Is ‘Permasalahan’ Even A Word?


OK, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that I’m no expert in Bahasa Melayu (Malaysia?). But I think I have sense enough to know that the word “PERMASALAHAN” should not even exist. It does, though – as can be seen by the number of people using the word nowadays. It is increasing at a rate that is almost as fast as the the increase in the population of illegal Indonesian immigrants in Malaysia.

Just think about it (and take the ‘I-must-use-big-words-to-impress-people’ hat off for a minute). What job does ‘PERMASALAHAN’ do that the good old ‘MASALAH’ cannot? I thought so! You can easily replace ‘PERMASALAHAN’ with ‘MASALAH’ and your meaning will not change in manner whatsoever. This goes to show that just because TV3 uses a word repeatedly doesn’t mean that it it should be mindlessly adopted.

Now, let’s try to find an approximate to ‘PERMASALAHAN’ in English. The closest contender I can think of is the very inelegant (if not grotesque) ‘PROBLEMATION’. Yeah, anybody who even utters this word (‘PROBLEMATION’) in the English-speaking world will probably get shot (maybe even twice!). By extension, I believe users of the word ‘PERMASALAHAN’ deserve the same fate.

OK, I concede that it has the dubious quality of sounding better than ‘MASALAH’. But apart from that, how does it add to good old, time-honoured ‘MASALAH’? Maybe we should just hand over the people who use ‘PERMASALAHAN’ to the sharpened bamboo stake wielding members of BENDERA and be done with it.

20 thoughts on “Is ‘Permasalahan’ Even A Word?

  1. MB, I salute the newscaster who could say the word PERMASALAHAN – my tongue would have done a somersault many times over before I could get the message across. I just wonder, without hearing the word uttered, whether it is pronounced as PERMASA’ALAHAN or just PERMASALAHAN. This is becoming a permasalahan to me, considering it is 0534 in Londra and I do need to get an answer before I go back to sleep.

    Kak Teh

    I hear it pronounced as PERMASA’ALAHAN all the time

    Yes ma’am, pronouncing the word will require some pronunciation gymnastics. Fancy that! A one-word tongue twister…

  2. I always thought it’s spelled “masaalah” as that’s how it’s pronounced… guess I was wrong.


    Intuitively, that is how the word SHOULD be spelt, right? But, no! I actually looked it up in a Malay dictionary and found that it is spelt masalah.

    How’s that! This is recursive: masalah about masalah

  3. Mat-san,

    I can`t blame you and your struggles with the new way the Bahasa Melayu(Malaysia)is being used.The same here, what more when we are more conversant, and comfortable, in English, than using our own mother tongue.The other thing that continually amazes me(as used by our TV newscasters).What was wrong with using “dari”, or” daripada” as in..” benda ini di buat daripada besi” (as used in our time) and why the need to change the phrase structure to “benda ini dibuat besi” as it is commonly used now.



    I know what you mean. It is almost as if the TV station has usurped the role of Dewan Bahasa – not that Dewan Bhasa made much sense to me in the first place 🙂

  4. Salam Abg B,
    Very interesting topic. One question, tho – do we pronounce ‘masalah’ as mas’alah or masa-alah?

    Anyway, me pretty new here. Came across your post by chance. Glad I did. Very interesting. But very shy, the written English here is superb. Pardon mine, ya…

    Anak Umie

    Welcome. Glad to have you visit.

    The pronunciation remains the same – its the spelling that has changed. And of course, the non-word ‘permasalahan’ has been added to the language – which shouldn’t have been.

    Don’t be shy, now…

  5. Mat B
    Welcome to my world. In old Bahasa Melayu, the word was spelt ‘masa’alah’. When Bahasa Melayu becomes Bahasa Malaysia, the spelling changes to masalah although the pronunciation remains masa’alah. I don’t know why they bother to omit one ‘a’ and an apostrophe when they retain the pronunciation.

    And now we have permasa’alahan when masa’alah (or masaalah or even masalah) does just as well. Let’s not lose sleep over such silly pedantry. We have enough masa’alah as it were… 🙂

    Puteri Kamaliah

    Yeah, its no biggie. But it drives me nuts when I see the smug look of people using the word ‘permasalahan’ – its almost as if they have said something smart. The truth is, its quite the opposite, isn’t it?

    As an aside, there was a proposal once to replace the ‘a – which is the equivalent of the Arabic letter ‘ain’ – with the letter ‘X’. Thus, Ma’arof would be spelt Maxrof and masa’alah would be masaxlah. This would have made more sense even though it would be cumbersome at first. After all, the letter ‘X’ should be put to good use.

    Nonetheless, permasalahan or permasaxlah (and all its derivatives) should be struck out of everyday usage lest someone out there is tempted to coin monstrosities like perehatan (from rehat), persakitan (from sakit), perayaman (instead of penternakan ayam) and other such affronts to intelligence.

  6. Gawd! what a word! Per-ma-sa-la-han. Won’t Kemasalahan sound better? .. at least it spares the person sitting in front of you the “mouth shower” at “Per”.

    Andrea Whatever

    Kemasalahan does sounds better. And yes, it has the said built-in safety feature, too.

