Wednesday, May 28, 2008

SINGLISH - A Language Guide for Foreigners

SINGLISH... when an English-speaking foreigner first arrives in Singapore, one of the first things noted is that most locals have a fairly good grasp of the English language. As time goes by, and one spends much time living and interracting with the locals (especially outside of the tourist areas), it soon becomes apparent that English alone is not enough to fully converse on local topics.

The intent of this post is to offer a guide to non-Singlish speaking people to perhaps better understand what is going on around them :p

It should be noted, that I consider Singlish to be a part of the essence of Singapore and it's culture! Before I begin with the background and 'common' Singlish terms and their meanings, I've updated the original video I posted here (no longer available) and replaced it with my kids and me promoting the Speak Mandarin Campaign in Singapore (disclaimer: this was some years ago :)

I have tried to remove any of the 'vulgar' or swear words from this text - I apologise for anything I've missed, or if it offends any people - this is not my intent lah!
Singlish is the English-based creole spoken and written colloquially in Singapore. Although English is the lexifier language, Singlish has its unique slang and syntax, which are more pronounced in informal speech.

Singlish vocabulary formally takes after British English (in terms of spelling and abbreviations), although naming conventions are in a mix of American and British ones (with American ones on the rise). For instance, local media have "sports pages" (sport in British English) and "soccer coverage" (the use of the word "soccer" is not common in British media). Singlish also uses many words borrowed from Hokkien, the Chinese dialect native to more than 75% of the Chinese in Singapore, and from Malay. In many cases, English words take on the meaning of their Chinese counterparts, resulting in a shift in meaning. This is most obvious in such cases as "borrow"/"lend", which are functionally equivalent in Singlish and mapped to the same Mandarin word, "借" (jiè), which can mean to lend or to borrow. For example: "Oi, can I lend your calculator?" / "Can lend me your calculator?" This is technically incorrect in standard English but is widely used in Singlish.


A list of Singlish terms and expressions widely used in Singapore is set out below. It is not exhaustive and is meant to provide some representative examples of Singlish usage in Singapore. The origins of the Singlish terms are indicated where possible, and literal translations are provided where necessary.

4D Local 4 digit lottery game run by Singapore Pools

5Cs The 5 C's of Singapore, namely Cash, Car, Credit card, Condominium, (Country) Club

Corruption of "About it"

Aiyah! Exam sure fine one lah! Don worry abourit!

Act blur
English and Cantonese.
A direct Chinese-Singlish translation of "裝傻". Pretend to be ignorant, feign ignorance

Act cute
English and Cantonese.
A direct Chinese-Singlish translation of "裝嬌". Behaving in an exaggeratedly cute or adorable fashion. Usually describing females who seemingly cannot escape their childhood. Can be used as both verb and adjective.

Wah lau eh! Linda always try to act cute one! She think she good meh?"

In this context, the term means that the person being described is arrogant and haughty. Can also mean a person is full of hot air.

You don't talk so much, action only!

Exclamation of disgust or pain, similar to "Alamak" (definition explained below), but used to denote a lesser degree of exasperation.

An estimate

Agak Tarek Malay.
A combination of the word "estimate" (agak) and "pull" (tarek). It means to "hold back" or "not to go too far".

Don't talk so bad about him. Agak tarek a bit and give him some face, lah.

Malay and English.
The noun form of the word Agak Agak, which means "estimate". Also a corruption of the English word "aggregation", also of the same meaning.

Cantonese and Mandarin.
Originated from the Chinese word "啊". Used in this case within questions and rhetoric where opinions and affirmations are being sought.

This dress looks good on me ar?

Ah Beng
A transliteration of the name "阿明". A hillbilly, someone with little dress sense. The expressions came about because Ah Beng is a common Chinese male name.

Ah Beng Ah Seng
A group of Ah Bengs. The word is a transliteration of the word "阿明阿成". Ah Seng" alone is a pejorative term.

Why you go and make friend with those Ah Beng Ah Seng?

Ah Chek
Used as a way to address a middle aged man.

Ah Huay
A transliteration of the word "阿花". It is synonymous to the word "Ah Lian" (definition explained below).

Ah Kah Ah Chew
A Hokkien phrase literally meaning "duck legs, duck hands". It is used to describe one's extremely poor coordination. Both components in the word can be used separately.

Don't go and ask him to help you set up the stage. He's very the ah kah ah chew.

Ah Kong
Grandpa. A transliteration of the word "阿公". The term can also be used to refer to the government itself.

(Used in the context of referring to the government) Ah Kong got so much money, why still so kiam?

Ah Kow
A transliteration of the word "阿狗". Frequently used alongside "Ah Beng". It can also be used to refer to dogs.

Ah Kua (or Ah Quah, Ah Gua)
Transliteration of the name "阿官", which means "transvestite" or "transsexual". Generally used to describe men who are perceived as feminine or homosexual.

Ah Lian
A transliteration of the name "阿蓮". The female equivalent of Ah Beng (see above for definition)

Ah Long
A transliteration of the name "阿聾", which is a shortened form of "大耳聾". Loan sharks (more likely than not, loan sharks with criminal syndicate connections)

Ah Mm
A way to address an old woman.

Ah Nia
Pretty, beautiful. Term used in the context of referring to a young, beautiful girl.

Ah Pek
A way to address an old man. Male counterpart of Ah Mm. Transliteration of the word "阿伯"

Ah Pooi
Generic name given to a fat person. Frequently used alongside "Ah Beng".

