Skip to content

The Adultery of KIPIDAP

August 3, 2015


When I first encountered the trending expression KIPIDAP (an adulterated Malaysian version of an English phrase KEEP IT UP), I was annoyed and enraged. The later emergence of DONGIBAP (DON’T GIVE UP) made things worse. I was even aghast at the casual use of these horribly spelled phrases among some English teachers in their so-called “urban” writing. I mean, as an English lecturer myself and also as a phonetic researcher who appreciates words, sounds, spellings and their accuracy, I found KIPIDAP and DONGIBAB extremely distasteful and detrimental (please don’t kill me yet, the Kulup fans!).

Now, my argument is purely academic and educational; as a second language learner and teacher, I firmly believe that English should be learned and taught from its original and pure sources, not from some distorted or fabricated forms most netizens use these days in their virtual interactions. This is more alarming for younger English language learners who should be adequately exposed to more acceptable and supportive learning environments. I can already foresee that phonics instructors might be facing a hard time in the future if the KIPIDAP culture persists; the phoneme/grapheme equilibrium would potentially go haywire (I would one day be flabbergasted if DONGIBAP appears in my daughter’s writing!).

Nevertheless, when I think of it again, I realize that there are a lot of interesting layers and idiosyncrasies beyond the spelling disaster and the hashtag addiction in the social media. From a sociolinguistic point of view, this linguistic phenomenon is something that no one can resist; it is real, natural and acceptable especially in a society in which English is used as a second language, like in the Malaysian community. In fact, thousands of English words and phrases have been successfully localized, which is the result of systematic orthographic/phonological transfer from English to Malay. As many of you are already aware, here are some examples of English words and phrases that have been transformed and “bastardized” into the Colloquial Malay lexicon:

Action = Eksyen
Alright = Orait
Artist = Retis
Awesome = Ohsem
Babe = Beb
Budget = Bajet
Brother = Brader
Cancel = Kensel
Chance = Can
Colour = Kaler
Common = Koman
Don’t Know = Donno
Famous = Femes
Friend = Fren
Glamour = Glemer
Go astern = Gostan
Gorgeous = Gojes
Government = Gomen
Guarantee = Gerenti
Handphone = Henfon
Handsome = Hensem
I say = Aisey
Jacket = Jeket
Jealous = Jeles
Oversea = Obersi
Tension = Tensen
Thanks = Tengs
Relax = Rilek
Respect = Respek
Steam = Stim
Terror = Terer
You all = Uolls

As a Kelantanese, I have also observed that there is a classic phonetic trading relationship between English and Kelantan Malay, leading to many pidginized cute-sounding terms. These are some of the words in English that have long made it to the spoken dictionary of Kelantan Malay (phonetic transcriptions for Kelantan Malay words are provided in slashes):

Big Work = Bek woh /bɛʔwɔh/
Boat = Bok /boʔ/
Book = Buk /buʔ/
Bottle = Boto /bɔtɔ/
Cash = Keh /kɛh/
Charge = Cah /tʃʌh/
Chocolate = Coklak /tʃɔʔlʌʔ/
Cigarette = Segeret /səɡəɣeʔ/
Colour = Kala /kʌlʌ/
Corner = Kona /kɔnʌ/
Double = Daba /dʌbʌ/
Handle = Henda /hɛndʌ/
Line = Laing /lʌiŋ/
Manager = Meneja /mənɛdʒʌ/
Mail = Mae /mɛ/
Meter = Meta /mɛtʌ/
Motorcycle = Motosika /mɔtosikʌ/
Office = Opih /ɔpih/
Plug = Plak /plʌʔ/
Post office = Poh opih /poh ɔpih/
Private = Prebek /prɛbɛʔ/
Reserve = Rizak /rizʌʔ/
Roundabout = Raun embak /rʌuŋ əmbʌʔ/
Screw driver = Skru dreba /skru drɛbʌ/
Signboard = Saing bok /sʌiŋ bɔʔ/
Skirt = Skok /skɔʔ/
Slipper = Slipa /slipʌ/
Smart = Smak /smʌʔ/
Spanner = Spana /spʌnʌ/
Start = Stak /stʌʔ/
Steering = Stereng /stɛreŋ/
Straight = Strek /streʔ/
Time = Taing /tʌiŋ/

Yes, linguistic transfer is a reality than has certainly “tarnished” the holiness of the English language. Yet, it has also added many colours and spices in the Malay language and in our life as social beings. Quite often, these words and expressions have been part of popular cultures among our community, serving as lighthearted jokes and amusing puns to language lovers and dialect enthusiasts. I fully acknowledge this fact, and this current KIPIDAP-DONGIBAP frenzy has definitely succeeded in making everyone’s social life more cheerful and, to certain extent, more efficient.

