Monday, 14 June 2010

Antan patah, lesung hilang

A friend's status update on Facebook last week caught my eye. He overheard a Malay proverb wrongly quoted by someone and lamented that it's damaging the language.

What he heard was, `Aku ibarat sepah, habis madu aku dibuang.' The original Malay peribahasa is of course, not expressed as such, although the intended meaning is not far off the mark. This twist in the expression seems more personal... the person who said it feels strongly about the situation to equate himself as the sepah, not caring that he has mangled the original saying in the process. The literal translation of sepah is residue or waste by-product... so you can see what the guy was getting at.

I have long been fond of the Malay peribahasa or proverbs, although I'm quite poor at remembering them, what more to apply their use in daily speech. The beauty of the Malay proverb is in the way a point or message is delivered by referring to something else. Call it metaphor or simile or inference or whatever you like. It is the art of saying something without obviously saying it. You just have to marvel at the way our forefathers come up with such literary gems. Some say that such proverbs were created because of the peculiar Malay trait of not being able to say things directly, whatever the reason may be. It is no surprise therefore, a well-placed peribahasa can sometimes have a more potent effect than just stating the obvious. Jika kasihkan padi, buanglah rumput.

There are hundreds of such classic phrases, but what puzzles me is how and when they originate. The books and online sources that I've read about peribahasa Melayu do not offer any clues as to their origin. Who actually first uttered the phrase? When was it said? Was there a particular situation or event that caused it to be said? When was the first time such saying was seen in print?

Compared to online sources about English word and phrase origins, there aren't any about the Malay language, at least not that I've discovered anyway. I sure hope the cerdik pandai in our universities make some effort in doing research in Malay word and proverb origins and share the research findings with us. It is not enough for me just to know the meaning of a proverb, I want to know how it came to be as well. I'd also like to know if there any recent or modern proverbs and whether it is possible for me to be the creator of one.

This subject of peribahasa Melayu reminds me of an acquaintance whom I met in 2001 while working on a construction project in Kuala Lumpur. This seasoned gentleman we call Pak Lang (short for Alang) is around 60-years old and was employed as the site supervisor. I loved chatting with him because his stories are freely peppered with lovely phrases. He always seem to have an appropriate peribahasa to fit any particular situation. He would tell me the story of some old relationship and then end it with, `Anak sungai lagikan berubah, inikan pula hati orang.' Or he would sound out a warning to one of the lazy workers by saying,`Kau ni macam pahat, tak ditukul, tak makan.' Or when I see him carry out a heavy task and tell him to take it easy, his reply would be, `Alah bisa, tegal biasa.'

I wonder where Pak Lang is nowadays. Hope you are well, my friend. Tuan adalah ibarat tiram di lautan...


drwati said...

and karam singh walia always surprises me...... :)

Anonymous said...

Oldstock - if you can make a clue of the following:-

1. Ada lori ada bas.

2. Naik lift, picit sendiri.

3. Belakang frame, ada cicak.


Oldstock said...

Doc, Karam Singh is brave enough to explore and invent new perumpamaan. Only that he needs to use his new creations regularly until it becomes common and accepted.

Oldstock said...

Salam Rafiah,

The ones you listed can be considered modern peribahasa. They are not in the list I read in Wiki Bahasa Melayu but nonetheless, we can accept them as peribahasa because they are commonly used and understood. Here's what I think they mean :

1. Ada lori ada bas, ada hari boleh balas - This is a variation or update of the old peribahasa, Ada ubi ada batas... this we all know as dealing with payback time :-)

2. Naik lift picit sendiri - self-glorification.

3. Belakang frame ada cicak - this one is new to me but I guess it carries the same meaning as ada udang di sebalik mee (oops, I mean batu)...

Anonymous said...

Dear Oldstock,

The Malay language is truly a beautiful language. Very musical in the way it rolls of the tongue and sweet to the ear. I have been reading Ranjau Sepanjang Jalan on and off for the past one year (very slow process coz I have to reach for the dictionary every other word heehee) and like you, I sometimes wonder the origins/root words of certain phrases in the text. But as you say, there's hardly any simple online sources for this. Or perhaps we are looking at the wrong places. If any of your readers could enlighten, I would be most appreciative.

Pat said...

I enjoyed your post, Oldstock! I love exploring into the origins of stuff, too - not just English stuff, but how anything came about is always interesting.

And Rafiah's little tidbits were so amusing!

