Once you’ve mastered, or at least kind of know, Malay words and basic phrases, you can spruce up your conversation by adding in some sayings. There are hundreds of Malay expressions and you’ll take a lifetime to learn them all. So, for this part of the phrasebook series, we’ll look at two types: sayings (peribahasa) and idioms (simpulan bahasa).
In a broader sense, sayings can also include similes and metaphors. An example of a peribahasa is the ever popular, sikit-sikit, lama-lama jadi bukit. Directly translated, this becomes ‘little by little, eventually it becomes a hill’. This peribahasa basically means ‘slowly but surely’, and that can be deduced once you know what the words mean. One instance this saying can be used is to encourage saving money – little by little, you’ll eventually ammas a fortune. Sikit-sikit, lama-lama jadi bukit.
Many sayings work in the same way, a little lesson in a sentence or a metaphor to emphasise something. One thing to note is that a peribahasa has to be a full sentence. You’ll find some common and not so common peribahasa in the table below that, if used well, will surely impress your local friends.
Where possible, I have also included an English equivalent of the peribahasa.
|Bahasa Melayu sayings||Meaning||English equivalent|
|Katak di bawah tempurung||Someone who doesn't know what's happening around them||Living under a rock|
|Bagai kera menjadi monyet||No difference between two people|
|Bagai kera mendapat bunga||Doesn't know the value of things|
|Bagai aur dengan tebing||Working together for mutual benefit|
|Bagai mencurah air ke daun keladi||Advice or suggestions are ignored||Talking to a wall / falling on deaf ears|
|Genggam bara api, biar sampai menjadi arang||When doing something, see it through to the end||In for a penny, in for a pound / go the whole hog|
|Melentur buluh biarlah dari rebungnya||Educate children when they are young||Strike while the iron is hot|
|Duduk sama rendah, berdiri sama tinggi||Two people have the same social status|
|Berat sama dipikul, ringan sama dijinjing||Working together through tough and eay times||A trouble shared is a trouble halved|
|Kacang lupakan kulit||A person who forgot their roots or where they come from|
|Masuk kandang kambing mengembek, masuk kandang kerbau menguak||Follow the laws and culture of where you are||When in Rome, do as the Romans do|
|Sedikit-dikit lama-lama jadi bukit||Slowly but surely||slowly but surely|
|Bak cendawan tumbuh selepas hujan||Too many things at one time||Like mushrooms after rain|
|Sediakan payung sebelum hujan||Be prepared|
|Sebab nila setitik, rosak susu sebelanga||Because of one persons bad behaviour, the whole community gets a bad name||One bad apple spoils the lot|
- Bagai and bak translates to ‘like’ in this case, so the phrases that start with bagai are specifically similes.
- These expressions can be used in any sentence in the same way you would in English.
- It’s helpful to remember that most people don’t use metaphors and sayings in BM conversations as often as in English conversations. Expressions are considered a little more formal and literary.
Simpulan Bahasa (Idioms)
Like idioms in English, simpulan bahasa are two to three words that, when put together, mean something else. One clear example is banyak mulut. When directly translated, it means ‘many mouths’, but the actual meaning of the phrase is ‘talkative’.
I’ve included the direct English translations of BM simpulan bahasa just for a bit of fun.
|BM phrases||Meaning||Direct English translation|
|Ada angin||Mood swings||Got wind|
|Anak buah||Niece / nephew||Fruit child|
|Batu api||Agitator||Stone fire|
|Rendah hati||Humble||Low heart|
|Tangan kosong||Disappointed||Empty hand|
|Lintah darat||Usurer||Land leech|
|Gaji buta||Being paid for not doing work||Blind pay|
|Harga diri||Self esteem||Self worth|
|Durian runtuh||Unexpected good luck||Falling durian|
|Cakar ayam||Very bad writing, illegible||Chicken scratch|
|Hidung tinggi||Snobbish||High nose|
|Lidah bercabang||Someone whose story keeps changing and cannot be trusted||Forked tongue|
|Buaya darat||Playboy||Land crocodile|
- Simpulan bahasa is used more often in daily conversations compared to peribahasa, some more common than others.
If you spot a mistake, please let us know in the comments. And if you happen to know any English equivalents that we’ve not managed to match, do let us know!
Also, if you need any clarification, leave a comment down below and we’ll try out best to help you unravel the mysteries of BM. Check out the entire series of English to BM Phrasebooks here.
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