‘Petua’, bukan ‘Tip’ Pengantin Pelik Pelokek

I intended to kick off the Save Money, The Pengantin Pelik Pelokek Way series proper with this post, but as usual I always get diverted somehow from my initial intention. Nonetheless, I consider this important enough to be a post on its own. It concerns the use of the English word ‘tip’ in Malay.

Yes, by right, there is a Malay word for the English word ‘tip’ – it is ‘petua’, with the meaning according to Kamus Dewan Edisi Keempat being:

nasihat, petunjuk atau panduan yang berguna (biasanya oleh orang tua-tua atau yang berpengalaman) tentang cara melaksanakan atau mencapai sesuatu dengan berkesan

i.e. useful advice, pointer, or guidance (usually from old folks or those who are experienced) on how to execute or accomplish something effectively. 

‘Tip’ is also in Kamus Dewan Edisi Keempat (ok too lazy to type so refer to the following photo for its meaning):


Meaning no. 1 refers to the small amount of money or token given to someone such as a hotel service staff as a show of appreciation for his / her service. Meaning no. 2 refers to valuable insider information, especially to do with the stock market, horseracing, etc.

Granted, there is no Malay equivalent that can succinctly capture the two meanings, which is why the word ‘tip’ is borrowed and accepted into the Malay language. It also reveals that the concept of tipping someone whose job is to serve you, or to give someone a tip about something, has its origins in a foreign (i.e., Western) culture. If the two had been practised by the Malays (before Europeans came to trade and then colonise us), there surely would have been Malay words for them. (This reminds me of the verse in the Quran where it is stated that God created humankind in nations, so that we can learn from or benefit one another. Language certainly opens doors to concepts and cultural practices other than our own.)

Sure, meaning no. 3 provides for the same meaning as ‘petua’. However, observe the ‘bp’ written before the meaning is given, which is short for ‘bahasa percakapan’, (colloquial languge); it is only appropriate for use in informal conversation. That is why it annoys me that the word ‘tip’ is increasingly being used in print (newspaper, magazines, etc), electronic (official websites) and mass media (radio and television) in place of ‘petua’. The annoyance turns into exasperation when the word ‘tips’ (obviously English), or even worse, ‘tip-tip'(English conflated with Malay grammar) is used.

The word ‘tip’ is only appropriate for use in print, electronic and mass media when it is within the context of an informal conversation taking place in a short story, novel, radio / television drama, or a comic strip. Otherwise, only ‘petua’ should be used, be it in advertisements, articles, magazine shows, interviews, news reports, fillers, promotional materials, etc.

Some might think that I’m taking a puritan approach to language. Language is about communication, after all, so as long as one can convey one’s ideas and the receiving party understands what is being said, that should be all that matters, right? On one hand, yes, but on the other hand, would you like to be known as a basic communicator, or an excellent one?

Why is it that when it comes to English, we strive to learn it properly and use it correctly in order to come across as a good speaker and user, but when it comes to Malay, our own mother tongue (to my readers who are Malay), we are content to just be basic communicators? (Even then, many among us cannot communicate entirely in Malay without turning to English after the first few sentences.)

Between a language that has less vocabulary (three different concepts are referred to with the same word ‘tip’ in English) and a language that has more vocabulary for specific meanings (‘petua’ for a concept already known and practised in Malay culture, and ‘tip’ for concepts learned from foreigners), which language has more clarity, is richer and more refined?

Have you ever studied the origins of the two languages?


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