So, here is my conclusion: I’m neither supporting for nor rebelling against the KIPIDAP affairs. What I’m trying to point out here is that, while we can enjoy the digital trending that many popular social media can offer, I hope younger generations can take time to learn and appreciate the English language from its accurate forms. New and innovative English teachers should not take this situation for granted; they should sometimes return to the old grammarian textbooks while employing the communicative language teaching method using authentic real-life DONGIBAP materials. More importantly, keep learning and improving English and, yes, KEEP IT UP and DON’T GIVE UP!

13 Comments leave one →
  1. Aimee permalink
    August 3, 2015 11:42 am

    As for me, it’s the fact that there are three words crammed into one lump of horrible spelling error that just ticked me off. I honestly hope that this stops here and there will be no other multiple-word cramming spelling errors such as these two in the future.


    • August 3, 2015 12:04 pm

      Let’s start with proper education, Aimee. This will put things in order. We don’t build a fence among angry less-educated cows.


      • Aimee permalink
        August 3, 2015 10:35 pm

        Proper education is key, no doubt about that.

        It is also a matter of volume; how much louder can we make proper education sound to reach the masses. This will heavily depend on how attractive we can make proper education appear to them because apparently, unless something is deemed ‘cool’, it’ll die down sooner than we might want it to.

        Unfortunately, right or wrong doesn’t seem to matter that much anymore.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Anonymous permalink
    August 3, 2015 2:04 pm

    I was driving and i saw a a sign on a bus saying “BAS CATAR”. It took me quite a long while before realizing that it was “Charter Bus”. As much as I am dumbfounded, I guess in another perspective, it gets the message through. Its a start. Yes. And I agree on “More importantly, keep learning and improving English.”


  3. Albakry Salehuddin permalink
    August 3, 2015 11:43 pm

    It’s been going on since my grandfather’s time, the one I remember the most is grumbling, which basically means “grind valve”, something a mechanic would do as part of a top overhaul work on an engine.
    But at least that word was created to fill in gaps which we don’t have in Malay.
    It irks me we people do it to sound cool, replacing words that we already have.
    The worst one to me is “risepsi” or “reception”. What’s the deal with that? What happen to “majlis bersanding”?
    Another one is using English saying and translating it to Malay, like the one usually used by TV3, “diberi lampu hijau”.
    Wow so awesome… Hipsterism at its best…


    • Albakry Salehuddin permalink
      August 3, 2015 11:45 pm

      Sorry, not grumbling but “grenbal”


      • August 4, 2015 9:38 am

        GRENBAL. Interesting phonological transfer! I agree with your points, Bakry. Each language is beautiful and we should appreciate them as they are. Thanks for your much-appreciated comment.


  4. August 6, 2015 9:53 pm

    I enjoyed reading this. You made me think of a lesson I did with some adult business English students (I’m based in Mexico right now). One student brought in a Blackberry chat he was involved in with some native English speakers from his company’s home office – they were using some mighty strange “urban writing” in their conversation, and my student had no idea what it meant. (Neither did I – I had to Google the stuff to figure it out) but we ended up turning that into a fascinating lesson.
    We talked about how language is a living and growing entity. Words change over time. Words die off, some are added – like the classic ‘Google’ as a verb – but I also took the time to try and defend the language. The message we agreed upon in class was this: just because you see it being used by a ‘native speaker’ doesn’t always make it proper English.

    Take the time to learn what the ‘urban writing’ means, use it so you ‘fit’ with the conversation, but also don’t be afraid to use the proper forms too. Someone who cares (maybe a boss, a CEO, a manager) is likely watching, and if they see you using English correctly, well – that can make a big difference to your career.

    What do you think?

    Liked by 1 person

    • August 7, 2015 9:06 pm

      Thank you for your much-appreciated comment. I enjoyed reading it. I think we are on the same page. I mean, I do agree that language is evolving and we the linguists should be able to describe this development constructively, rather than prescribe it in a rigid way. But then, don’t forget the root of these fancy urban terms. That way, we can enjoy both worlds and make our life more enriching and more fun! Thanks again for dropping by.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Anonymous permalink
    November 9, 2015 1:30 pm

    is ‘tubek’ ‘to go back’?


Leave a Reply to Hilmi Hamzah Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: