ngesiZulu, very few iziqu (word stems) begin with the sound ‘O’. The sound is used very often elsewhere in the language, as it the result of a coalescence of ‘A’ and ‘U’ and it is the prefix for plurals of all names, many family members and some borrowed titles (like omama, ogogo, othisha etc) – but if you open an isiZulu dictionary to the letter O you will find a scarcity of iziqu.

However, even in this scarcity, there are some very important concepts. Let’s start with the verbs:

OKHA – the act of transferring fire from an isokho, in order to kindle an umlilo; also the act of starting a fight or stirring up trouble.

OMA – dryness, thirst, thinness

ONA – destruction or corruption, a fall from an ideal state, or a despoiling

ONDA – thinness, depression

ONDLA – nourishing, rearing, keeping an eye on someone (especially someone else’s child

ONGA – saving, being economical, skimming off the surface

ONGAMA – leaning over, as a president of a country, or overawing someone

OPHA – bleeding and sympathising


OTHA – basking in the sun, warming at the fire, informing against someone

There are, as usual, many beautiful metaphorical links drawn from these iziqu – through the use of the different noun classes, as well as different izimpambosi or verbal extensions. Many nouns owe their genesis to these 9 verbs.

But there are some nouns that exist without being linked to action, such as those clustered around the following 3 roots:

OMI – just one noun here, ubomi, denoting happiness, enjoyment, prosperity, the taste of meat that has hung for some time, and the young of bees.

OYA – three separate nouns, all beautifully linked: ub-oya (wool, fluff, hair on the body of a man or an animal), ul-oya (life essence, spirit or mind of a person, the core of something) and um-oya (spirit, by contradistinction with um-moya meaning wind or breath).

OVU – again three nouns: is-ovu (a small grass bag), ub-ovu (pus or purulent matter, as discharged from an abscess) and um-ovu (beeswax).

Looking back over this post, I realise that it has quite a high weirdness quotient. So I’ll leave it there, and let you digest it. See if you can draw your own conclusions about the associations given to the letter O ngesiZulu.