I especially liked no.3 (which I 'got') - and I'm going to use it from now on!!! What a lovely twist on the udang-y one!!

And thank you, Rafiah!!!

Snakebite said...

tak nampak plak relevan dgn tajuk. haven't heard antan patah lesung hilang but i can imagine its meaning, takde antan and lesung tak boleh tumbuk padi, tak boleh tumbuk padi tak dapat lah beras untuk makan nasi. does it mean hilang tools untuk buat kerja or hilang pekerjaan therefore sumber pendapatan?

Oldstock said...


I did not finish reading Ranjau Sepanjang Jalan... my attention span is short and I can't be breaking the rhythm of reading by constantly referring to the dictionary. Good luck to you my friend :-)

Oldstock said...


I wish to thank Rafiah too for listing some of the modern sayings. It would be interesting to find out who first said them and when were they first said.

It has got me thinking of a few other `new' peribahasa and maybe'll I list them out in another post.

Oldstock said...


Firstly, the peribahasa I selected for the title has not much relevancy to the story... you are absolutely right on that score. I purposely chose it because it's meaning somewhat reflect the situation I'm in at present... and your deduction to its meaning comes surprisingly close. But I can't reveal the whole background story yet... perhaps later when the dust has settled.

But you sure are real sharp, my friend.

Helang terbang tinggi said... takes me a few minutes to think what does it means by "antan patah,lesung hilang".Yet, I'm still clueless..pity of me..hehehe

DrSam said...

this is the beuty of our peribahasa. You wish to say something harsh but it sounds in a very mild way (or cynical way - which hurt even more :)

beraja dimata bersultan dihati

3yearshousewife said...

This is the first time I heard of jika kasihkan buanglah rumput.
I for one are not at all good with peribahasa except for the very few common ones.
For me I always wonder about who create the 'pantang larang' which come to think of it contains some logical rationale.

Oldstock said...

Sdri Helang,

Dalam membuat sedikit research untuk menulis post ini, saya pun pertama kali berjumpa dgn peribahasa ini. Almaklumlah kita dibesarkan di bandar, tak tahu pun apakah bendanya si antan itu. Tapi saya yakin orang-orang Kedah ataupun sesiapa yg menanam padi style dedulu, tahu antan itu apa.

Seperti yang telah diterangkan oleh blogger Snakebite, antan dan lesung adalah alat untuk menumbuk padi - antan itu penumbuknya dan lesung itu bahagian yang diisi dgn padi (macam lesung batu yg biasa kita dengar dan lihat). Bila antan sudah patah, maknanya padi tak dapat ditumbuk. Dan apabila lesungnya pun turut hilang, maka bertambahlah masalah yang dihadapi.

Menurut rujukan yg saya baca, makna sebenar peribahasa `antan patah, lesung pun hilang' ialah kemalangan atau nasib tidak baik yang datang bertimpa-timpa. Lebih kurang sama dgn peribahasa yg biasa kita dengar iaitu sudah jatuh ditimpa tangga.

Namum begitu, analisa yg dibuat oleh Tok Snake adalah sangat menarik kerana ada cerita disebalik kenapa saya pilih peribahasa tersebut sebagai tajuk posting.

Oldstock said...

Dr Sam,

You're right, sometimes saying something by way of kiasan atau perumpamaan itu lebih tajam dan terasa. Siapa yang makan lada, dialah akan terasa pedas, ye tak?

Kalau dah tak suka, madu diminum pun terasa cuka.

Oldstock said...


I have also not previously heard of `kalau kasihkan padi, buanglah rumput'. But I loved its meaning and that's why I included it. Can you try guess what it means?

D said...

My late hubby used to be the one with all the peribahasa, etc. Love it loads because it's art.

Have to try introducing more to the children - the newer generation. *sigh*

Oldstock said...


try introducing it to your children gradually by using the simple and more common ones. start with simpulan bahasa, the short two-word versions like buruk siku, lipas kudung etc..

Anonymous said...


Was wondering if you know a peribahasa or kesimpulan bahasa that expresses "saying something without really meaning it" ?

Thank you.

Oldstock said...

Hi anon of 22.05.12,

Sorry to have missed this comment because I didn't think an old post would still be attracting readers. Anyway, I'm pretty sure there is peribahasa to fit that situation but for the moment, I can't seem to recall it. I'll get back to this post if something comes to mind. Thanks for the visit.