On today’s special episode we discuss “untranslatable” words in the Indonesian language.
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.
Disclaimer: Some of these may be better defined elsewhere. Keep in mind that I am a heritage speaker BUT I had these checked by people so I do my best.
Rugi: This is a word that has so many usages and contexts.
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.”
It can also be translated as “not worth it.”
Ngetém: When a public “share-taxi” or other form of public transportation waits to fill up with passengers before it takes off so that the owner is not rugi. Unfortunately, this is a widespread phenomenon in Indonesia and notoriously create accidents and traffic.
Pertaining to Children
Gemes: That feeling you get when a baby is so cute all you wanna do is squeeze them to death.
Rakus: It’s similar to gluttony but doesn’t necessarily imply that you’re fat, nor is it exclusive to food. It’s a version of greed which comes with just wanting to take advantage of things to an extreme. Basically milking something for what it’s worth to the point of crossing the line.
Gengsi: Not wanting to act out of class. This is a very difficult word to define without writing two or three paragraphs. Please listen to the podcast for this one as I dedicate a few minutes to this term.
Gak enak: More or less refusing to ask or receive favors because it means you’re desperate.
Jambret: When someone steals something from you while you’re wearing it or using it i.e. on a motorcycle.
*Of the Body
We’ll stop numbering them here on out.
Ompong: When someone is missing any number of teeth (or when grandpa takes off his fake set).
Nong-nong: If someone has a really round forehead.
Dobleh/doer: If someone’s lower lip sticks out (like mine.) If your top lip is bigger, the word is jeding.
Of the Bathroom
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.
Ngeden: That face you make you make when you’re on the toilet doing your business.
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…
The following words are from the Sundanese language of West Java and aren’t Indonesian, but are from the archipelago. The Javanese language also has their own set of words for falling
down.Obviously some of these can be translated, but you get the point.
For an explaination of the images listen to the podcast episode.
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.
Menghasut: When you cause others to hate someone or something to gain them on your side so you can eventually manipulate them.
With the Eyes
Laper Mata: When you want something because you see it somewhere or someone else have it. This is how advertisement works. Literally: to wash the eyes.
Cuci mata: When you go for a refreshing walk whether that be window shopping or looking at pretty people and things. Literally to clean the eyes.
Pitabokeun/Picabokeun: This is Sundanese for the face of someone that is just asking to get punched. In German it’s Backpfeifengesicht.
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!