Uncle Kiki’s Toenails: Indonesian Tongue Twister


MS: “Oh do you remember that tongue twister you taught me? Where did you learn that?”

SL: “Oh yeah! My mom taught me that – hold on, let me make sure I get this right, okay.

“Keke kake kiki ko kuku kaki kake ko kaku ke”

SL: “So that’s like a tongue twister that my mom taught me when I was younger and it’s really (laughter) stupid. It’s just, it’s really childish. “Keke” means  – it’s just a slang word for Uncle and then “kake” is the actual word for uncle or just like an older man. And his name is “kiki”. “ko kuku kaki” so why are your toenails so like sharp (laughter). And that is the gist of the story.”

MS: “Is this just a your family type of thing or is it pretty common tongue twister?”

SL: “I think it’s a pretty popular tongue twister but it is said in different forms.”

MS: “Do the other kids of your family also know or use it frequently?”

SL: “I think they would definitely know what it is but I think I’m the most like in tune with a lot of the Indonesian words like slang and…so I don’t think they would necessarily register what I’m saying – it’s just like why are you saying these words to me?”



The informant is an Indonesian-Chinese-American college student, who has lived in California her whole life. This conversation took place in my apartment while the informant and I, among a group of other people, were discussing our very diverse childhoods growing up in different parts of the world. She had taught me this tongue twister a few years ago, and though I knew how to say it, I never had the cultural context necessary to truly understand it.



The tongue twister seems to be a means of connecting to a distant culture – both through the use of slang words and the implicit vernacular and pronunciation sophistication required to present the tongue twister correctly and understand its meaning. The humorous meaning is probably a means of making the content appealing to children so they get influenced to repeat the phrase and subconsciously learn the language and culture.