Unlocking the Richness of Indonesian Idioms: A Fun Way to Learn the Language

Indonesian Idioms

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In the vibrant archipelago of Indonesia, language is not just a means of communication; it’s a cultural treasure trove waiting to be explored. One of the most fascinating aspects of the Indonesian language is its extensive collection of idioms and expressions. These linguistic gems add depth to your conversations and serve as a valuable tool for accelerating your language-learning journey.

What Are Indonesian Idioms?

Indonesian idioms, or “ungkapan bahasa” in the local tongue, are phrases or expressions that carry a figurative meaning beyond their literal interpretation. These idiomatic expressions are deeply rooted in Indonesian culture and history, making them essential to the language.

How Indonesian Idioms Are Used

Indonesian idioms are woven seamlessly into everyday conversations, literature, and folklore. They are used to express ideas, emotions, and experiences in a vivid and culturally significant way. Using idiomatic expressions allows you to connect with native speakers more deeply.

How Do Indonesian Idioms Work?

Understanding Indonesian idioms involves delving into the cultural context. These expressions can be literal, metaphorical, or even humorous. Learning them enhances your language skills and gives you insights into the Indonesian way of life.

The Benefits of Embracing Indonesian Idioms

  1. Cultural Insight: Indonesian idioms often draw from the country’s rich cultural heritage, giving learners a glimpse into the traditions, beliefs, and values of the Indonesian people.
  2. Enhanced Communication: Incorporating idiomatic expressions into your speech makes your conversations more engaging and relatable. It shows your appreciation for the language and its nuances.
  3. Memorable Learning: Idioms are memorable because they tell a story. Learning idioms can be a fun and effective way to remember vocabulary and grammar rules.
  4. Improved Communication: Using idioms can make your conversations more engaging and relatable, allowing you to connect with native speakers on a deeper level.

Examples of Indonesian Idioms

  1. “Buat bulu kuduk merinding” – Translates to “make the hair on the nape of the neck stand on end.” This idiom describes something spooky or chilling, like a spine-tingling ghost story.
  2. “Makan angin” – Translates to “eat the wind.” Indonesians use this expression to describe someone who loves to travel or wander.
  3. “Air liur menetes” – Directly translated as “saliva drips.” It’s used humorously to describe someone eagerly anticipating something, like waiting for food to be served.
  4. “Gajah di pelupuk mata tak tampak, kuman di seberang lautan terlihat” – This idiom means “an elephant in the eye doesn’t appear, but a germ across the ocean is visible.” It highlights how people often notice minor flaws in others while ignoring their major shortcomings.
  5. “Jatuh cinta” – Literally means “fall in love.” It’s used to describe the feeling of falling in love with someone.
  6. “Tangan besi” – Translates to “iron hand” and refers to someone who rules with an iron fist, symbolizing strict authority.
  7. “Kucing-kucingan” – This idiom means “playing cats” and is used when people are secretive or not upfront about something.
  8. “Gajah putih” – Literally means “white elephant” and refers to something that is expensive but serves no practical purpose.
  9. “Bertepuk sebelah tangan” – Translates to “clapping with one hand” and is used to describe unrequited love or one-sided efforts.
  10. “Pisang ambon” – This idiom means “Ambon banana”. It is used to describe someone who looks good on the outside but is not trustworthy.
  11. “Seperti katak di bawah tempurung” – Means “like a frog under a coconut shell” and describes someone who is narrow-minded or ignorant.
  12. “Tahu bulat” – Translates to “round tofu” and refers to someone who is stubborn and won’t change their mind.
  13. “Air susu dibalas air tuba” – This idiom means “milk is repaid with poison” and is used to describe ingratitude.
  14. “Buah simalakama” – Means “simalakama fruit” and refers to a situation where there’s no clear solution or a dilemma.
  15. “Lempar batu sembunyi tangan” – Translates to “throw a stone and hide your hand” and is used to describe someone who does something anonymously or deceitfully.
  16. “Sedang sibuk mencari belatung di atas kepala” – This idiom means “busy looking for maggots on top of one’s head” and describes someone preoccupied with trivial matters.
  17. “Buat sup daging tak berarti” – means “making meat soup is pointless” and is used to describe a futile or useless effort.
  18. “Seperti kucing dengan tikus” – This idiom means “like a cat with a mouse”. It describes a relationship where one person constantly pursues or pursues the other.
  19. “Bagai pinang dibelah dua” – Translates to “like a betel nut split in half” and is used to describe something equally attractive on both sides.
  20. “Buru-buru caci maki” – Means “hurrying to curse,” it’s used when someone is in a rush and doesn’t think before speaking.

These Indonesian idioms add depth and color to the language, providing unique insights into Indonesian culture and expressions.


Indonesian idioms are more than just linguistic quirks; they are windows into the soul of the Indonesian culture and language. By immersing yourself in the world of idiomatic expressions, you’ll become a more proficient speaker and gain a deeper understanding of the country and its people. So, don’t hesitate to explore the enchanting realm of Indonesian idioms on your journey to mastering this beautiful language. Happy learning!

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