I was skimming through Laureen Beukes' novel Zoo City (having already read it once), and at some point my eyes fell on the following sentence on the 2nd page:

Leaving the Mongoose to scrolf at its flank, I duck under one of the loops of rope hanging from the ceiling [...] and pad over the rotten linoleum to the cupboard.

I have no idea if this could be some South African idiom; though such words are usually highlighted/footnoted in the book – this one is not.

Flea bites have previously been mentioned, so my current interpretation is that it probably means something along the lines of sticking one's nose into one's fur to get rid of irritations.

But then again, it might just refer to the sound produced during the aforementioned act (dog owners will know what I'm talking about), or it could even just mean sitting restlessly or something like that.

All sorts of clarifying information are welcome.

  • 1
    My go-to dictionary for obscure words such as this one is Green's dictionary of slang. Couldn't find this one, though. Apparently, a very obscure word.
    – user405662
    Commented Nov 9, 2022 at 11:24
  • A Google search of South African websites shows that the only appearance of "scrolf" is in the book you mention. The OED has no entry. The word seems to be part of the author's/narrator's idiolect. I agree with you on the probable meaning.
    – Greybeard
    Commented Nov 9, 2022 at 11:52
  • 1
    It's probably a portmanteau of sorts, maybe with a bit of onomatopoeia: probably "scratch" or "scrape" is part of it, the rest is less clear.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Nov 9, 2022 at 12:17

1 Answer 1


I believe it is meant to be the verb scoff, and scrolf is possibly an eye dialect variant of scoff based on its pronunciation. The verb scoff for this meaning is a slang and dialectal word of South African origin. Here is the etymology and the definitions of the first sense of the verb scoff from OED:

Etymology: apparently originally a variant of scaff v.2, taken into slang from dialectal use; latterly associated with the originally South African scoff n.2

slang and dialect.

a. transitive. To eat voraciously, devour; also gen. to eat. Also with up, down. Also figurative.

b. intransitive. To eat or feed; to have one's food with.
[Cf. Dutch schoften to take one's meals.]

It fits the context as the mongoose is nibbling its skin with teeth, eating the fleas off. OED provides the verb scaff as the earlier and rarer variant of scoff with the meaning "to eat voraciously" as well and adds that it is of obscure origin. OED provides the etymology and the definition of the noun scoff as below:

Etymology: Cape Dutch, representing Dutch schoft, quarter of a day, hence each of the four meals of the day.

colloquial, originally South African.

Food; also a meal. (Cf. scaff n.) Also attributive.

  • See also the two closely related verbs (1) scarf, as in “1976 R. Condon Whisper of Axe ɪɪ. xviii. 265 Let's..scarf up some of that osso bucco.” and (2) snarf, as in “2003 Oxf. Amer. Jan. 52/2 The way we take in food at KFC, just snarfing it.”
    – tchrist
    Commented Nov 9, 2022 at 14:25

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