The ABCs of Bahasa Indonesia

The economic gurus at Café Salemba don’t usually come up with lists, but have made an exception with a list of films that follow in alphabetical order. Here’s my version on the Indonesian language:

Anjing. Actually means “dog”, but often used by Indonesian girls to describe you when they find out you’ve been cheating on them.
Bule. Used by low class Indonesians (generally) to describe white skinned westerners. African Americans and British Asians get to be called “turis” instead.
Cinta. Love. Time to start thinking about dumping your Indonesian girlfriend when she first uses this word.
Durian. Fearsome looking fruit that you either love or hate. A lot like eating vanilla custard in a latrine, said Anthony Burgess. But I quite like the stuff actually.
Elpiji. Yep the Indonesian language even makes words from acronyms: LPG – Liquid Propane Gas.
Formalin. Never mind that it’s a carcinogenic used to stop corpses from rotting - the food vendors love this stuff as it keeps their products “fresh”. Anyone for Bakso?
Gecko. Type of wall lizard that is able to climb smooth vertical surfaces and even cross indoor ceilings thanks to their specialized toe pads. Some can even eat birds!
Habis. “Finished” or “out of stock”. One of the most frequently used words in the Indonesian language.
Inggris. According to Bahasa Indonesia, anyone from the UK is “English”. I’m sure Sean Connery would be pleased to know that. Not!! Hahaha! (If you ain’t seen it, get the Borat DVD now. Brilliant stuff).
Jalan jalan. Out for a walk (just don’t disappear down that hole in the sidewalk).
Korupsi. Say no more.
Lumpur. Most foreigners already know this word as it’s used in the name of the Malaysian capital city Kuala Lumpur (meaning muddy estuary). Most Indonesians in Sidoarjo are just pissed off with the mud.
Matahari. The sun, or literally the “eye of the day”. Bahasa Indonesian can be very poetic sometimes.
Nasi. Rice. Well actually the rice you can eat. Rice is so important in Indonesia there are two other words for rice – beras – the unhusked rice – and padi – the rice growing in the ricefield.
Orangutan. One of few Malay/Indonesian words in the English language. But will it become an archaic term when the orangutan are made extinct?
Pulang. Whenever you leave somewhere the assumption always is that you are going to “pulang” or go home. Even if you are not. Never worked that one out.
Qur’an. Only six words in the Indonesian dictionary beginning with the letter Q: Qur’an is one of them.
Rambutan. Hairy tropical fruit that looks like a red testicle.
Susu. Milk. But mention this in daily conversation and Indonesians will burst out in fits of laughter. Cos it also means boobs. So be careful the next time you ask for milk in Carrefour!
Tahi. Poo. No wonder Indonesians don’t believe you when you say Thai food is a great cuisine.
Uang. Money!
Virus. Are those chickens running around in front of my house?
Warung. Tent erected in a busy street where you can get cheap grub. Sometimes good. Sometimes not so good.
X ?
Yahudi. Jew. Interestingly, the verb “memperyahudikan” - which means to treat someone like a Jew - is defined in the dictionary as to “treat someone pretty bad”!!! No love lost for the Jews here. I wonder if George Soros - who was in Indonesia last week - knows that?
Zakat. Money which is given to the poor. Does a lot to lessen feelings of guilt.


  1. "Bule. Used by low class Indonesians (generally) to describe white skinned westerners. African Americans and British Asians get to be called “turis” instead."

    Correction: All Indonesians, regardless of social class, call white people "bule".

  2. Gecko is actually called "cicak" here in indonesia.


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