At the height of senseless and irrational speculations about the flight disappearance, this was shared with me:
Biawak: the animal
In Malay (Malaysia), “biawak” is a type of varanus, living mostly in the forest. There are many types of its species, but a common one when spoken about in Malaysia is the monitor lizard.
The lexeme “biawak” can also be used as a verb, as in “membiawak”, which means to crawl, slither or slide (like a monitor lizard).
Connotation of “biawak” in Malay
Generally, the noun “biawak” carries negative connotation in Malay. This is due to the fact that a monitor lizard eats small animals, vermin, dead animals and decaying flesh (although some species do eat vegetation), and it scavenges human waste too. It is perceived as ugly and highly temperamental. All these characteristics contribute to an unpleasant reputation.
“Biawak” in Malay figurative language
Figurative language such as similes, metaphors, idioms, idiomatic expressions and proverbs is very culturally specific. How it is structured, rhymed and intended to mean depends very much on real-world experience and perception of its native speakers. In the case of “biawak”, its status and how it is perceived are clearly depicted in how it is used in our figurative language.
i. Simile and metaphor
|Simile and metaphor||Literal||Meaning|
|Biawak hidup||A living monitor lizard||A useless and/or burdensome person|
|Bagai biawak mengulangi bangkai||Like a monitor lizard frequenting a carcass (to eat)||A man who likes to go to a brothel/immoral place; where there are immoral women, there are immoral men|
|Bagai lidah biawak||Of a monitor lizard tongue||A liar; an untrustworthy person|
|Bagai memegang ekor biawak||Like grabbing a monitor lizard’s tail||Doing something dangerous|
ii. Idiom and idiomatic expression
|Idiom and idiomatic expression||Literal||Meaning|
|Biawak kudung masuk kampung||A legless monitor lizard entering the village||A well-known bad/immoral/ corrupt person; a thief|
|Mendukung biawak hidup||Carrying a living monitor lizard||An unnecessary occupation which is burdensome and/or dangerous; having a wife or child who is troublesome|
|Merendah terbang biawak||A monitor lizard flying low||A woman who shows herself off to men; an arrogant person|
|Niat di hati hendak memeluk gunung, sudah terpeluk biawak celaka/sial||One intended to embrace the mountain, but ended up embracing a wretched monitor lizard||One hoped for something good, but ended up with something bad|
|Menanti biawak duduk||Waiting for a monitor lizard to sit (like a human)||Hoping/waiting for something impossible|
|Seperti biawak, masakan hilang kesatnya||A monitor lizard does not lose its roughness (of skin)||A person of no manners speaks harshly.|
|Bila pula biawak duduk?||When does a monitor lizard sit?||A question with an impossible answer; asking for the impossible.|
In short, to be called a "biawak" is never a good thing in Malay.While it is an important animal in the eco-system, it is obviously under-appreciated and resented by the society. Reaction is generally hostile towards "biawak" (unless of course, you eat it, but that's a different story altogether).
Ding Choo Ming. (2009). Beberapa Sifat, Asal Usul dan Kepengarangan Peribahasa Melayu. Sari - International Journal of the Malay World and Civilisation 27(2) (2009): 3-26
http://prpm.dbp.gov.my/. Retrieved on 1st April 2014.
http://www.peribahasaindonesia.com/. Retrieved on 1st April 2014.
http://www.himpunanperibahasa.com/. Retrieved on 1st April 2014.