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10 Colloquial Malay Terms To Learn

Posted by on 1 September 2010

dictionariesEvery language in the world has its formal version — used in official documents, correspondence and newspapers — and its informal daily version — slang, bahasa pasar (literally: ‘market language’), streetwise lingo.

Here are 10 Malay terms that fall in the latter category:-

1. “On The Way”
I dare say that this phrase — ironically, in English — has got to be the most abused in the Malay language. Often shortened to ‘OTW’ in SMS (text messages), the Malaysian meaning of this phrase can cover anywhere between ‘getting ready to leave’, ‘halfway to the destination’, and ‘a second away from the destination’.

Usage:
a. You have an appointment with someone at 10 am. You dash out of the office at 9.40 a.m., knowing that your appointment is only 15 minutes away given normal traffic conditions. As Murphy’s Law would have it, you find yourself stuck in an unexpected traffic jam due to an overturned lorry at an intersection. By 10.10 a.m., your car has barely moved 3 metres, when your phone suddenly rings. It’s your 10 a.m. appointment! You calmly pick up the call and say “I’m on the way.”
b. Your travel agent has agreed to send your plane ticket (still required by certain airlines) at KL Sentral station, where you plan to board the KLIA Ekspres train, which should take you to KLIA in 27 minutes. Your travel agent has promised to have the despatch boy send it over by 12 noon. By 12.15 p.m., you start to panic when there’s still no sign of him. You call your travel agent and they assure you that he’s “on the way”. Acid production in your stomach cranks into overdrive as you start to wonder: by “on the way”, did they mean the despatch boy is putting on his jacket and helmet at the office, or he just stepped out of the office, or he is just 5 minutes away from KL Sentral?

2. Dalam Proses
This phrase literally means “in the process” and is used for describing business processes or government dealings. Just like “on the way”, only God knows exactly at what stage the processing is whenever you are told that something is dalam proses.

Usage:
a. Permohonan puan masih dalam proses. (Madame, your application is still being processed.)
b. Staff 1: Budget dah approve ke? Staff 2: Entah. Accounts kata dalam proses. (Staff 1: Has the budget been approved? Staff 2: I dunno. Accounts Department said it’s still being processed.)

3. Boring
This word is mostly used to mean ‘bored’, but can also mean ‘fed up’ or to describe someone or something not worth your time.

Usage:
a. ‘I boring lah.‘ (What he/she actually means is that he/she is feeling bored, not that he/she is a boring person.)
b. I dah boring dah dengan dia ni. (I’m fed up with him already)
c. Tempat tu boring lah.
(That place is a complete waste of time.)

4. Action
This word is used to mean ‘show-off’ or ‘snobbish’.

Usage:
a. Dia tu action sangat semenjak balik dari US. Dah tak cakap Bahasa Melayu lagi dah! Asyik cakap orang putih je. (He has become quite a snob ever since he got back from the US. He doesn’t speak in Malay language anymore! He just speaks in English all the time.)
b. Alaa…jangan lah action sangat. Kitorang tau you baru dapat kereta baru. (Don’t be such a show-off. We all know you just got yourself a new car.)

5. Terror
In the Philippines, when a professor is known as a ‘terror’, it means that students are terrified of him. But in Malaysia, the word ‘terror’ is used to refer to someone who is exceptionally good at something.

Usage:
a. Wahh! Dua-belas A? Terror! (Wow! Twelve A’s? You’re awesome!)
b. Abang lukis ni sendiri ke? Terror-nya! (You drew this all by yourself? You’re good!)

6. Pergi Minum
This phrase means exactly as its literal translation, i.e. to go for a drink. One thing to note is that ‘drink’ here does not mean alcohol, as I’ve explained in a previous post.

This is actually one of the eccentricities of Malaysia: you drop by a customer’s office at 10 a.m. without an appointment and you’re told that the person you wanted to see has stepped out for a while — “Dia pergi minum“. This applies to smaller local companies… and sad to say, in some government offices.

