While presenting the montage for best picture nominee Black Panther, Daily Show host Trevor Noah made a joke in Xhosa, a language spoken by millions in South Africa and in a few other African countries as well.
After noting that people all over the world shout out "Wakanda forever" to him — referring to the fictional African nation in the movie — Noah said: "Growing up as a young boy in Wakanda, I would see King T'Challa flying over our village, and he would remind me of a great Xhosa phrase: 'Abelungu abazi ubu ndiyaxoka,' which means, 'In times like these, we are stronger when we fight together than when we try to fight apart."
The audience applauded.
What it really means: "White people don't know I'm lying."
(In case you're wondering, Xhosa is pronounced with a click like this.)
Many South Africans loved the inside joke, says Lihle Ninie Sasa, 24, a South African college student who lives in Cape Town and is a Xhosa speaker. "We love Trevor. South Africans call him the 'national treasure,' " she says. "Using IsiXhosa [another way to refer to the language] at the Oscars was really cool."
"He knows that speaking in a language full of clicks and sounds that Westerners generally won't ever hear will evoke a sort of fascination. Some feel like he exploits this," writes Zanie Ferreira, 28, a corporate intelligence analyst from Cape Town, via Twitter direct message. She is a white South African and does not speak Xhosa.
But she thinks the Oscars joke worked: "He knew only a small portion of people will get it. I think that's clever, and the reaction of the crowd was exactly what made it funny."
Ferreira likes that Noah represented her country at the largely Western event.
"Diversity in nationalities [at the Oscars] is long overdue. Add in a foreign language, spoken ... in the global south, and that's pretty special," she says.
Noah's phrase even sparked a trending hashtag on social media in South Africa, #KodwaAbayaziNdiyaXoka. It means "but they don't know that I'm lying," says college student Sasa.
She is a participant in the meme. Her contribution? What she says to boys when they ask for her number.
Others joined in on the fun — sharing phrases that sound like one thing but actually mean something else.
P.S. King T'Challa really can't fly.
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