When is a mielie not a mealie?

I’m South African. You know, from that country that sits as far south as you can go on the African continent?

You laugh, but I once got talking to a girl while I was on a bus in Ilford, east of London and when I said I was from South Africa, she went pensively quiet before she looked up and asked “South Africa? Where’s that?”.

Anyway, I’m a South African who’s mother tongue is Afrikaans, and I’m white. That doesn’t make a me white, Afrikaans, South African racists bastard though, although it could make me a white, Afrikaans, South African bastard, but that’s as much as I’ll give you. Also, bastard isn’t stereotypical of the country, but it is of the gender 🙂

Afrikaans, although it looks confusingly similar compared to African, should not be confused with it. Afrikaans is pronounced ‘ah-free-kaahn-ss‘. And it’s not a plural form, don’t let the ‘s’ confuse you. It’s confusing for other reasons though as Afrikaans, the language, could include people from various ethnic origins. Black and brown, or coloured people (mixed origin I guess would be the PC term), can also be Afrikaans. They would refer to themselves as black, Afrikaans South Africans, for example, although I doubt that anybody does. But Afrikaans is not just a language, it could be a people too, although the majority of Afrikaners (‘ah-free-kaahn-errs‘) happens to be white, Afrikaans doesn’t denote ethnicity.

Hardcore white (possibly racist) South Africans who happen to speak Afrikaans would possibly disagree with the following statement, but in my book, an Afrikaaner is any person who was born into a Afrikaans speaking household, cheers for the Springboks or Proteas and knows how to braai a steak on a grill alongside chicken wings, mielies and boerewors and can eat pap (porridge) for dinner with the aforementioned.

Anyway, Afrikaans, the language, was Dutch about 350 years ago. The Dutch frequented what is called Cape Town today, on their way to the East for trading spices. Back then when resources were plentiful, they set up shop to supply fresh fruit, vegetables and water to passing ships and never left. Thus, the Dutch they brought with them started a fork that over the next centuries would evolve and end up as Afrikaans.

Afrikaans speakers can still communicate with the Dutch from the Netherlands though, especially those from rural areas. I once met a random somebody on the Tube in London, who described themselves as Flemish, and we had a fluent, effortless conversation in two different languages that may as well have been the same. The Dutch from Amsterdam speak a modern Dutch, which is more difficult to follow. Besides, they speak it at a speed which makes it hard to tell one word from the next, never mind what language they’re speaking.

There was a point to this post… oh yes. So, I got talking to Julia about Mielies.

A Mielie (‘me-lee‘) is a corn-on-the-cob. But who the hell wants to go around calling it corn-on-the-cob when you can describe it perfectly by saying Mielie. The obvious ease of use is why many people continue to live their lives referring to that thing of yellow things growing around a white thing as Mielie.

Julia recent read Nelson Mandela’s semi-autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom. For reasons that I can’t phatom beyond the fact that an English South African (or worse, a non-South African) assisted the man in writing the book, Mielies are spelled Mealies.

Of course, I understand the reasoning behind wanting to spell it as Mealie, because phonetically it seems like it has to be right. And I will relent if somebody can prove that the word has been accepted into the English vocabulary and dictionary and adapted for ease of use within the language.

In Afrikaans (the language) ‘ie‘ is pronounced ‘ee’ and thus Mielie, is pronounced Mee-lee.

Now to make me a liar, you can scour the Internet and type mealie into every dictionary you can find and you’ll find an answer. says it’s “an ear of corn“. What is an ear of corn? But I will stubbornly refuse to believe that mealie is the correct form of this word.

Of course, consult any Afrikaans Dictionary, and you will soon realise that Mielie is the dominant form, and as the word is Afrikaans in origin, that’s all I have to say about that.

Unless the additional research I’m going to do after this post proves me wrong, in which case this might be the second, or even third last thing I have to say about that.


  • Al

    12 May 2009 at 23:28

    As far as I'm concerned – a mielie is a mielie. And I'm not even Afrikaans.

  • Amelie

    16 May 2009 at 02:13

    Not that it matters a lot, but it is funny that you mention Flemish is the same context as "rural areas", so I think an explanation wouldn't be so bad.

    The official language "Dutch" is spoken in the Netherlands and in Belgium (actually, in the whole upper half of Belgium, which is colled Flanders).

    It is just that, in Flanders – also in the cities 😉 – we all speak Dutch but in a Flemish way (main difference = pronunciation).

    And as in the Netherlands, all regions have their dialects, also in north-Belgium (Flanders) different regions have their Flemish-Dutch dialect.

    Rural has nothing to do with it.

    Actually I arrived on this page because I'm looking for how to make mielie/mealie rice with peanut butter (something I got to know when I did a tour in Southern Africa (RSA, Nam, Botsw, Zimb)…

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