Usage:
Jom! Kita pergi minum sekejap. Ada orang nak belanja. (Come, let’s go have a drink for a while. Someone’s footing the bill.)

7. Jam
Unless the ‘word’ jam is used in the context of breakfast or bread, when Malaysians say ‘jam’, they almost always refer to traffic jam. While Filipinos say matrapik and Indonesians say macet, Malaysians simply say jam.

By the way, the pronunciation is very crucial here. If you say ‘jem’, it means traffic jam; if you say ‘jam’, it refers to time or a watch, e.g. jam tangan (wrist watch).

Usage:
a. Boss, saya masuk lambat sikit nie. Jam teruk lah. (Boss, I’ll be a bit late. I’m stuck in a massive traffic jam.)
b. Fuh! Punyelah jam malam tadi! Ada aksiden kat NKVE. (What a traffic jam last night! There was an accident at NKVE.)

8. Best!
This superlative is used as an adjective to describe anything and everything that’s good, delicious or interesting.

Usage:
a. You: How was the movie? Your Friend: Best! Tapi cinema tu tak best sebab aircond sejuk sangat. (Great! But the cinema wasn’t that good because the airconditioning was too cold.)
b. Eh-eh! Diorang nak gi London lah Raya nie. Best-nyer! Bilalah I dapat ikut? (They’re going to London this Eid. How nice! I wonder when I’d get to tag along?)

9. Member
When the word ‘member’ is used in a Malay sentence, it does not necessarily refer to a person who belongs to an organisation or club. Instead, the word member in the Malay context means ‘friend’.

Usage:
Dia tu member aku. (He’s a good friend of mine.)

10. Ada Hal
This phrase is a catch-all term to mean ‘to have some business to attend to’. Surprisingly, it’s perfectly acceptable for employees to write this as reason for applying for annual leave in their leave forms.

Usage:
Saya tak boleh datang esok lah. Ada hal sikit… (I can’t be there tomorrow. I have some business to attend to.)

These are just the tip of the iceberg; there are many more Malaysian words that will never make it to any Malay-English dictionary. Check out Wikipedia for a list of more Malaysianisms.

15 Responses to 10 Colloquial Malay Terms To Learn

  1. Dawn

    OMG, I must be a true Malaysian then!! Mimi, being in the US for 13 years I am still using some of these terms frequently especially “boring”, “action”, “best”, “terror”. Somethings don’t change! :)

  2. witsandnuts

    Who would have thought that “member” would mean as friend? Another interesting post. :)

  3. sheng

    Hahaha, Terror post! awesome post here Mimi!

  4. Yolanda

    lmao!

    when i read this i felt best sangat.

    some terms don’t require explanation, like “malas” and “tak tau lah”

    enjoyed this post, thanks.

  5. francesca in france

    Gusto ko yang,on the way, kasi same in french, OPM (Oh promise me) meaning, today, or tomorrow, maybe later, lol
    i would like to add sa lists mo, about my french word.
    Bof!
    meaning, who cares… lol

  6. ramizah

    Melayu ada, Filipino ada, Indonesia pun ada..MIMI is truly asian..

  7. syed heidzir

    kak mimi, u may want to include the usage of GILE i.e besar gile, sedap gile in ur second installment of this posting.. :)

  8. Mimi

    Syed: Aiyoh! How could I have forgotten ‘giler’? :D Okay, okay. Maybe I’ll do a part 2 of this post.

  9. Mimi

    Kak Jah: “Malaysia truly Asia” ;)

  10. Mimi

    Francesca In France: ‘On the way’ and ‘in the process’ can be very stressful esp when we are in a hurry :(

  11. en_me

    i just learned today that ketupat is ‘bugnoy’ in filipino kannns.. ehehe

    nice blog.. keep it up

  12. a-moms-diary

    We Malaysians take these terms for granted and never quite realised the uniqueness in them :-)

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