Om Telolet Om Worldwide Onomatopoeia

Om Telolet Om from Manchester City

One more from Indonesia. One phrase that may seem odd, quirky or funny for many people today. Success affects all walks of life from young children to the candidates who will compete in election. Oh, my God! We all are infected by the ‘virus’. It’s ‘Om Telolet Om’, has become viral on various social media that shook the virtual universe as Instagram and Twitter. This phrase is perched on a trending topic worldwide in Twitter with #omteloletom. There are also a row of memes and videos about ‘Om Telolet Om’ as the result of netizen creativities. Unbelievable! It even infiltrated my head like ‘brain worms’.

Tired of attacks in cyberspace, I turn off gadgets hope to get my mind off this phrase for a moment. In fact I was late. ‘Om Telolet Om’ is endemic. Small talks or serious discussions in the traditional media, radio and television were tucked into this phrase. Instead of hiding from the brain worms, I better investigate.


Spread to World Musicians and Soccer Clubs in Europe

To dramatize the situation, let me start asking some questions about ‘Om Telolet Om': “What creature is it?” “Is it tangible and can be touched?” “If it is untouchable, is it a kind of heart feeling problem or mantra for healing?” I try to think positive. Or with a more reasonable expression: “Why does the phrase ‘Om Telolet Om’ became such a phenomenon?”

It is caused by several world musicians, especially dance and electro, joined to post the sentence on their Twitter and Instagram. No kidding, just say the famous DJs like Zedd, Martin Garrix, DJ Snake, Bassjackers, Marshmello & Alesso, Quintino, Showtek, Laidback Luke to The Chainsmokers, and many more.

Even splashy, Dutch DJ duo, Firebeatz, uploaded a video remix with the title ‘Om Telolet Om VS Firebeatz’. In the video description Firebeatz wrote:

“Love for Indonesia and because this gives so much joy to a lot of people we decided to make a quick track with elements from some OM TELOLET OM movies :-)”

“Cinta untuk Indonesia dan karena ini memberikan banyak suka cita kepada orang-orang kami memutuskan untuk membuat rekaman singkat dengan unsur-unsur dari beberapa film OM TELOLET OM:-)

European clubs seem to understand the meaning of ‘Om Telolet Om ‘. We can see their posts, which include an image of the bus.

Inter Milan only posted a photo of their team bus, while Barcelona uploaded a photo of Lionel Messi. It shows he is riding the bus without a roof. Then Manchester City featured a cartoon of Pep Guardiola who is driving the bus.

Through Facebook, Real Madrid uploaded a photo of the superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, who is holding two trophies, The Best Player and Club World Cup to greet Indonesia: “Hello Indonesia! Om Telolet Om,” Real Madrid wrote on their Facebook account.


Meaning and Linguistic Aspects

Not content to have fun with ‘Om Telolet Om’, this phrase also tickles the curiosity and surprises some people. So strangely Deddy Corbuzier the host of Hitam Putih talk show at Trans7 (12/21/2016) said, ‘Om Telolet Om’ is a kind of newest types of cancer has been found by Indonesian. Is it true? Of course he was kidding. I also laugh at his jokes. Then, what is the real meaning of that phrase?

Om Telolet Om essentially means, “Uncle, honk your horn, Uncle!” is a phrase that consists of three words. The same two words are om and one word telolet. Om is adopted from Dutch oom means uncle, while telolet has no meaning either in Dutch nor Indonesian.

So how to explain the telolet phenomenon from language aspects? Based on search results of this phrase, one of the results is derived from the event of the children in Jepara. They were standing on the roadside waiting for inter-city buses passing by and shouted ‘Om Telolet Om’ that the driver honked his horn. After hearing the sound of the horn the children were jumping for joy.

From the event it is clear that the word om or paman refers to the bus driver – the polite way especially for children to address men who are about their father’s age, while the sound of the horn sounded like the word telolet.

