The head is one part of the body that (linguistically speaking) has a wide range of uses. In English, you can use it, lose it, get it straight, listen to it (as opposed to your inhliziyo), or have something not quite right with it. The head of something is its leader, the top of it, the vanguard of an army and the start of something. And that’s just ngoJoji (aka the language of King George).

ngolimi lukaPhunga noMageba (aka ngesiZulu), i(li)khanda and its cognates (inkanda, isikhanda, & u(lu)khanda) have as many different meanings as the English and then some! Let us begin with the basic one – i(li)khanda.

Belonging to the Noun Class for round/fluid things, i(li)khanda is the descendant of the ur-Bantu root -kanda, which means ‘shell’. It has two separate sets of meanings, depending on whether it’s being used literally or figuratively. In isiZulu, if you mean it literally you will use the locative ekhanda. If you’re using it figuratively you will use ekhandeni. If you don’t know what a locative is, check out this post.

The literal meanings are as follows:

1. the head itself. Incidentally, if you say “lo muntu unekhanda elinamanzi” (literally “this person has a head with water in it”) you mean “this person is easily excited”.

2. the seat of intelligence; the initiative. A good phrase to remember here is “akanakhanda”, meaning “s/he has no sense”.

3. {various idiomatic meanings} “Ufuna ikhanda lami na?” = “Do you want to kill me?”; “Ikhanda lakhe lingakhela izingoso lingakashoni” = “field-mice may nest in his head before sunset” = “he’s going to die” = a good threat, if a little extreme.

So far, there’s nothing terribly surprising. Most cultures realised fairly early in our evolution that to lose one’s head is to die, so it’s unsurprising that there are these idioms. When we get to the figurative uses, there are also very few surprises:

1. the head military kraal

2. the headman of a military kraal

3. the vanguard of an army, the foremost regiment

4. the first-born son.

So, as with the first set, not a lot of surprise there, other than the overwhelmingly martial tone of the word. But it is in the cognate words that there is truly room for figurative play:

inkanda is (and you knew this was going to pop up at some point) the ‘glans penis’ or ‘the head’.

isikhanda is either the head or knob of a stick (like ingqukuqa), or a lump or clod of earth still clinging to the roots of a bunch of pulled grass.

u(lu)khanda has 4 distinct meanings: the upper part of the head of cattle, where the horns are set; pig-headedness, stubborn perverseness or obstinate persistency; persistent good luck or good fortune; and the head (in a metaphorical sense, rarely used).

Once again, it’s important to know the different noun classes – if only to differentiate between someone having intelligence or being stubbornly pig-headed!

As to whether there’s a link between the noun -khanda and the verb -khanda, I’m pretty sure there is: ukukhanda means “pound, beat, pelt or hammer” as well as “work metal or stone” and “repair” – all using an isikhando or hammer. Have a look at the definitions (if you have a good dictionary) and you’ll see whether there’s room for linking the two.

Until the next post – use your head! I’m off to khanda some reports.