November 30, 2022

Lexicon Lessons – How Many Meanings Does Wonga Actually Have?

In the UK, the word Wonga is a well-known slang term for money, as in “if you want to earn a lot of Wonga, I’ve got just the job for you”. But as well as being the sort of term you’re likely to hear in a pub in the East End of London, Wonga also has some other intriguing uses around the world. Here’s our quick guide to the Wonga lexicon.

A slang term for money

So, how did the origins of the term actually come about? Well, the term is believed to have derived from the Romany word ‘wangar’, which means ‘coal’ – you know, the black stuff we shouldn’t burn anymore. In English, coal was used as slang for money, so as an alternative word for coal, wonga also became an informal term for money. And, in the 17th and 18th centuries, if you had a lot of coal you really were loaded.

A short-term lender

Wonga is the name of a short-term cash lender that once operated globally across the UK, Canada and Europe. The credit provider is still going strong in South Africa where it is still well known for not only simplifying the process of applying for a quick loan but also making access to short term credit much safer for the average citizen as there are more than forty thousand mashonisas (South African word for loan shark) operating across the country.

Hi, the name’s Wonga

One of the lesser known uses of the word is as a name. In South Africa, Wonga is a name that most people will be familiar with. Its meanings include ‘wealth’ and ‘honorable one’, with Wonga Mesatywa, Nissan South Africa’s corporate affairs director, the most well-known example we could find.

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A dangerous drug

It’s to South Africa we travel once again to find our next example of ‘wonga’ in practice. This time, things take a darker turn, with wonga being used as a slang term for the street drug nyaope. Nyaope is notorious in South African cities and is usually composed of substances such as cheap heroin, bicarbonate of soda, milk powder, rat poison and asbestos. Needless to say, it’s incredibly destructive and has become part of South African urban mythology.

A plump pigeon

What do you call a large, ground-dwelling pigeon with a small head and a long tail? In Australia, you call it the Wonga Pigeon, or even better, the Wonga Wonga. This impossibly Australian-sounding bird lives along the east coast and, dare we say, looks a little underwhelming. Still, with a name like that, it doesn’t really matter.