Khaya Dlanga: Is ‘le way’ the same as ‘bitch’?

"Le way" could easily be confused for some European language. Perhaps a mixture of French and English. But alas, it is very isiXhosa. One could be excused for thinking that "le" is the French masculine article for the "the". (Ok, to be honest, I didn't know the details around masculine and feminine articles in French, I asked a clever black so that I would sound like one too).

"Le" is isiXhosa and it means "this". "Way" is an English word but when said in an isiXhosa context it loses its English meaning.

Unfortunately I won't be able to give you the etymology of the phrase like I did with "towning". But I will try to explain what it means because I witnessed a massive debate between some guys and girls about the phrase. The women thought it was sexist, while the men thought there was nothing wrong with it. Before I get into the discussion, I will enlighten those who do not know what this phrase is and how it is used. 

"Le way" really means "this thing" in isiXhosa. There is no pretty way of putting it. Say I were carrying something and I now have no idea where I placed it, I would then say to whomever was in the room with me, "Iphi le way bendiyi phethe?" which means: "Where is that thing I was carrying with me?" 

Apart from it being used as I described above, it is most commonly used to describe young women one does not know. "Uzibonile eza way?" When directly translated it sounds downright rough: "Did you see those things?" Those who see nothing wrong with the use of the phrase "le way" to describe a woman they don't know can argue that it's just a different way of saying "this honey" not "this thing". 

In the debate, many women felt that "le way" was really referring to women as nothing more than objects. I have never heard men being called "le way" or "ezi way".

There is another way (I tried to avoid using that word but unfortunately I don't have Mlungisi Xulu's extensive vocabulary) the phrase is used, albeit with a slight difference. But this time it is used to describe how great, beautiful or extraordinary something is. For example: "Intle la way indlu yakhe" means "His house is insanely beautiful" ("la" means that"). If Steve Jobs spoke isiXhosa, he would have described the iPhone as "iiPhone ipowerful la way". I'm sure you get that this means, "the iPhone is insanely powerful". 

In fact, there is no pure isiXhosa phrase I know of that describes women as things. If anything, when talking in isiXhosa about women one didn't know without applying any slang, one would say: "Uyaba bona abantwana? Ba right la way." This means those babes are insanely hot.

Having said that, I think the women I heard debating the use of the phrase had a point. It is most commonly used to describe them. Some may argue that to compare "le way" to "bitch" as I did in the headline may be excessive because they mean two different things.

I suppose one of the best ways to judge whether the phrase is appropriate is by asking youself whether you would like it if your sister or daughter were to be described as "le way".

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