Xhosa, Zulu, EnglishShow more Etymology unknown; perhaps from Xhosa hayi, Zulu hhayi ‘no’; or from English A.A. initial letters of absolute alcohol.
In urban (especially township) English: either methylated spirits or absolute alcohol, when taken as a drink or used for lacing drinks.See also blue train sense 2.
1969Post 16 Feb.A nip of ‘Ai-Ai’ sells in Soweto shebeens for 25 cents normally and some queens have been offloading it at 15 cents...Soweto police uncovered the secret of the killer drink known in the townships as ‘Ai-Ai’, alias ‘The Aeroplane’ or ‘Mpala Mpala’ — that has claimed 14 lives in recent weeks. Confiscated liquor — taken in a raid near Baragwanath — was..identified..as ‘absolute alcohol’.
1970Post 18 Jan. 13One sip of ai-ai was enough to kill 2 boozers. A wild booze-swigging orgy..ended tragically this week when a couple collapsed and died in an Orlando West shebeen after drinking a scale of maiza doped with deadly ai-ai.
1985Pace Sept. 4Have you heard that Ai-ai [or] Flymachine is gaining popularity once more as one of the special beverages in the townships?..The many current drinkers of Flymachine have forgiven it for killing seven old ladies five years ago, who took too much of Ai-ai. If you don’t know what Flymachine is, sorry, it is the blue methylated spirits.
1985K. Ngwenya inDrum July 76We do not see those people dressed in tatters and drinking mbamba and aai-aai (methylated spirits) as human beings who have characters, emotions and loved ones.
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