  7. Mr B!

    Your question did not come up!! Masaalah sungguh!!


    Oh, no! They must have selected questions set by other consultants from the pool of questions. Hope it wasn’t too bad.

    Sorry about that.

  8. MatB,

    If I may venture to make it more complicated : `Permasalahan’ is the discussion about the problems (or set of problems) and not the problem itself. But don’t take my word for it, heheheh 🙂

    As my Chinese friends would say, `Mo man thye!’


    Hmm… it can conceivably be used to describe a discussion of the problems. But wouldn’t ‘analisis’ be more appropriate?

    Good to hear from you again, mate.

  9. Matt, I hope there’s no problem when I next order my Chicken Tikka Masala or Beef Bhunna Masala in any Indian Restaurant…muahaha.

    FYI; Just as Oldstock mentioned it; “Mo man thye” literally means ‘No Eye See’ in Cantonese; i.e. WTF, We’d just gotta bear it & put up with it.



    I doubt if there’ll be a problem. Masala is unmistakable!

  10. oops, soli lost in translation;

    Oldstock; ‘Mo mun thye’ is actually ‘No Problem’. No Eyes See’ is ‘Mo Ngan thye’.

    Hehe masaalah orang tua lah!


  11. mat b

    you make me feel really old. i’m still of the old school and it has been and will always be “masa’alah” for me.

    i still cringe when people say ‘ true facts’ or ‘discuss about’; sigh, thanks to my old english teachers at mckk (messrs partridge, whitbread, selvanayagam, ryan and tate )



    kassim ahmad

    That’s right, sir! Why can’t they see that the old school way is the right way? And I still recoil from the damage they did when they took away the ” ‘e’ tanda “. Now, when reading, there is no way of telling between ‘sepak’ (as in slap) and ‘sepak’ (as in kick).

    They got it right the first time. Now all they can do is to mess it all up.

  12. Hehehe Mat B

    The only place where X looks good is certainly not on Maxrof, or even Malcolm X, but on a saucy, frilly piece of underwear, the crotch of which boldly states…Xsctacy….LOL

    Puteri Kamaliah

    Hehehe. That’s about right, ma’am. In my old age I will need an ‘X’ to mark the spot so I can home-in on the target accurately. Age does funny things to my memory these days… 🙂

  13. another word to chuck into the rubbish bin is “keprihatinan”, when “bimbang” would suffice.



    I am so with you, sir. While were at it, what about ‘bajet’? Isn’t plain old ‘belanjawan’ clearly better? And let’s take ‘prestasi’. Where did that come from?

    • I wonder what grade did you get for your Bahasa Malaysia paper.

      It is so obvious that you don’t understand your own language that well.




      I suspect I didn’t do as well as you did in my Bahasa Malaysia paper. You must be a very clever person.

      I admire people who believe that exam grades is a valid measure of another person’s competence. Truly enlightening.

  14. matB,

    shall we shove the silly word down their throats ourselves? ;D

    can’t count on those BENDERA idiots. most may have fallen on their own stakes [literally taking their culture to death], what with the plate tectonics continually shifting under them.


    Come to think of it, I think you are right, ma’am. The Bendera half-wits don’t appear smart enough to even spell ‘permasalahan’

  15. Masaalah = everyone can settle this one

    Permasaalahan = Even God cannot settle (short of pressing the giant Universe Reset button, of course)

    Sir Cipan

    Ah! So, ‘permasalahan’ is like a super-duper ‘masalah’. Finally, the word is beginning to make some sense.

    • grammatically, i think the actual differences are like this:

      – masalah = kesulitan [i.e. something that requires solving]; e.g. ejaan ‘masalah’ yg tidak sama dgn sebutannya adalah satu masalah.
      – permasalahan = persoalan/isu [i.e. something or a bunch of things that are problematic]; e.g. masalah tidak mengeja ‘masalah’ mengikut sebutannya tidak menjadi permasalahan lagi dgn penutur2 muda.
      – permasalahan = pelbagai masalah [i.e. used as a collective noun]; permasalahan berkaitan ‘masalah’ yang dibualkan di blog matb merangkumi ejaan, sebutan, makna, dll.

      p.s. sorry for being a pedant. you can say it’s my language calling. ;D


      Thanks, mekyam. The word is beginning to make more and more sense right now. I guess, as you (and Sir Cipan) have explained it, the word has legitimacy. What was wrong with it was how it has been indiscriminately used to mean ‘masalah’ as well. ‘Masalah’ and ‘permasalahan’ should not be interchangeable.

      Am I right?

  16. MB,

    for several years i have been using the word “terlanjur”, and recently i found out that the word in Kamus Dewan is “TElanjur”. and the word is “telantar” and not “TERlantar”. luckily i didnt complain to majlis peperiksaan for my credit six, else a recheck would grant me a pass seven maybe.

    have you heard of this? :
    this happened in a school in kelantan.. a boy came late to school. the teacher asked “what is your problem?”. the boy answered “ma-sok-loh”. the teacher asked again “what is your problem” and the boy replied “ma-sok-loh”. and again and again and again.

    the boy was trying to say he lost his socks “my socks lost”. is that a “permasalahan” or “masalah”?

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