Will you be here ‘Now’, ‘Now now’ or ‘Just now’? In South Africa it is important to distinguish between the different interpretations of now. That is if you want to keep peace of mind and avoid unnecessary misunderstandings. The various interpretations of ‘now’ have become a distinguished feature of specificities of South African English. Knowing when ‘now’ means now and when it does not will help anyone either residing or visiting South Africa to adjust. You think that when someone tells you ‘now now’ it is really going to happen – now, or that ‘just now’ would be within the next few hours? Think again and remember time is precious.
Commonly ‘Now’ is understood as something that would be happening in this very moment.
One would think that now could not be easier meaning exactly that – now. Ha-ha – it doesn’t. Many are caught by surprise in finding out that now means something like ‘eventually’, which lower the expectation of immediate action. What on earth is ‘eventually’ supposed to mean? Well at least it means it will find place – just not quite yet. So if someone tells you ‘I will be with you now’ – do not raise your expectations. Your turn in the ‘now’ hierarchy might be far away. Wait patiently.
‘Now now’ sound even more optimistic than just a simple ‘now’.
A ‘now’ twice, you might think, must mean really speedy follow up – almost happening as you speak. Sorry but there is no Speedy Gonzales in a ‘now now’. Listen and learn: ‘Now now’ would mean something like ‘when I find time’ and confusing the very meaning of it could have unintended consequences. In comparison a ‘now’ in Europe (no one says ‘now-now’ there) would mean exactly that – immediately without further delay. If you are seeking a solution making the South African ‘now now’ more speedy, adding an indefinite number of ‘now-now- now-now-now-now-now-now’s….’ won’t change anything. It will still be ‘when I have time.’
‘Just now’ make a time perspective almost superfluous.
Apart from signalizing a much later arrival, it may also express disinterest. It can even mean no. ‘Are you coming over for coffee?’ replied with a ‘Just now’ could actually mean no. Do not take any offense. The expression provides you no hope of arrival anytime soon, nor will you get any clarification to an approximate time. The Spanish ‘mañana’ tells you that whatever they were supposed to do, will not happen until tomorrow – at earliest. Because even then, it is a mighty maybe they pop up sometime during the day but don’t bet on it. In fact, it might be in two weeks or in worst case – never. Just now in South Africa would equalize to not quite yet, but soon. But at least it doesn’t mean ‘mañana’. However I repeat, with a ‘just now’ reply, have no expectations of arrival anytime soon.
In conclusion, with ‘now’; ‘now now’ and ‘just now’ we South Africans have safeguarded ourselves against being late. It is a brilliant maneuver. We are never late because we already said ‘now now’ if not ‘just now’. There is no ‘now or never’ – only later. Everything is relative and so is time - especially here in South Africa.