Onomatopoeia! I think it is the proper term to understand this language phenomenon. An onomatopoeia from the Greek ὀνοματοποιία; ὄνομα for “name” and ποιέω for “I make”, adjectival form: “onomatopoeic” or “onomatopoetic”) is a word that phonetically imitates, resembles or suggests the source of the sound that it describes. As an uncountable noun, onomatopoeia refers to the property of such words. Common occurrences of onomatopoeias include animal noises such as “oink”, “miaow” (or “meow”), “roar” or “chirp”. Onomatopoeias are not the same across all languages; they conform to some extent to the broader linguistic system they are part of; hence the sound of a clock may be tick tock in English, dī dā in Mandarin, or katchin katchin in Japanese, or “tik-tik” (टिक-टिक) in Hindi.

Although in the English language, the term onomatopoeia means “the imitation of a sound,” the compound word onomatopoeia(ονοματοποιία) in the Greek language means “making or creating names.” For words that imitate sounds, the term Ηχομιμητικό (echomimetico or echomimetic) is used. Ηχομιμητικό (echomimetico) derives from Ηχώ, meaning “echo or sound”, and μιμητικό, meaning “mimetic or imitation”. Thus the telolet sound imitates a horn that installed in many buses in Indonesia. Check out other examples of onomatopoeic words with their counterparts in Indonesian languages below:

  • the sound of tigers (harimau): roar (aum)
  • the sound of mice (tikus): squeak (cicit)
  • the sound of goats (kambing): bleat (embik, mbee)
  • the snores (dengkuran, ngorok)
  • the sound of cats (kucing): miaow (eong)
  • the sound of dogs (anjing): bark (gonggong)
  • the sound of complains (keluhan): sigh (uh)
  • the sound of horses (kuda): neigh (ringkik)

As I mentioned earlier, the phrase fever which contains an onomatopoeic word struck many people. Who is not jealous of the children happiness when the telolet horn sounded? Not a few of the adults shoved big fonts ‘Om Telolet Om’ on the carton while shouting at inter-city buses that pass. The hope is similar to kids. So the adults have a reason to prance on the roadside when the drivers honk their horns. Perhaps the word shame has been excluded from the teloleter (my term for telolet horn hunters). If they keep doing this, can put the police and the riders in trouble, even the risk of immediate harm awaits among those who are not careful.

For the adults who certainly have no uncle-relationship to bus drivers, om also means sir. So ‘Om Telolet Om’ can be translated, “Sir honk your horn, Sir!”



Moving on from the story of teloleter and linguistic aspects, it would be more interesting if we know where horn with the telolet sound came from. Chairman of the Bismania Community Arief Setiawan said, the sound of the telolet represents bus horn first actually it did not appear in Indonesia, but the Middle East. The sound was used to ward the camel off the streets.

Then, there was a businessman who heard the distinctive sound and bring ‘home’ to Indonesia for a bus horn. “Actually, (beep) telolet was originally from the Middle East to shoo camel. In Arabic if I’m not mistaken. Then, to my knowledge there was a businessman, heard it and installed in the bus. But at that time people didn’t use telolet that much. It’s not so viral yet, right?” said Arief to on Thursday (22/12/2016).

That’s all I say about the language phenomenon of ‘Om Telolet Om’ which contains an onomatopoeia. Apart from the negative potential, believe me the whole world especially Indonesia realized that the phrase ‘Om Telolet Om’ has no urgency at all except a joke. However, in the middle of natural disasters and such cases of alleged blasphemy, the election competition ahead, treason, disintegration, the discovery of bombs and arrest of terrorists in several locations in Indonesia, the phrase is contributing to lower the political temperature which is ‘a bit warm’ (let me borrow the terms of our beloved president, Mr. Jokowi). With creativity and optimism, these ‘brain worms’ have even become one of solace that move swiftly to enliven the year-end celebrations. As a wise man said: “Happiness is simple.” “Om Telolet Om!”

Read the Indonesian verse here.

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