It surprised the heck out of me. The word “cooties” came from the Malay word “kutu” (lice). This is just one of the few English words of Malay origin that I stumbled upon while researching for my last post.

Well, I can’t really vouch for the etymologies because I got them from Wiktionary, but another article by Michael Quinion who works with the Oxford Dictionary should lend a much-needed credibility.

Some of the words are quite obvious, since they refer to regional nouns, such as “mangosteen” (manggis), “durian” and “orangutan”.

Some are deeply ingrained as being Malay, like “amok”, “kris” and “sarong”.

I have always suspected that “ketchup” came from kicap (and it does), but I’ve always thought that these came from English, and instead it was vice versa:

  • “Agar”, from agar-agar
  • “Paddy”, from padi
  • “Junk”, from jong
  • “Tea”, from teh (yep, they used the Malay variant rather than the Chinese!)

And my favourite: “compound” from kampung. Who would’ve thought of that?