Jordan MacVay sent me a link to Amir Muhammad’s wonderful project, The UMD (The Urban / Uncensored Malaysian Dictionary). As Jordan says, “Basically he’s listing out Malaysian words/terms that are excluded from the ‘official’ Malay dictionaries.” Official dictionaries have their uses, obviously, but when they exclude words and phrases known to most users of the language they purport to represent, they are not doing their job, and it’s important that they be supplemented by things like this. To pick an entry at random:

Yam seng. 饮 胜
A rowdy toast where people stand up and hold up their alcoholic drinks and try to prolong the phrase ‘yam seng’ as much as possible. From the Cantonese, ‘drink to victory.’ In 2003 Tourism Minister Kadir Sheikh Fadzir complimented his deputy Ng Yen Yen who had just returned from a promotional trip to China, by saying, “She mixed around well and yam seng her way all over China. The Chinese just loved it because they did not know one could yam seng in an Islamic country.”

Yam seng, Amir!


  1. hi languagehat,
    this youtube would serve well to demonstrate the ‘yam seng’ 🙂

  2. let’s try again.
    Yam Seng

  3. The dictionary is growing, so be sure to check back for more entries, which Amir has been getting from people via Twitter. Great stuff. Also take note of the various English words that have been given new life in a Malaysian context. My favourite is ‘terror’, which somehow came to mean ‘to be really good at something’. Another good one is gostan, which doesn’t look much like English at all but comes from ‘go astern’ and means reverse (as in a car).

  4. I tried leaving that comment using my name but your blog system told me it was a ‘questionable word’ and wouldn’t allow it to go through. I feel so dirty, haha.

  5. Argh! Sorry about that, once again I overreacted to a spam onslaught (in this case, obviously, for Air Jordans) and added “jordan” to the blacklist, probably intending to delete it after getting rid of the spam. It’s gone now, so you can use your name without being told to go away by my blog software!

  6. It might not (still) be in this Uncensored Malaysian Dictionary, but I would expect the word Allah to be there sooner or later.
    There was a row some years ago because a newspaper had been prosecuted (as far as I remember) for having used the word Allah to refer to God. No problem? Well, the word was referring to the god of the Christians — who, after all, might not be very different from the god of the Muslims. But the authorities would apparently have none of this, and it seemed only Muslims were allowed to call their god “Allah”, even if Malaysian Christians have been used to do the same for ages — or so it was argued.
    Does Amir know more about this?

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