I frequently find myself slipping in Singlish* these days. OK, my vocabulary and syntax aren’t so hot. (I still don’t know whether I should punctuate a sentence with “lah” or “leh” or “lor” given the choice.) And I know I don’t get the language’s prosody just right.

My Singaporean friends tend to speak to me in Standard English while code switching amongst each other. (Don’t think I haven’t noticed!) So, save for an odd conversation now and then with a Taxi Uncle or Hawker Centre Aunty, I don’t get to practice much.

So, dear Singaporean or Singapore-based readers, help a sister out. What Singlish words or phrases should I master? Most recently, I’ve picked up “siao,” “atas,” and “boleh.”

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* For the uninitiated, Singlish is an English-based creole whose vocabulary of consists of words originating from English, Malay, Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese, and Tamil. It, like other patois, is a living tongue and continues to evolve. It’s rich with history, culture, capital, and identity.

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Read an excellent essay on modern Singlish, “Variations on a Theme of Singlish” by Huishan Aprilene Goh, at POSKOD.sg.

18 responses

  1. I quite enjoy…

    “Sian”. It can mean bored, eg. “Have to wait for the bus 30 minutes, so sian!” Or it can have a sort of “meh” meaning behind it, eg. “Wah sian, today must do so much housework!”

    And of course the classic exclamation of “wah lau eh”, eg. “Wah lau eh, why you so late then come?”

    Thanks to mrbrown, I find myself saying, “basket chao turtle” in place of phrases like “bloody hell” now and then.

  2. Can’t go wrong with “jiak” (Hokkien, “to eat”.) Gives you a whole series of fantastic Singlish-isms, of which my personal fav is “jiak zhua” (lit. “snake-eating”, i.e. to skive). “Jiak liao bee” (“eating wasted rice”, to be good-for-nothing) is also both descriptive and er, flavourful.

  3. I’m partial to “Alamak”, which is basically “OMG”.

    There’s also “lepak” (pronounced lay-pAk), which means to “chill or hang out”.

  4. I laughed out loud when I saw jusdeananas’ “jiak liao bee”. Haven’t heard that in a while.

    There’s also another variation of “sian” – “sian ji bua” (literally sian 0.5, “ji bua” being 0.5 in hokkien). same extent of “sian”-ness in spite of the number.

    “CMI” – short for cannot make it, e.g. “Wah, his girlfriend really very CMI.”

    And of course, “chop chop curry pok” – for when you need to get things done fast, e.g. “Chop chop curry pok, let’s go otherwise we will be super late.”

    There’s a free iPhone app called HoSay! that will be excellent for you to master Singlish. It’s hilarious as it features audio recordings to ensure proper pronunciation. Definitely among my favorite apps.

  5. “Why like dat?” Or “How like dat?” “Aleady” (“already”, but no “r”). One I find very intriguing is “boomz!”

  6. It should be “KNNBCCB” ^^

    Nah, just concentrate on how to use “lah”, “lor”, “har”, “hor” and “leh” accurately, instead of inserting Singlish terms anyhowly! Some Singlish words will come and go, but the monosyllables will last forever!

  7. I am actually very fascinated with the term” double confirm”. I first heard of this term somewhere last year, and very ironically from a British expat who took a very long time to convince me that it is an actual term we use here. I find it an odd expression mainly because “confirm” signifies something absolute, so to double it seems strangely redundant.

    Anyway I think I need to go out and interact more with people because apparently I have lost touch with what’s happening outside. I find “lah” pretty useful though because it adds a more laid-back tone to an otherwise rigid sounding statement.

  8. “Ornot”, definitely. It’s a great time-saver. “Can ornot?” could mean “Can this be done?” or “Can I do this?”. It can also be pronounced as “anot”.

  9. Singlish grammar is similar to Mandarin. For example, “where are you going?” is “ni3 qu4 na-er2?”, which translates directly into (voila!) “you go where?”

    Another example:
    English: “I am going to see the doctor.”
    Mandarin: “wo3 wu4 kan4 yi1 sheng1”
    Singlish: “I go see doctor.”

    I love how economical Singlish is. Never cheat your money wan. ;p

  10. I’m no expert, but my favourite and very useful Singlish phrase is : “blur like sotong” – which means sort of “dopey (or confused, vague, lost, dumb, or dazed) like jellyfish”.

    You can also use blur on its own: eg “Wah, feel so blur this morning, lor…”

  11. There are certain words/phrases which just don’t have that same oomph in proper English! Like ‘Xian’, and ‘jerlat’ (when you eat a lot of something until you’re sick of it), and ‘relak one corner!’ (relax).

    I like to add on to doublexuan’s confirm/double confirm that i’m quite fond of ‘confirm guarantee plus chop!’ as the ultimate confirmation phrase.

    Singlish truly is unique. It’s the easiest way to identify a fellow Singaporean when you’re overseas. Once you hear the ‘lahs’ and ‘lehs’, confirm guarantee plus chop Singaporean!