10 English Words Borrowed from Malay

Language is a dynamic and ever-evolving entity, shaped by cultural exchange and historical encounters. One fascinating aspect of language evolution is the borrowing of words from one language to another. In the case of English, a multitude of words have been borrowed from Malay, reflecting centuries of interaction between the two cultures. From culinary delights to nautical terms, let’s delve into the rich tapestry of English words with Malay origins.

Culinary Crossroads

Malay cuisine tantalises taste buds with its diverse flavours, and many of its culinary treasures have left an indelible mark on the English lexicon. Dive into the savoury world of “satay,” those irresistible grilled meat skewers drenched in peanut sauce, or savour the aromatic delights of “rendang,” a slow-cooked meat dish bursting with spices. Don’t forget the fiery kick of “sambal,” a spicy chili paste, or the fragrant allure of “nasi lemak,” a coconut milk-infused rice dish. These mouthwatering treats have made their way from Malay kitchens to global culinary tables, adding zest to the English vocabulary along the way.

Malay’s Maritime Legacy

Malay’s maritime heritage has left a lasting imprint on English nautical vocabulary, with words like “amok” and “junk” sailing into the linguistic seas. Originally denoting a frenzied attack, “amok” paints a vivid picture of historical Malay warriors. Meanwhile, “junk,” a traditional Chinese sailing vessel, traces its roots back to the Malay word “jong,” meaning “ship.” And let’s not forget “pontoon,” a floating structure with Malay origins, lending support to bridges and docks worldwide. Ahoy, matey! Malay’s maritime influence sets sail on the waves of language.

Malay’s Natural Wonders

Malaysia’s lush rainforests teem with unique flora and fauna, some of which have lent their names to the English lexicon. Sink your teeth into the “rambutan,” a tropical fruit named for its hairy exterior, or brace yourself for the pungent allure of the “durian,” known as the “king of fruits.” Meanwhile, the “orangutan,” or “person of the forest,” swings into the English language as a symbol of Southeast Asian biodiversity. With nature’s wonders at our fingertips, Malay’s influence on English blossoms in unexpected ways.

Malay’s Traditions in English Garb

Malay culture weaves a tapestry of customs and traditions, with some concepts finding their way into the English lexicon. Delve into the intricate artistry of “batik,” a traditional fabric dyeing technique celebrated worldwide. Meanwhile, “ketchup” adds tangy flavor to English cuisine, originally stemming from the Malay word “kecap” for fermented fish sauce. And let’s not forget the “sarong,” a versatile garment embraced by beachgoers everywhere. Malay’s cultural concepts dance gracefully into English, enriching our shared vocabulary with vibrant hues.



Originating from the Malay term “amuk,” this word has made its way into the English language to describe a frenzied and uncontrollable attack. With its roots in Malay culture, where it referred to a sudden outburst of violence, “amok” has become a vivid descriptor for extreme and unbridled aggression in English.

Usage of amok in a sentences

  • The assailant ran amok through the crowded marketplace, causing chaos and panic.
  • The soldiers opened fire as the enemy troops charged amok towards their position.



Hailing from the Malay word “mambu,” bamboo is a ubiquitous plant known for its versatility and strength. Used in various aspects of daily life, from construction to cuisine, bamboo’s influence extends far beyond its native habitats in Southeast Asia. Its adoption into English reflects its importance and widespread use across cultures.

Usage of bamboo in sentences

  • The villagers constructed sturdy huts using bamboo poles and leaves from the nearby forest.
  • Bamboo shoots are a popular ingredient in Asian cuisine, prized for their delicate flavor and crunchy texture.



This term refers to a traditional method of fabric dyeing that originated in Southeast Asia, particularly in Indonesia and Malaysia. The intricate patterns and vibrant colors of batik textiles have captivated people worldwide, earning them a place in the global fashion industry. With its origins deeply rooted in Malay culture, the word “batik” has become synonymous with intricate textile artistry.

