Explaining Common and Obscure Indonesian Street Slang

Posted on 14 November, 2020

Written by Fahry Slatter – AIYA’s Handsome Blog Editor
Translated by Gabriella Pasya – AIYA National Translator who has done an aesome job translating, click here

“Jomblo”

“Jadian”

“Nembak”

“Buaya darat”

If you want to find the meaning of a word, you’d normally go to a dictionary or thesaurus and you look up the word. But today, we’ll be looking at words that you won’t find (and probably will never find) in official Indonesian dictionaries or Thesauri: teenage slang words. Such versatile words if used in the right (or wrong) context can evoke all sorts of feelings and emotions, from excitement to lust, to anger and even sorrow. 

You might be tickled pink if someone came up to you and said “hey kamu Buaya darat”, patting yourself on the back thinking you’re some awesome, foreign hot-shot, when as a matter of fact you’re being labelled something negative. 

So, I have provided an explanation. Why? To spare you the unnecessary embarrassment, make it a little less awkward and minimize people’s laughter when they find you on instagram/tinder with the inappropriate captions.

– Jomblo (Jom-blow)-

Jomblo is a term with negative connotations, coined by hardcore Sundanese teenagers who think it’s cool to smoke cigarettes and walk around with a skateboard after school. It is used to describe a person that is single.

It has become a popular phrase, a complaint, a claim, an insult and a unique term that is used exclusively in the Indonesian slang dictionary. It appears to have gained popularity sometime in early 2010s with the rise of texting and smartphones. Its roots come from another word used to describe an elderly woman who is unmarried. In English, this word is spinster. It has now evolved into meaning, any person that is single or to describe a person that is unable to obtain a partner. 

Detractors of Jomblo claim that it’s exploitative, antagonistic and goes against the social harmony of being friendly to one another.

Defenders of Jomblo say it’s fun, it’s part of the community and an element of the Indonesian language that they are free to use without censorship. 

Recently, more Indonesians are unopposed with being single and do not see why there should be any pressure to be in a relationship quickly.

-Jadian (Ja-dee-aan)-

The complete opposite of Jomblo, Jadian is a term used if things did go right (assuming that you wanted to be in a relationship in the first place). Literally translated, the word means “happening” or “it’s happening”, to say that “it’s happening, these two people are finally engaged”. Simply put, it means to start dating someone. 

But don’t be deceived. Jadian can also be used to insult and tease, such as two people that are very close to each other non romantically, but their friends want to give the implication that they are together. For example, it can be used to tease two males who are really just close friends, and imply that they are in a homoerotic relationship.

“Ciee Ijul jadian sama Udin yaaa?”

Or a male and female whom their friends think would make a good couple, but aren’t actually together. 

“Kok kalian belum jadian sih?”

The term isn’t as strong as “jomblo”, it is normally perceived as just playful banter rather than a term used to ridicule someone. 

-Nembak (Nem-baak)-

I have described a word that means to be single, and to be in a relationship, now is a term to describe the process of obtaining a partner. The term “nembak” is referencing obscure street slang for expressing one’s feeling towards a person that they fond/admire. Literally translated it means to shoot. Colloquially translated, it means to ask someone to be their partner. Traditionally, the term was used primarily for males who want to ask a female crush to be their girlfriend. However, the term now is widely used by both genders. Recently, there has been an influx of girls asking guys first as opposed to the former. 

The term nembak usually provokes all sorts of emotions, primarily curiosity. Just stating this word to a friend could result in a bombardment of questions (who is he going to nembak?), or triumph (good luck you’re going to nembak that girl). The way you pronounce this term is to say the bak part as if to say “Bach” such as Sebastian Bach, except with 2 As.

“Be my boyfriend” 3 words that a man will probably never hear in his lifetime.

A favourite Indonesian pastime is to talk and share each other’s nembak stories. Such stories may include comical attempts, failures and successes. 

-Gabut (Ga-boot)-

Gabut was first coined by university students who have nothing to do in class and/or to be very bored. Initially, it was used exclusively by university students, but has expanded to describe anyone that is bored, let that be in school, at the office, or at home. In this term, the user is making a claim that they are bored and will normally follow up with an invitation to go out or to come over, depending on the situation. 

John: Hey bro, what are you doing? Bro lagi ngapain?

Michael: I’m gabut in class. Come here lol. Gue lagi gabut banget ni di kelas, sini dong.

The term is mysterious as no one knows its origins. The word does not bear resemblance or even sound remotely close to the Indonesian word for bored, bosan. At first thought, it may sound like gabut is a contraction, because most Indonesian words are shortened e.g. PilPres, MoNas, etc. However, the truth and honest answer is that no one knows, and if someone claims that they know, they are most likely lying. 

Yaelah (Ya-EL-ah)

Definition: Oh my god (disappointment)

Yaelah is a negative phrase used to express a person’s disappointment. It is the embodiment of rolling your eyes up at discontent. This term is normally used to express one’s disappointment at someone that is giving excuses for not doing something. Such a simple, 3 simile word is strangely very versatile.

Jenni: Shelly didn’t want to go on our run today because it’s too hot outside

Nurul: Yaelah

However, be cautious on how you use this word, as it can be perceived to be very rude when directed right at the person you’re disappointed with. Much like the example, the term is best used when the person you’re angry towards is not present. 

There you have it. Now, when someone bring these words up, you can intellectually respond and provide the appropriate response. What we can learn from this is that communication is complicated. We have to be careful what words we use and when we use these words, because context matters. A word that can be antagonistic can sometimes be playful, and a word that originally has a positive meaning, can be perceived as negative if used incorrectly.