Jelak, Manja And More Irreplaceable Malaysian Words We Can't Live Without

Here at SAYS, we are proud of our rojak language, so proud that we feel we must showcase why it is hard to have a conversation in English without subconsciously creeping in some Malay words.

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1. Jelak or muak


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The word jelak or muak is used when you have had enough to eat of a particular food that is too rich, and another bite of it will make you feel like throwing up. This usually applies to food that you enjoy but is so rich that it becomes nauseating.

For example: "This durian cheesecake is so good, I cannot eat anymore, jelak-lah."

2. Geli


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Geli could be easily translated to ticklish, but this word covers more than just that. Geli is also used when you touch something funny, or see, hear, say something nauseatingly sweet that gives you goosebumps.

For example:
"Did you hear the conversation between the two love birds? It's so geli I feel like throwing up."

3. Manja


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There is no word like manja. No, it does not just mean acting cute. Manja refers to the childlike behaviour of a woman in order to be pampered by a man. It can also be used for pets attempting to gain a human's attention by doing adorable actions.

For example:
Guy with girlfriend: "My girlfriend is so manja, she gives me puppy dog eyes and pouts her lips every time she wants a hug."
Single friend: "Yeah you girlfriend is super manja. The way she puts on her baby voice whenever she wants something from you is so geli.

4. Mengada-ada


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Don't be flattered when someone calls you mengada-ada, it usually implies annoyance. A person who mengada-ada is one who creates and exaggerates a situation to get people's attention. It could also be used at a person who makes up excuses and reasons, whether relevant or not, to get out of a situation. If a person says "jangan mengada-ada", they really mean "don't be such a baby, stop that annoying behaviour."

For example: "My colleague always mengada-ada with me, it is making me uncomfortable. Yesterday she came to my table and told me in a very manja voice that she needs help with watering the plants."

5. Terror

When Chuck Norris gives you a thumbs up, you now you are terror.

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Tell a Westerner or an Arab they are terror and they might get offended for being called a terrorist. But in Malaysia, terror does not mean something as fearful as a terrorist. Terror is a compliment used to describe someone that is really, really, really great at what they do.

For example: "Wah, did you see that triple-somersault-upside-down-over-the-moon-backflip!? No joke, that skateboarder is damn terror wei."

6. Rojak

A typical Malaysian ordering a Rojak drink.

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Rojak started out as a dish of mixed fruits with belacan sauce, but being Malaysians, of course we had to use food to describe people and things! Rojak means mixed, a potpourri of elements. Most affectionately used to describe Malaysia's diversity.

For example: "My English is no good, my malay also no good. But my rojak language is very terror!"

7. Atas

A very atas cat.

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Sure, you can translate atas as up. But Malaysians often use atas to describe a place or a person that is high class and out of their range.

For example: "He is very atas one la, he'll only go to atas places like Starbucks or French-sounding restaurants. You ask him to eat at a mamak?"

8. Boss


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In most countries, boss is used as a sign of respect to refer to your, well, boss. In Malaysia, boss is used as a sign of affection. Everyone and anyone could be your boss, your waiter (who will also call you boss), your friend whom you need a favour from, and of course, your boss who you actually like. Chances are, Malaysians do not call their boss who they despise boss.

For example: "Eh Boss, I've been waiting for you for half an hour already. Can we go eat now?"

9. Geram


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There are two types of geram, one good and the other bad.

The good geram is used when to describe that feeling you feel inside when you see something cute and adorable like a baby or a cat. For example: "OMG, this baby is soooooo cute, geram-lah! I just want to squeeze his chubby baby cheeks!"

The bad geram is used to express anger, annoyance and exasperation at a person or an incident. For example: "OMG, my neighbour is making me very geram! Stop parking in front of my front gate!"

10. Selamba

Mila Kunis is very selamba.

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Ahhhh, selamba, the perfect word to describe someone that is chilled out, relaxed, casual, does not have a care in the world, and so poker-faced that it seems like he or she does not give a damn about anything.

For example: "Selamba-je Jane ni, walking into the office at 10.30am in shorts, slippers and her tie-dye shirt."

11. Chun

Emma Watson is a chun chick.

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Chun could be the Malaysia way of saying "awesome". Chun can be used as a noun to describe beauty, a great event, and even an adjective to indicate your agreement.

For example: "The white-shirt girl is damn chun bro, go get her number."

12. Kantoi

This cat kantoi opening a cupboard it was not supposed to.

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Kantoi* is the 6-character word used to describe a person being caught red-handed. Note that you NEVER want to be kantoi.

For example: "Kantoi! My girlfriend found out that I cancelled our date night to play futsal with you guys. What am I going to do!?"

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