Usage of batik in sentences

  • She wore a beautiful batik dress adorned with intricate patterns and vibrant colors.
  • The artisan spent hours meticulously hand-painting batik designs onto the fabric.



In Malay, “kampung” means village or community, and it is from this word that the English term “compound” is derived. Originally used to describe a group of buildings or structures within an enclosed area, “compound” has since expanded in meaning to encompass various contexts, including chemical compounds and complex organisational structures.

Usage of compooun in a sentence

  • The embassy was surrounded by a high-security compound, complete with guard towers and surveillance cameras.
  • The scientist synthesised a new chemical compound in the laboratory for use in pharmaceutical research.



Derived from the Malay word “genggang,” which refers to a striped or checkered fabric, gingham has become a staple in fashion and home decor. Known for its distinctive pattern of coloured stripes or checks, gingham fabric is widely recognised and beloved for its timeless appeal and versatility.

Usage of gingham in sentences

  • She sewed a charming gingham apron with blue and white checkered fabric for her grandmother.
  • The picnic blanket was spread out on the grass, its red gingham pattern adding a festive touch to the gathering.



Originating from the Malay word “jong,” which means ship, the term “junk” refers to a type of traditional Chinese sailing vessel. These sturdy and seaworthy ships played a significant role in maritime trade and exploration throughout history, reflecting the cultural exchange between Southeast Asia and China.

Usage of junk in a sentence

  • The harbour was filled with colourful junks, their sails billowing in the breeze as they prepared to set sail.
  • The maritime museum displayed a replica of an ancient Chinese junk, showcasing the craftsmanship of traditional shipbuilding.



The English word “ketchup” finds its roots in the Malay term “kecap,” which originally referred to a fermented fish sauce. Over time, “ketchup” evolved to denote various types of condiments, with tomato ketchup being the most widely known and consumed today. The adoption of “ketchup” into English reflects the influence of Malay culinary traditions on global cuisine.

Usage of ketchup in sentences

  • He squeezed a generous dollop of ketchup onto his burger before taking a big bite.
  • The restaurant offered a selection of condiments, including mustard, mayo, and tomato ketchup.



Named for its hairy exterior, the tropical fruit rambutan derives its name from the Malay word “rambut,” meaning hair. Beloved for its sweet and juicy flesh, rambutan is a popular fruit in Southeast Asia and beyond, with its unique appearance and delicious flavor earning it recognition in global markets.

Usage of rambutan in a sentence

  • The children eagerly peeled the spiky skin off the rambutan fruit to reveal the juicy flesh inside.
  • She bought a bag of ripe rambutans from the market, intending to make a refreshing fruit salad.



A versatile garment worn around the waist, the sarong has its origins in Malay culture, where it is known as “sarung.” Whether used as a skirt, a wrap, or a beach cover-up, the sarong is valued for its comfort, practicality, and vibrant patterns. Its adoption into English reflects its popularity and appeal across cultures.

Usage of sarong in sentences

  • The beachgoers wrapped colourful sarongs around their waists as they lounged on the sand.
  • She tied a sarong around her shoulders to protect herself from the sun during the boat ride.

10. SAGO


Derived from the pith of various tropical palm trees, sago is a starchy substance used in cooking and baking. With its origins in Southeast Asia, particularly in Malaysia and Indonesia, sago has been a staple food source for centuries. Its adoption into English reflects the global culinary influence of Malay cuisine and the versatility of sago in various culinary traditions.

Usage of sago in a sentence

  • The chef used sago pearls to thicken the coconut milk for the dessert pudding.
  • Sago palms are cultivated in tropical regions for their starchy pith, which is harvested and processed into flour for cooking.

The borrowing of words from Malay into English is a testament to the enduring legacy of cultural exchange and interaction. From tantalizing flavors to seafaring terminology, Malay’s linguistic influence adds vibrancy and depth to the English language, enriching our linguistic landscape with a tapestry of diverse influences. As we celebrate the interconnectivity of cultures and languages, let us embrace the beauty of linguistic borrowing as a testament to our shared humanity.

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