Contributed and posted by ‘The Indonesian Way’, a textbook for the Indonesian language by George Quinn and Uli Kozok.

It is important to bear a couple of points in mind as you study the parts of the body. First, Similarly, where we have “leg” and “foot”, Indonesian sees this limb as a single entity too and calls the whole of it kaki. And the term jari does for both “fingers” and “toes”, although if we absolutely have to distinguish between the two things we can say jari tangan and jari kaki. On the other hand, in English we have the word “hair” which serves to refer to hair on any part of the body. But in Indonesian a careful distinction is made between hair on the head (rambut) and hair on the rest of the body (bulu).

Second, like English, Indonesian has a number of euphemistic terms to refer to “sensitive” or “taboo” parts of the body. A couple are given here (kemaluan and buah dada) because, although there are parallel non-euphemisitc or “crass” terms, it is the euphemisms that are most commonly heard in public, polite, everyday conversation.

It’s very important to practice  on the “nice” words for parts of the body. Like English, Indonesian has many words for parts of the body that are more earthy than the terms usually used in public, polite society. For example, instead of buah dada (breasts) you can say tetek (tits). Instead of kemaluan (the genitals, the “private parts”) you can say kontol or titit (cock) and nonok or memek (cunt). Because of the sensitivities surrounding terms for the genitalia people (especially the socially nervous middle class) often use the less “loaded”, more clinical, Latin terms penis and vagina. Until you have developed a reliable feel for the appropriate social context in which “crude” terms can be used, it is probably best to stick to polite euphemisms like buah dada and kemaluan. (Buah dada means literally “fruit of the chest”. Malu means something like “ashamed” or “embarrassed” or “demurely modest”, so literally kemaluan is the “place of embarrassment” or “place of demure modesty”.)

By the way, in the Javanese language a special, compulsory vocabulary exists for referring to other people’s bodies. You refer to your own eyes as your mripat but to someone else’s as their tingal or sotya. The word mata also exists in Javanese but it is used only for referring to the eyes of animals, not human beings. So when Javanese people are speaking in Indonesian and have to use the Indonesian word mata to refer to another person’s eyes, some feel uncomfortable about it.

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