A Phnom Penh municipal education official said Wednesday that principals and teachers across the city were struggling to contain the “kikilu” phenomenon that has swept the country.
The term, which can be translated to “howling dog,” has in recent months appeared in a plethora of comedy sketches, songs and ads. But as principals have cottoned on to a less savory interpretation, schools have been battling to keep the word in check.
“The word is not good in its meaning, it means inviting one another to have sex,” said Im Hea, director of the education department’s primary schools office. “Most primary schools in Phnom Penh have warned the students against using that word, along with other kinds of bad words.”
Popularized by the performer Peakmi, the term’s vague meaning adds to its comedic effect. “Kiki” is a playful name for a dog, while “lu” means “to howl,” while the reason for the dog’s howl is left up to interpretation.
News website Thmey Thmey on May 5 published an article titled “The True Meaning of ‘Kiki Lu’ Is as Hard to Find as the MH370 Airplane,” and noted the term’s growing popularity.
“Some people say that it can refer to a dog that fell into a drain pipe, while others affirm it refers to the moan a woman makes while having sex,” the article reads.
Meas Chhorporn, principal of the Preah Norodom Primary School, said he has banned the word multiple times, but its use has snowballed—even among the school’s youngest students.
“The students use that word without knowing what they are saying,” he said. “Even preschool students use it; sometimes when they see a dog crossing.”
Most recently, teachers have announced that they will lower students’ grades if they catch them saying “kikilu,” a tactic that has managed to decrease use of the word, said Mr. Chhorporn.
Despite the harsh punishment, however, some students say they will not abandon the beloved term.
“I’m still using the word after a warning from the principal and teacher,” said Kimlong, 12.
(Additional reporting by Alex Willemyns)