Indo-Lesson 4: Defining "alay", "lebay" and other Indonesian argots

It has been more than two years since I last wrote a post on Indonesian language lessons. Today I'm reviving it. I'll be having it on occassions, so you could expect to read on Indonesian language every once in a while.

What is "alay"?

Today I will discuss four new Indonesian argots that has sprung up for the last eight years in Indonesia. I doubt it that these four words would ever appear in the Kamus Besar Bahasa Indonesia or any Indonesian-English dictionaries.

For the Indonesian diaspora abroad (who either live among expatriate communities or have naturalised themselves into a citizen of their new country), this could also act as a refresher of what new terms are there in Indonesian.

Before I start, I would like to note that all these four Indonesian words had their birth in Jakarta (mostly among Jakartan youths), before they spread throughout the country through the influence of soap operas or internet.

adj. has the quality of being corny or not funny, usu. refers to a joke

I honestly could not recall when it first sprung, but I remember using the word as early as primary school.

Hence it would be around year 2000-2001.

Example sentence:

Jayus banget sih lo (least formal usage)
Tidak lucu sekali anda (most formal usage)
How corny you are (definition in English)

n. female prostitute

When I was a part of the Indonesian diaspora in Singapore, we spoke Indonesian everyday, but without any influence of new street talks that appeared in Jakarta. I myself came to knew this word after I asked a girl friend I just met when I got back from Singapore in year 2007.

I knew, I should've asked somebody else, that was too bloody naïve of me...haha.

Hence I could recall exactly when this word first appeared: Year 2006.

I don't think that I would need an example sentence for this one (just figure it out yourself), but one thing for sure, this vulgarity is not a euphemism. It carries a softer connotation than its synonym perek, but a harder one than its standard Indonesian term pelacur. For a proper euphemism, it would be PSK or Pekerja Seks Komersial.

adj. has the quality of being excessive, usu. refers to a story, personality or personal appearance

This word first sprung around year 2007 or 2008. Can either refer to a drama queen, someone who is constantly jayus, or anyone else who has the habit of taking things to an excessive effect. Usually used in a humourous context.

Example sentence:

Gue enggak pernah ketemu orang selebay lo (least formal usage)
Aku tidak pernah ketemu orang yang terlalu berlebihan seperti kamu (most formal usage)
I've never met anyone as excessive as you are (definition in English)

adj. describes the kind language that is too informal that is disdained by even most Indonesians nowadays, usu. refers to written language;
n. a person with shabby appearance and of uneducated impression, mostly refers to male who fits the description

This word first appeared in year 2008.

Now it is a well-known fact that Indonesians use slangs much more than speakers of other languages. For example, there are tons of variants of how Indonesians say "you" in daily basis. While in English it's either "You" or "U" in SMS language; Indonesians can say anda, kamu, lo, elo, lu, elu, mu and each regions also carry a different word while they mix it with the standard Indonesian (such as ngana in Northern Sulawesi or ci in Bali).

So what is defined as an alay language? It usually refers to the daily Indonesian slangs that have deformed into such a way that even most Indonesians themselves could not bear reading.

Back to the word "you", which in the most common occurence is used as kamu. In an acceptable form, it can only be contracted into kmu or km.

But writers of alay language does not care about contraction. They only want to "embellish" their language by carrying it to the excess. From kamu, they deform it into kmoh or kmuh or cmo.

Barely understandable, eh?

Now if that does not seem bad enough to you, wait till it gets combined together with other similarly deformed words within a sentence.

The acceptable slang for sayang would be a contracted one, such as syg or syng.

But an alay never dies. They embellish it into...guess what? Chayank.

Hence because of those alays, there are now "castes" in Indonesian language, with them being on the bottom caste:

ak chayank bgt dech ma kmoh (alay version)
ak syg bgt dh ma km (ordinary SMS usage)
aku sayang banget deh sama kamu (standard everyday usage)
aku sayang sekali padamu (most formal usage)
I really love you (definition in English)

An alay sentence does not even has to be exactly the same sentence like the one above. For an excessively alay usage, it can go as far as the alay creativity goes, sometimes with a mixture between small and large fonts:

aK chAyank bangGetz dech ama kmohh!
ak Synk bgtz dech ma kMuww!
etc. etc. The list goes on...

Pardon me if those examples above may not be totally representative of an alay language, because they are examples that I had invented myself (despite me never having used such a lingo).

They should consider creating an Indonesian alay-ness contest, seeing how far those alays could go in making those so-called creative sentences.

Nowadays there has been a purge regarding an alay language in Facebook and Twitter, with people --young and old alike-- deleting their friends who regularly use alay terminologies when posting their status.

I reserve my comment on this ongoing purge.

For the second definition of alay as a noun, it refers to a person who does not appear well in public and/or does not communicate in a way of an educated urbanite. A slightly politer euphemism than kampungan, but not a good description to use notwithstanding.

Now what do I mean by "a person who does not appear well in public"? It is usually a combination of having a lanky appearance, dressed in shabby or gang clothes and having tattoes piercings like preman or other street vagabonds do.. Or it can also refer to a person whose body is of a sturdy built, yet constantly perspire and have unpleasant body odours.


That's all for today. I hope this post has enlightened you all (who might have come here after typing "define alay" in Google), and if you have any questions, feel free to post it here on the Comments section below.

celennis  – (7 April 2010 at 06:37)  

wakakakakkakakaka....rotf.... lol.... nice job for alay explanatio, btw saya menambahkan alay=anak layang2

Melody Violine  – (15 April 2011 at 05:45)  

nice article!
you should find out what "unyu" means, then :D

kansai2kansas  – (26 April 2011 at 09:39)  

Hell if i know. I haven't been to your country for the last 2 yrs. I think I'll pass the duty to you! :)

Zho_Ouzha  – (20 May 2011 at 12:27)  


It's just Indonesian ABG's Language ~

O, wait . . .
Do you know about ABG is ?

hahaaha XD

Too many confusing words, eh ?


JavaneseSugar  – (22 July 2011 at 05:20)  

Wow that was xtremely clear. N haha yea I did google "what is lebay", killed 3 birds w/ 1 stone (was as curious abt alay & jablay). I haven't been back to indo in 10 yrs, but had always tried to keep up w/ indo's current music, movies, gossips, lingos, w.e =D Thx anyways

Ruli Retno Mawarni  – (9 October 2016 at 02:03)  

Thank you for telling me how to explain lebay in english hahaha

dino setro  – (2 April 2017 at 18:44)  

You can't directly refer the word "jablay" to a lady prostitute. Jablay is actually an acronym for "jarang dibelai which is used to describe a person (especially female) who lacks of touch from a man. For example, a woman is called jablay when she is in a condition in which her husband/man rarely comes home to touch her.

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