Cursing Abroad: Indonesian Insults To Round Out Your Studies

You don’t really know Indonesian until you know how to call someone tacky.
ostriches having a confrontation with indonesian insults

Regardless of whether you’re here to make friends or to get the last word in, knowing how to recognize Indonesian insults when you hear them is never a bad idea. Who doesn’t want to know when someone’s taking a shot at them in public? Also, who wouldn’t want to know how to fight back, at least in theory?

Of course, you might choose the path of the peaceful warrior instead and try to engage the person who’s ribbing you in a conversation about their feelings. But let’s be real: most of us are interested in learning either how to avoid being accidentally rude or how to get really good at being purposefully rude.

A couple of general notes about Indonesian insults: while we joke about being rude, rudeness is actually pretty out of place in Indonesian culture. You wouldn’t want to cause a scene, either. As a whole, you should also probably just stay away from bringing up a sensitive topic like religion altogether, especially as a cultural outsider.

Anyway, here are some funny words.

Alay — You don’t always need an overwrought phrase or a scandalous obscenity to absolutely annihilate someone. Sometimes, simply calling them “tacky” will do. This is a term that arose fairly recently in youth culture. It’s thought to come from the phrase anak layangan, or “kite kid,” which is kind of a classist dig at people who fly kites for cheap entertainment. Alay also frequently refers to people who use convoluted t3xt1nG slang (l1ke th1s).

Anjing — It might not seem like a big deal to call someone a “dog,” but in Indonesian, this is actually a pretty serious burn.

Bangsat — If you want to call someone a bastard or son of a bitch — but with a connotation of “vermin” or “flea” — this is your go-to word.

Jomblo — You’re not just referring to someone’s relationship status when you accuse them of being “single,” but implying that they’re incapable of finding love. Ouch.

Kambing dibedakin — Why call someone “two-faced” when you can accuse them of being a goat in makeup?

Mata keranjang — Depending on who you ask, this could imply anything from a Casanova to a pervert. This phrase literally translates to “eye basket” — perhaps because of their insatiable gaze.

Matamu — Literally? With this word you’re just saying “your eyes.” But when used in an insulting manner, the implication is essentially “are you blind?” This is especially true in Javanese culture, where simply referring to a body part (like someone’s head or mouth) can be taken as an insult.

Mengapa kau begitu? — This phrase is just asking, “Why are you like this?” Sometimes, a burn burns worse when it’s not even entirely spelled out.

Muka jamban — When you really don’t like someone, there’s always “toilet face.”

Pakai otak, bukan pakai dengkul — This literally translates to something along the lines of “use the brain, not the knee.” The idea is that the person you’re talking to doesn’t have intelligence or common sense that exceeds the height of their knees.

Panjat sosial — For when you just can’t abide someone else’s disingenuous, status-seeking behavior, call them a “social climber” to make sure they know that you know that they’re trying way too hard.

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