Posted by: Michael | July 30, 2009

“Spoilt” and “Broken”

The English word “spoil” has three meanings.

1. To ruin.  For example: ‘She spoilt the movie by telling us the ending’.
2. To pamper. For example: ‘That boy is so spoilt. His parents buy him everything he asks for’.
3. (Of food) To go off or become bad. For example: ‘That food will spoil if you leave it out’.

However, there is a tendency among Malaysians to use “spoil” to mean “broken”. This is because the Malay word rosak means both ‘broken’ (with regard to a computer, television, door, etc) and ‘spoilt’ with regard to food. Thus, rosak could be used in the following contexts.

Peti sejuk rosak (the fridge is broken)
Makanan di dalam beg itu rosak (the food in that bag is spoilt or The food in that bag has gone off).

Rosak can only be translated as ‘spoilt’ in the second sentence, as it is relating to food. However, it would be better to use an expression such as “gone off”. Rosak cannot be translated as ‘spoilt’ in the first sentence since you don’t eat the fridge.

For example, if you are in a computer shop looking at second hand computers. You see one that you like. You ask the salesman about the price, and he says “That one spoil already”. This is a wrong use of the word ‘spoil’. The salesman is translating from his native Malay and he is not aware that the word rosak has two translations in English. (The use of ‘already’ is also wrong; it’s a literal translation of the Malay word telah which is used to form the past tense).

Here is any easy guide to translating rosak from Malay to English.

Is the thing which is rosak edible and normally eaten?

Yes – rosak = ‘spoilt’ or ‘gone off’
No – rosak = ‘broken’

One other point I wish to make: In Malaysia, if something, for example an elevator or a door, is broken, there may be a sign saying “ROSAK” on it. If you wanted to write the sign in English, it is more natural and more correct to write “OUT OF ORDER”. I have never seen a sign saying “BROKEN” in New Zealand or Australia before.

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