this Kenyan slang is that it evolves very quickly, with time new Sheng words come up to replace the old ones. If you actually went away for about 3 – 5 months, when you come back you might find 50% of the words are new and it will be hard for you to get the meaning. Though the Kenyan slangs is a common language in Kenya’s towns and cities, each region has its own variation on a set of terms.

Below is a list of 20 most commonly used Kenyan slangs and their meanings, other Sheng words related to them and example in a sentence.

1. Madha

Refers to a mother, its pronunciation is borrowed from the English word.

Other related words include:

Mathe, Mnyaka, Moda, Masa

Mathe anakuita – Mom is asking for you.

 2. Mburungo

Refers to cargo.

Wapi mgurungo za me? – Where are my cargos?

You notice that ‘me’ has been used to refer to mine.

 3. Sonko

The term refers to a rich person. On another circumstance, it can be used to refer to a boss, mostly you can refer to your employer as Sonko and not necessarily because he or she is rich.

Other related Sheng word to use is:

Mdosi

Sonko wangu amego tao – My boss has gone to town

Yule mse ni Sonko – That guy is rich.

 4. Pack

This is borrowed from the English. In Sheng, it means to reside or live

He packs in Westy – He resides in Westlands

‘Westy’ is the short form of Westlands.

 5. Chapaa

Refers to money

Other words include:

Dau, Doh, Mkwanja, Ganji, Cheddar

Nipe mkwanja – Give me money

Sina Dau – I don’t have money

Different values include:

Thao – 1000 sh.

Punch – 500 sh.

Rwabe – 200 sh.

Soo, Red – 100 sh.

Chuani, finje – 50 sh.

Mbao, blue – 20 sh.

Ashu, kinde – 10 sh.

Kobole, ngovo – 5 sh.

This is commonly used by touts

 6. Ocha

Refers to up country or rural home

Other related words include:

Ushago, Mashinani, Moshatha

Ameenda ocha kuona mapero – He/she has gone to up country to visit his/her parents

 7. Sasa

In Sheng, it is used as greetings, mostly as a way of saying ‘How are you?’

You can also use ‘Niaje’

Niaje buda? – How are you man?

It is often replied by ‘Poa’ or’ Fiti’, meaning ‘Good’ or ‘ok’

 8. Ndai

Refers to a car.

Other slang words include:

Ndiga, moti murenga

Where is the moti? – Where is the car?

 9. Dame

Refers to a girl or a chick.

Other related words include:

Msupa, Mresh, Shore, Manzi

Msupa wako yuko area – Your chick is around

 10. Mangware

Means very early in the morning.

Unikujie mangware tafadhali – Please come for me early in the morning.

 11. Dai

Can be used to mean ‘want’ ‘need’ or ‘claim’

Unadai key ya hao? – Do you need the house key?

 12. Gova

Refers to a police officer.

Related words include:

Karao, Sanse

Makarao wanacome – The police are coming

 13. Sota

To become bankrupt, means a situation when you are broke.

That guy amesota haezi buy ata dishi – That guy is broke he can’t even afford to buy food

 14. Hao

Short form pronunciation of the word ‘House’

Other related words may include:

Keja, Mbanyu, Base, Diggs

Unaenda kwa keja saa ngapi? – What time are you going to your house?

 15. Chuo

Means a learning institution either primary or secondary, ‘campo’ or ‘colle’ is for higher learning institutes.

Unarnda chuo saa ngapi? – What time are you going to school?

 16. Chop

Means to study, to read.

Usipo chop utafail exams – If you don’t study, you will fail your exams

 17. Dunda

Means to club, all night partying in a club.

Unaunda dunda leo? – Will you go clubbing today?

 18. Bizna

Borrowed from the pronunciation of business

Related word include: Biarasha

Bizna ikoje? – How is the business doing?

 19. Manga

Used in reference to eating.

Uta manga what? – What will you eat?

 20. Tei

Refers to alcohol.

We hutumia Tei? – Do you take alcohol?

These are just but a few Sheng words that you will often hear when in Kenya and knowing them will definitely make communication with the youth easier. Though many are concerned that it affects the quality of the other national languages in school, it may end up to be a good thing as the use of vernacular is going down. You can see the use of Sheng in national radio and advertisements as this is the best way of getting the message around. The Kenyan slangs, including Sheng are more common now among all age group than they were a few years back.

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