tsotsi, noun

Also tsotsie.
Origin uncertain; widely believed to be a Sotho corruption of zoot suit, see quotations 1956, 1962, and 1980; but C.T. Msimang (1987, in S. Afr. Jrnl of Afr. Langs Vol.7 No.3, p.82) writes ‘The origin of the term tsotsi is not known...Although the term has a Sotho phonemic structure, it is not a Sotho lexical item’. See also quotations 1938.
1. a. in historical contexts. Especially during the 1940s and 1950s, a young black gangster or hoodlum who affected a particular style of language and flashy dress; pantsula sense 1 b. b. Loosely, a (young) black urban criminal. c. Used affectionately or contemptuously: a bad (young) man. Also attributive, and transferred sense. See also boy sense 2 a, location boy (location sense 3 c). Cf. amalaita, clever, comtsotsi, ducktail, sheila sense 2, skolly, spoiler.
[1938 Star 1 June 16Alleged to be members of the ‘Ishotsi’ gang, with aims of robbing and murdering natives.]
[1938 Rand Daily Mail 3 June 6The accused were members of the ‘Ishotsi’ gang,..composed for the specific purpose of robbery.]
1949 Cape Argus 20 July 8 (heading)Tsotsi gangs who hate Bantu students.
1949 Cape Times 10 Sept. 8The ‘Tsotsi’ may be distinguished by his exceedingly narrow trousers which hardly reach his shoes, or else by his ‘zoot suit’.
1950 Report of Commission to Enquire into Acts of Violence Committed by Natives at Krugersdorp (UG47–1950) in L.F. Freed Crime in S. Afr. (1963) 130The shebeen queens resort to devious means to evade police detection, such as..calling upon the tsotsi gangs for protection.
1954 Star in L.F. Freed Crime in S. Afr. (1963) 78Young men roaming the city streets..selling liquor to natives, smoking dagga, and accosting passers-by,..the White tsotsis of Johannesburg...European hooligans, known to the police as ‘White tsotsis’, terrorize people in the central area.
1956 T. Huddleston Naught for your Comfort 81Tsotsi’—..familiar enough to have become a term of abuse when applied by a European to an educated African, a term of contempt tinged with fear when used by one African boy of another...Every country in its large cities has its ‘cosh-boys’, its ‘wise-guys’, its ‘gangsters,’ its ‘Teddys’. And the ‘tsotsi,’ the real genuine ‘tsotsi,’ is all of these...The origin of the name is interesting, for it is a corruption of ‘Zoot Suit,’ and the ‘tsotsi,’ like the Teddy-boy, is supposedly characterised by the cut of his clothes.
1959 L. Longmore Dispossessed 317Ntsotsi is a word denotating the notorious young thieves, murderers and terrorists, so commonly found in the locations, going around in well-organized gangs with a terminology of their own and whose main weapon is a large knife. I have used the now generally accepted form of the word: tsotsi.
1962 W.S. Manqupu in Star 22 Feb. 14The very name ‘tsotsi’ had its birth as a result of a film, shown in 1946..the all Negro ‘Stormy Weather,’ in which the cast wore stovepipe trousers..and..wide-brimmed hats. This type of dress became the vogue on the Reef, and the Sotho gave these youngsters the name ‘tsotsis’ (‘tsotsi’ being a Sotho word for stove-pipe trousers).
1963 L.F. Freed Crime in S. Afr. 126A ‘tsotsi’ is one who follows ‘the way of life of the sharp trousers’, that is, trousers with legs narrowed at the bottom.
1963 Wilson & Mafeje Langa 14Within the category of townsmen an important distinction is made between the tsotsi set, who are violent and boisterous, and the respectable, ‘decent people’, of which the educated section forms the middle class.
1976 West & Morris Abantu 179Crime is a major problem, and Soweto can claim the dubious distinction of being one of the most dangerous places in the entire country, where gangs and the delinquent tsotsis (hooligans) flourish.
1977 P.C. Venter Soweto 146Men’s fashions saw the birth of a new, sleeker pair of trousers. The legs were tapered like stovepipes, tight in the crotch and even tighter around the ankles. In black townships and shanty towns the male youths immediately accepted the new fashion, and called it tsotsi trousers.
1980 D.B. Coplan Urbanization of African Performing Arts. 350The term tsotsi..was an urban African pronunciation of ‘zoot suit’. It indicated their orientation toward American popular culture, relative economic success, and flashy dress as a symbol of urban sophistication.
1980 D.B. Coplan Urbanization of African Performing Arts. 442Tsotsi..suggested a clever, street-wise petty criminal or hustler, flashily dressed in urban American fashion. Today it applies broadly to any young, potentially violent African urban criminal.
1984 N.S. Ndebele in Staffrider Vol.6 No.1, 45Tsotsi violence.
1990 Diversions Vol.1 No.6, 8Avoid a crooks tour — watch out for overseas tsotsies.
1990 M. Kentridge Unofficial War 66The comtsotsis..preyed on commuters and mugged workers on pay-day much like tsotsis (gangsters)...The difference was that they explained that their actions formed part of a political strategy.
1993 Daily Dispatch 14 Oct. 1The PAC last night distanced itself from the violence..and blamed it on ‘tsotsi’ (criminal) elements.
