5 untranslatable Indonesian words

As a native speaker you will come across a situation where you know the word in your mother tongue but you can’t find the exact word for it in another language. Sure, there are a few possible words but they simply just don’t feel the same as the original one.

The following are just some of the Indonesian words and phrases that, I find, don’t feel quite the same when you translate them into English. Some of these words are proper ones that you could find in the dictionary but a few are words that you’d come across in day to day conversations.


If you google the word ‘jayus’ you’ll find a few definitions filed under a list of other untranslatable words from around the globe. As an Indonesian and someone who speaks the language daily, I agree with most of what they put online. Jayus does mean laughing at the lack hilarity of a joke.


Garing actually means crunchy in English. However, in day to day conversations, the word Garing is an Indonesian colloquial term that refers to a person who likes to tell jokes that are actually far from funny.


In The Great Dictionary of the Indonesian Language or simply known as KBBI (Kamus Besar Bahasa Indonesia) in Indonesian, the word bengong means ‘to gaze emptily in silence as if you’ve lost your mind.’ The translation of the official definition makes it sound like it’s a symptom of mental illness but bengong is simply when you’re staring emptily at the distance or when you currently have nothing to do.

Gemas or gemes

Refering to the Great Dictionary of the Indonesian Language again, Gemes or gemas is ‘a mix feelings of intense love and hate’. Another way to describe the feeling of gemas or gemes is when you see something or someone that is so adorable and cute that you can’t help but want to squish them. That intense feeling you feel at that moment is what gemas or gemes is.

Masuk angin

Masuk in English is enter or entry and angin is wind. Masuk angin can’t be define just by putting those two literal translations together because, first of all, it doesn’t make sense and secondly, it means an entirely different thing. Masuk angin is a situation where you feel bloated and gassy but not because of something you eat. The popular belief in Indonesia is you get masuk angin because you stay up late or you didn’t eat enough food that day or because the weather is too windy and cold.

How about in your language? Have you come across any untranslatable words?

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