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Travel Guides & Tips

7 Malaysian Slang Words You Must Know

So you’ve done all these: taken some cool shots at the Petronas Twin Towers, eaten almost everything you saw at Alor Street like nobody’s business, tried Durian for you believe that you’re not like any other tourists who are turned off by the smell, explored Taman Negara and witnessed the traditional lives of the Orang Asli, and explored the country’s unique flora and fauna. Okay, that’s great. However, you’ve not truly assimilated with the culture if you haven’t used a couple of Malaysian slang words! We’ve gathered 7 of the most popular  Malaysian slangs here as well as their definitions to help you make the most of your time in Malaysia.


Yum Cha at Mamak
AHMAD FAIZAL YAHYA/ Shutterstock.com

Malaysians love to drink and they love to do it in groups. The cantonese word, “Yum Cha” that directly translates to “drink tea”, is typically used not just by the Chinese community but the entire nation! Traditionally, the term refers to drinking Chinese tea and eating dim sum. This is still true in countries like Hong Kong. Today, most people use it as a term to invite someone to “hang out”, usually at mamak or hawker stalls. Otherwise, they’d use “Jom, minum!” instead.

Example of conversation:

Rajesh invites Ahmad to the mamak for a drink.

Rajesh: “Want to go yum cha?”

Ali: “Sure, let’s go!”

2. Tapau

Source: Shutterstock

Okay, so our moms always remind us not to waste our food, and for that reason Malaysians do it not just because they listen to Mom, but because it’s typically more economical to buy takeaway food than eating out. For this purpose, we use the word “Tapau”, which basically means “takeaway” food. Any restaurants you go would recognise the word, so don’t hesitate to use it. Even the fancy ones will understand you! It’s cool that almost everyone in Malaysia uses it as opposed to “takeaway”.

Example of conversation:

Marcia requests for a takeaway because she is unable to finish her meal.

Marcia: “I am running late. Can I tapau my Chicken Rice, please?”

Waiter: “OK, sure. No problem!”


Source: Shutterstock

You may have heard of this term if you had watched the Singaporean series “Phua Chu Kang” in which the characters (mainly Phua Chu Kang) frequently used it. The word “Abuden” or its spelling variation, “Abuthen” is widely used in Malaysia and Singapore used when someone states the obvious. It’s pretty much the Malaysian or Singaporean way of saying “duh!”. Hey, even the expats here use it! That’s a good sign of them blending in the local culture.

Example of conversation:

Mark calls Punitha on the house phone.

Mark: “Hey Punitha, are you at home?”

Punitha: “Abuthennnn!”


gracethang2 / Shutterstock.com

This is the best term to use if you want to flag a waiter at a mamak shop or a coffee shop. It can be difficult to get their attention if you were to say “excuse me” (not to mention awkward and too polite), so we advise you to wave and shout, “Boss!” followed by your food or drink order immediately. Many Malaysians also use it when ordering food by the roadside. Using “Boss” is also a good self-esteem boost for those working in the F&B industry. In East Malaysia, the term is also used as a sign of respect when greeting a much older person.

Example of conversation:

Lilian sits at a coffee shop and raises her hand as she calls for the waiter.

Lilian: “Boss!”

Waiter: “Coming!”

5. LAH

Source: Shutterstock

Of course, we didn’t forget the famous “lah”. Malaysians like to add “Lah” behind a word or sentence to complement it. Also, there’s a nice ring to it and it tends to make what you say sound more convincing. That’s because it is used to affirm a statement and carries a similar meaning as the Chinese expression. Using it correctly helps you sound like a local. Malaysians also love to use the term because it creates a sense of closeness and solidarity.

Example of conversation:

Bella asks Adi what time the programme ‘Crocodile Hunter’ will be showing today.

Bella: “Do you know what time is ‘Crocodile Hunter’ showing today?”

Adi: “10:00 p.m.”

Bella: “How do you know?”

Adi: “I know lah!”


Potong stim
Source: Shutterstock

This Malay term translates to “cut steam” and is used when a moment is ruined; sort of like calling someone a killjoy or party pooper. Imagine when you’re in the middle of watching the most important or exciting movie scene, and then someone interferes and blocks your view. That’s the kind of moment when a Malaysian would say “Potong steam lah!” along with a facepalm.


Source: Shutterstock

“Walao” and its variations are popularly used when someone is surprised, shocked or in disbelief. This would be the Malaysian replacement of “Oh my gosh!”. Malaysians typically use it when there are mega sales, cheap flight and hotel discounts on sale, whenever they get together at the mamak watching football, and so on. It’s also typically used to compliment one’s skills, talents or achievements – or if your friend does something stupid!

Example of conversation:

Shira and Kim are in  Mid Valley Megamall for shopping. Shira then notices a 70%  discount on Kim’s dream dress.

Shira: “Kim, isn’t that the dream you’ve always wanted to buy?”

Kim: “70% discount? Walao-eh!

Want to give these funny Malaysian slang words a shot? Fly to Malaysia with Traveloka today!

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