Thursday, March 28, 2013

Malay Loanwords

Recently, we've looked at some great words that English has borrowed from African languages, Czech, and Hawaiian. Today it's time to look at loanwords from Malay, an Austronesian macrolanguage whose varieties are spoken in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, and Brunei.

Amok - When someone is completely out of control, we sometimes say they've "run amok". It comes from the Malay word amuk which means "attacking furiously".

The Palm Cockatoo is native to Australia.
Bamboo - It is thought that this popular plant gets its name from the Malay term samambu. It later became bambu in Portuguese and bamboe in Dutch before its arrival into the English lexicon.

Cockatoo - These distinctive birds with a flashy crest on their head get their name from the Malay word kakatua and are closely related to parrots.

Compound - This word, when used in reference to an enclosed group of buildings, comes from the Malay term kampong, meaning "village".

Cootie - This childish term came to English from kutu, the Malay word for "lice". It was first used in the English language by British soldiers during World War I who used it as slang for the nasty insects. Eventually, the term lost its meaning and simply became a term for an imaginary disease that children attribute to friends who are "different", often of the opposite gender. Luckily, cooties can be "cured" with the "cootie shot", a rhyme combined with tracing circles and dots on the "infected" child's arm.

He's just hanging out, eating a coconut.
Gecko - These awesome chirping lizards get their name from the Malay term gekoq, which is supposedly a good imitation of its natural cry.

Orangutan - These hairy tree-dwelling apes get their name from the Malay words orang ("person") and utan ("forest"), combined to mean "person of forest". The term was originally used in reference to members of indigenous forest tribes on the Sunda Islands in Southeast Asia, but some silly Europeans misunderstood the Malaysian people and assumed they were speaking about the apes that also resided there.

Satay/Sate - Who doesn't like grilled meat on a stick? These skewers with spicy sauce are a typical Malaysian dish known as satai in their native language.

If there are any we've missed, feel free to put them in the comments below. Just make sure you include a definition!