Ever onward do we trudge. Heedless and ceaseless do we brave the maddening mystery! The last time we dared the fringes of crazed Manglish, we visited the erroneous “Can”. Today, we once again direct your attention to yet another word that assumes all the character and culture of the Malaysian people: “agak-agak”. In Bahasa Malaysia, “agak” in English means “somewhat”, whereas “agak-agak” means “roughly” or “approximately”.

agak-agak = roughly

Some will argue that “agak” is a word belonging to Bahasa Malaysia, and not to the rigmarole that is Manglish. To these I will say that the Manglish language belongs to the Malaysian, and the Malaysian represents a particular culture, with a unique set of values, behaviours, and beliefs. Words that embody these values, behaviours and beliefs, then, by their nature, fall under the Manglish lexicon as well.

To illustrate my stance, a quick search through Bahasa Malaysia to English online dictionaries reveal that “agak” and “agak-agak” can mean many things. Among the words in English that can describe it are: “to guess”, “supposition”, “quite”, “presumably”, “it seems to be” and “probably”. These words all promote some manner of vagueness or uncertainty, and this very vagueness is the ironic, iconic meaning of “agak-agak”, and it could very well be attributed as justifiably to the vagueness in general of Manglish and Malaysians. We are an indefinite folk; never meaning what we say, and never being what we do, almost always looking for identity and meaning. But surely such plight belongs in another story. We are here to instruct in the ways of Manglish! And with our “agak-agak” knowledge on the subject we will certainly do so!

ZcfqBkqCSoeGmTSftrgo_Confused Joey Friends

As a foreigner, or even as a Malaysian who has lived a time overseas, it not only becomes clear how people get frustrated over vagueness, but also how this very same obscurity is a defining aspect of Malaysian culture. Consult the following video to watch a well-known foreigner grapple frustratedly with “agak-agak” (Malaysians, this is very entertaining. Watch this video below for further explanation

When you explain the meaning of 'agak-agak'...
When you explain the meaning of ‘agak-agak’ to a matsalleh…

It illustrates perfectly the usage of “agak-agak” in conversation, as well as demonstrating substantially the spontaneous, on-the-fly, gut-feel, problem-solving and decision-making energies of the average Malaysian. Quite a beautiful thing, really. This “agak-agak” culture, as demonstrated, is prevalent not only in Malaysian cooking, but also in the notorious Malaysian time management abilities, in the infamous Malaysian promise, and in countless other aspects of Malaysian life. So that in a way, it represents a small part of Malaysia.

So if you ever feel a need to take a break from whatever clear-eyed, well-defined world you live in, engage in the “agak-agak”. Live, for a moment, in the simple, unhurried, unworried life of the inner Malaysian that everyone has within them.


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