Funny Indonesian Mistranslation in Public Space Signs That Should not Happen

Indonesia is known as the second country with the most living language variation just after Papua New Guinea. There are about 700 languages currently used by the Indonesians which fall into three main categories: national language, indigenous language, and religious language. However, many Indonesian are also familiar with using or just recognizing English since this language is put as a foreign language lesson on their education curriculum, as well as Arabic and Chinese which are also spoken by fewer people.   

English has become a compulsory subject taught in the formal education system since the first grade of junior high school. Yet, no more than 20% of Indonesian are capable to use this language correctly in both written and spoken communication. Even in the advertising and publishing area, the use of English is often ridiculous with several hilarious spelling and terminology errors that hard to understand even by the English speaker.

In many cases, the translation mistake is not only found in the advertisement or branding board of small businesses. Some official signs often make the same mistake which should not happen with extra precaution and the help of the editor.

We compile some hilarious Indonesian mistranslation that was done on purpose or by mistake that should tell us the humor sense of these people from Indonesia.


The board for an anti-drug campaign is supposed to be simple and accurate. This government anti-drug campaign looks very simple but not yet accurate. The original Indonesian sentence is “JAUHI NARKOBA!” which literally means “STAY AWAY FROM DRUG!”. On this board, they hilariously translated the Indonesian word to “HIDE DRUG!”. This created a multi-interpretation that could mean differently and against the core of the campaign itself.

No Littering and Dumping Rubbish

A museum notice board is dedicated to both domestic and international tourists so it is often written in a bilingual format. This notice board looks fine even it is not a familiar style of giving notice. But there is also a prominent wrong word choice. Yes, at the second point “No throwing rubbish and feces”. The Indonesian version could be “dilarang membuang sampah dan kotoran” which in standard English would be “no littering and dumping rubbish”. The sign maker translated the word “kotoran” wrongly as he might be not aware of the real meaning of feces.

Please Stand in Queue

The queue sign is often found in public service desks, supermarkets, or fast food cashiers. The normal sign would be “Please line up” or “Please stand in queue”. This Indonesian bus ticket counter put a funny sign with the wrong transliteration instead of considering the equally meaningful term. The sign maker assumed that the English word “entry” equals to Indonesian “antri”. These two words meaning are totally different and should not be used as an equal translation. This can make chaos while everyone enters the counter instead of asking them to make a line.  

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