1993 [see lost generation].
2. combination
tsotsi-taal /-tɑːl/, also with initial capital [Afrikaans taal language], flaaitaal. Also attributive.
The name ‘tsotsi-taal’ is seen as derogatory by some, the terms flaaitaal or isicamtho being preferred. Tsotsi-taal originated in the townships around Johannesburg, becoming particularly well-established in the 1950s. Spoken at first mainly by criminals, partly as a means of avoiding being understood by others within earshot, it has since come to be used more widely, especially by young people, among whom it has more recently come to be called ‘isicamtho’ or ‘scamtho’.
[1951 Drum Nov. 10To speak broken Afrikaans is one of the methods by which tsotsis identify each other, but each group has its own common vocabulary in the presence of strangers.]
[1956 A. Sampson Drum 101As I sat down, between Bill and Can, I heard a murmur behind me of ‘Laanis,’ the tsotsi word for white men.]
1976 Rand Daily Mail 21 Apr. 5Ordinary young men and women..delight in chatting in any Black language or a Black language mixed with ‘street’ Afrikaans, commonly known as ‘Tsotsi taal’.
1979 C. Van der Merwe in Frontline Dec. 17If you know what’s good for you, you’d better not call it tsotsi-taal. It’s actually Flytaal, and proud of it.
1980 D.B. Coplan Urbanization of African Performing Arts. 350A new anti-social persona, tsotsi..spoke..flytaal or mensetaal, which by the late 40’s had become known more widely as tsotsitaal.
1980 D.B. Coplan Urbanization of African Performing Arts. 442Tsotsitaal (Flytaal; Mensetaal), The Afrikaans-based urban African proletarian dialect, spoken by all urban African proletarians up until the 1960’s, but especially by young juvenile delinquents, some of whom spoke no other language.
1982 D. Bikitsha in Rand Daily Mail 14 Oct. (Eve) 5Where fanagalo is gross, heavy and uncouth, tsotsi taal is smooth, facile and poetic...With the little bit of schooling one had, the relation of certain tsotsi taal words to other world languages became obvious.
1982 M. Mzamane Children of Soweto 6In our street dialect, called tsotsi-taal, the lingua franca of black youth in South Africa..we violated every known grammatical construction.
1982 Pace Oct. 49Because Soweto is a melting pot of nations, languages tend to lose their individual purity, to merge with one another to reform as the vibrant tsotsitaal.
1983 Natal Mercury 8 JuneGo to a doctor and tell him in tsotsi-taal that you need a certificate to say that you’ve been sick. If he’s a ‘bra’ he’ll knock off a certificate and say: ‘Hier’s hy, my bra.’ But if he’s a ‘situation’ he’ll say: ‘Hey, hey, I can’t do that.’
1986 T. Thoka in Eng. Usage in Sn Afr. Vol.17 No.2, 19Today, tsotsie-taal has become a street dialect, and is not confined to thugs.
1986 Eng. Usage in Sn Afr. Vol.17 No.2, 19 [see marabi sense 3].
1987 C.T. Msimang in S. Afr. Jrnl of Afr. Langs Vol.7 No.3, 82Tsotsitaal is a contact medium which developed when blacks of various ethnic groups were thrown together in the South African cities, especially on the Rand...Tsotsitaal is also known as Flaaitaal.
1987 K. Sole in Bunn & Taylor From S. Afr. (1988) 255The tsotsitaal patois endemic to the townships.
1990 L. Kaunda in M. Kentridge Unofficial War 24If you speak Zulu you are Inkatha, but the amaqabane speak tsotsi taal (English, Afrikaans, some Zulu, some slang words from God knows where).
1990 A. Maimane in Tribute Sept. 32That was the style of the Fifties. Right now I wouldn’t want to write like that..semi-sleek American, tsotsi taal style of writing.
1993 L. Madikane in Weekly Mail & Guardian 22 Oct. 17As for going to the township to speak ‘tsotsi taal’: forget it pal. I will never be caught mouthing such linguistic vulgarity.
1994 H. Masekela on TV1, 16 Nov. (People of South)I have been thinking of making an album in tsotsi-taal and calling it ‘Heita-daar’.
Especially during the 1940s and 1950s, a young black gangster or hoodlum who affected a particular style of language and flashy dress; pantsula sense 1 b.
Loosely, a (young) black urban criminal.
Used affectionately or contemptuously: a bad (young) man. Also attributive, and transferred sense.
(also tsotsism), the tsotsi lifestyle and behaviour.
Hence tsotsi-ism (also tsotsism) noun, the tsotsi lifestyle and behaviour.
1952 T. Matshikiza in Drum Apr. 15A more ruthless condemnation of the menace of Tsotsi-ism.
1952 B. Davidson Rep. on Sn Afr. 121The conditions out of which have grown such strange and horrible manifestations of maladjustment as tsotsi-ism.
1959 L. Longmore Dispossessed 191Tsotsism is spreading in a community which is socially ripe for it, where juvenile delinquency has become inevitable.
1977 P.C. Venter Soweto 146In his study on the history of tsotsism, Stanley Sikakane described the origin of the problem.
1980 D.B. Coplan Urbanization of African Performing Arts. 357Their targets were the location police.., tsotsism.., and physical conditions in the African areas.
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