It’s surprising to hear the meanings of words when translated into other languages like English, Filipino or Bahasa Indonesia. Some would have you roaring out in riotous laughter while others would have you wondering how you’ll navigate the linguistic landscape without sounding prudish and, well, offensive. Take mangkok, which, in both Filipino and Bahasa Indonesia, means a small bowl. But ask for mangkok from a Japanese and the reaction might range from shock to a smack on the face. A colleague who lived in Japan for two years told me that it refers to the woman’s vagina.  The leap from kitchenware to human anatomy is quite mind-boggling; I was caught between letting out a guffaw and overcoming the astonishment.

Another word that would create quite a stir would be titi. It refers to the penis in Filipino while it’s a common name – a common proper noun – in Bahasa Indonesia. Believe you me, it’ll be an interesting mixture of snickers and outrage if you introduce the guest speaker of a conference as Dr. Titi.

Air is a little tricky – nothing racy in the meaning. At first glance, one would probably think of the English word, of the air that people breathe until you come face-to-face with the Indonesian language. It’s not pronounced as air but a-ir and refers to water; the complete phrase would be air putih, which roughly translates to white water. A grin crossed my face when I learned the nuances of the word. Similarly, payong, or umbrella, was a harmless word – no sexual innuendoes in the translation – in both Filipino and Bahasa Indonesia. There’s just the difference in spelling – it’s o in Filipino and u in Bahasa Indonesia.

But nothing prepared me for this word – the meaning is far divorced from the known image of the word! Adidas, the shoe brand, in the Philippines has acquired a different meaning but there’s still that slim relation to feet. Picture a plate of several pairs of grilled talons that were marinated in calamansi (lime), spices and brown sugar several hours before grilling, and which are usually ingested in between swigs of beer. The association is very obvious – the three talons are clearly representative of the famed three stripes of Adidas.

Adidas in the Indonesian language context has a more hard-hitting impact. If you’re spoiling for a fight or want to sever friendly ties then, by all means, challenge your colleagues or friends’ funambulism and call them adidas, or a moron.

After hearing that intriguing translation from a friend I wondered at how Nike or New Balance would be redefined.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by aoisoba on July 28, 2010 at 7:35 am

    don’t forget betamax!


  2. Posted by Fistri on August 1, 2010 at 4:27 am

    adidas? really? my cousin who works there never got any snide remarks on it though..hmm..need to ck with him on tt


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