I love to laugh. Laughter is medicine for the soul, which probably explains why Indonesians are always smiling!
Despite being of Indonesian heritage, I rejected my culture until I was 13 years old. My conversion was led by a boring car ride.
If you’re curious as to why anyone would learn Indonesian, Lindsay of Lindsay Does Languages has kindly created a PDF of travel phrases FREE!
What makes Indonesian so special is the intricate expressions of the human condition pertaining to the culture itself. This is where the word “Untranslatable” comes in.
Whether it be conflict resolution or talking about the bathroom, Indonesian has a well-equipped arsenal for the funniest of situations.
Don’t get offended.
Some of these words can be used for name calling/labeling of people. This for Westerners can sound very insensitive, but on the contrary are actually NOT offensive in Indonesian culture.
What causes offense is tone and anger, which I will potentially address in a further post.
DISCLAIMER: Illustrations do not mean the definitions pertain solely to a thunderstorm (ex. 5) or a buffet (ex. 1) but rather give a holistic context by which to imagine its usage. Accent marks “é” will be used in order to aid in pronunciation.
1. Rugi: This is a word that has so many usages and contexts. Having Asian parents this is an all round amazing word. When you go to a buffet, and Asian mothers tell you NOT to eat rice and go straight for the meat and the seafood, so as to get your money’s worth. Or if you can get 5 pencils at Staples as opposed to 3 for the same price somewhere else, that’s also rugi. Another example is:
“Hey man! You going to Benny’s party tonight?”
“Nah. I’m really tired and too lazy to move.”
“Ya udah, lu yang rugi.” – “Fine, it’s your loss! You’re missing out!”
Note, in Indonesian saying this has a joking connotation and not an annoyed tone as one could imagine in English.
Closest translation: Not getting the “bang for your buck.”
CORRECTION UPDATE. My Sister reminded me that I made it more complicated than it should be. It can also be translated as “not worth it.”
2. Ngetém: When a public transport bus waits to fill up with passengers before it takes off. Unfortunately, this is a widespread phenomenon in Indonesia.
Pertaining to Children
3. Cacingan: The original term for this word comes from the fact that sometimes people literally have worms in their stomach in Indonesia (food standards have improved over the years though. As a result, people become uncomfortable, the worm causing stomach aches, butt scratching, and constant movement. This is often used to describe a child just cannot keep still because of aforementioned.
CORRECTION UPDATE: Someone reminded me that it’s very similar to the English phrase “ants in your pants” or “antsy.”
4. Gemes: That feeling you get when a baby is so cute all you wanna do is squeeze them to death.
CORRECTION UPDATE: Squeezing someone to death is a Western concept. A friend said, “My wife refers to it as wanting to ‘bite’ or ‘eat’ rather than squeeze. In that light, you could say ‘I could just eat you all up.'”
5. Nyempil: My dad gave me a great example: When there’s a thunderstorm and a kid gets scared, so he runs to the parents bedroom slips in between them.
*Of the Body
6. Ompong: When someone is missing any number of teeth (or when grandpa takes off his fake set).
7. Nong-nong: If someone has a really round forehead.
8. Dobleh/doer: If someone’s lower lip sticks out (like mine.) If your top lip is bigger, the word is jeding.
9. Sempoyongan: When one walks or feels as if they’re about to fall.
* Can be used as vocatives as well. (Fancy word for name calling)
Of the Bathroom (No photos for this one.)
10. Kebelet: When your body’s emergency bells go off because you REALY need to pee and can’t hold it anymore. Especially when you’re on the road and there are no rest stops to give you peace. This can also be used in the context of craving something so bad that you just HAVE to have it.
11. Ngeden: That face you make you make when you’re on the toilet doing your business.
12. Mépér: When you get out of the toilet, wash your hands, and graciously wipe your dripping hands on your friends shirt. Also describes when one picks their nose and does the same thing. Don’t act like you’ve never done this…
13. Adu domba: My Dad gave the following illustration: Let’s say you don’t like David, but the problem is, he’s too buff so you can’t exactly fight him. So you need someone else to do your dirty work. You’re friends with Andy, you tell Andy crap about David and that David doesn’t like Andy. You go to David and oddly enough you tell him crap about Andy. They end up fighting each other instead. The closest English equivalent is to instigate.
14. Menghasut: Jack and Danny are friends. You don’t like Danny. You decided to talk so much trash about Danny that you “converted” Jack into despising him too.
15. Jayus: This word has circulated around the internet, with the false translation “a joke that is told so poorly that one cannot help but laugh.” Real story has it that there is a man named Jayus who was a politician that apparently would always say cheesy things. It pertains to the fact that a word is cheesy/corny, not the after effects of hearing the “joke.”
Every language has fun things like this that can cause laughter at the table for hours. Do you have some you can share with me? Post in the comments below. If you enjoyed it, please share it with your friends for their thoughts!