Ah Soh
Transliterated from the word "阿嫂". Used as a way to address a middle aged woman. Counterpart to the word "Ah Chek" (definition explained above).

Ah Then?
Expression for "of course" or "duh!". "Ah then?" is the sarcastic response given to blindingly obvious questions or statements.

Ah Tong Ah Seng
Chinese, possibly Cantonese.
Equivalent to the English phrase "Tom, Dick and Harry"

Every Ah Tong Ah Seng also got handphone today.

Ai Pee, Ai Chee, Ai Tua Liap Nee
Literally "want cheap, want pretty, want big breasts!". Used to describe someone who wants the Earth. Someone with unrealistic or unreasonable desires or expectations.

Singaporeans all very hard to please, one. They all ai pee, ai chee, ai tua liap nee.

Ai Si
Transliteration of the word "要死". Used as a description or as an expression for one who is on thin ice.

Ai si, ah?

Ai Tzai
An expression for someone to calm down.

The exam is not counted one. Ai tzai!

Aiyah! (or Aiyoh!)
Transliteration of the word "哎呀" and "哎唷”. The term is an equivalent for "Oh No!", "Oh Dear!". Another derivative of the term, ai-yoh-yoh (Chinese: 哎唷唷), was popularized by Mediacorp Chinese drama series Good Morning, Sir!.

Aiyoh! Are you OK?

Ak Kah Chiew Ji
Literally "as close to someone as two testicles", the term is an equivalent of "peas and pods".

Don'ch worry, I ak kah chiew ji with this feller. If I ask, he sure help you one.

Ak Kah Liao (or Ak)
To be good and intimate friends with someone.

I didn't know you and Tom were so ak kah liao.

Akan Datang
Coming Soon. Used to be seen frequently on movie trailers and advertisements. Usage is decreasing

Be more patient OK, akan datang.

Akan Datang
Coming Soon. Used to be seen frequently on movie trailers and advertisements. Usage is decreasing

Be more patient OK, akan datang.

A pejorative description of something or someone as extremely cutesy and girlish. Possibly a contraction of "act cute until like sai (shit)".

Aiyoh, Priscilla wear the Hello Kitty hairclips, so akasai!

Phonetically close to the Chinese term "Oh, my mother!". It expresses shock or surprise. Possibly imported from Malaysia.

Ali Baba
Arabic, English.
Steal, cheat. Based on the story of Ali Baba and the forty thieves.

You don' act blur, okay! I know you ali baba my fries when I went to the toilet!

All Fart and No Shit
(Possibly pejorative) description of someone who is full of empty promises.

Ah, shaddup lah. Everyday say you wan' to treat me go lunch. You all fart and no shit only.

A contraction of the Malay word "Apa Macam", which is used as a greeting, similar to "What's up?"

Eh, Ramli! Long time no see! Amacam?

An zhua?
Word for "What's the matter?" or "What's up?". Heard very often as the first or second phrase used on a mobile phone.

Hello? An zhua?

Ang Moh
"Red Hair", a pejorative term for people of Caucasian descent.

Chinese, Japanese.
Descriptive term for a Japanese girl.

Angkat Bola
To curry favor.

Apu Neh Neh
A racist term for people of Indian descent.

Ee! How come here got so many apu neh-neh?

Arbo (or Arbuthen)
A derivative of the term Ah Then. Began to appear in the 80's

A corruption of the term "Ugly".

Wah lan, check out Ah Beng's shirt. It's damn argly.

To delegate an unpleasant or boring task to someone. Term derives from the military and government's practice of stamping a tiny arror next to the name of the person in official documents.

I don't know why I always kena arrow by the Inche to wash the jamban.

Arse Luck
English, endemic to the UK.
Extremely bad luck.

Ah Hock just got his driving license and straightaway kena caught for speeding. What arse luck!

Upstairs. Used to describe a snobbish and arrogant person.

Wah, you nowsaday do'wan to eat ikan bilis, only eat caviar. Become damn atas oreddy

A generic title for middle-aged to old females. Can be pejorative when used on a young woman. Also used to described a young person who dresses unfashionably.

Eh, today you dress very Auntie leh!

Chicken. Used to describe someone who is easily intimidated

Man U. sure win. The other team damn ayam one.

Berak Malay. To make a bowel movement.

Bian Tai Mandarin From (变态/變態). Means perverted.

Blur English. Clueless. In a daze. Unaware of what is going on.

Bodoh Malay. Stupid, ignorant.

Boh lang ai Hokkien. Lit. "nobody wants (you)". Useless.

Boh liao Hokkien. Nothing better to do. Mandarin: "wu liao" "He do lidat, so boh liao!"

Boleh Malay. Can, possible.

Bo ji Hokkien. No balls.

Botak Malay. Bald head.

Buay Hokkien. Literally means cannot. Buay tahan = Cannot stand it

Buaya Malay. Lit. "crocodile". A womanizer, flirt.

Chao Hokkien. When talking about scent/smell, it means it's smelly. Also can be used when someone plays dirty (jiak chao) in a game."That guy play basketball very chao leh!

Chao Keng Hokkien. Pretending to be sick or injured. Sometimes shortened to just keng.

Chao mao Chinese. Copycat. From the Chinese word 抄猫.

Cheena Peranakan. A crude term used to describe a Chinese national, a 'foreign talent' with implied attributes of portunism, rudeness and boorishness. Usually used to label Chinese emigrants who arrive in Singapore to seek fortune. Nowadays also used by the younger Singaporean Chinese to describe recent migrants from mainland China. Also describes someone who displays strong Chinese cultural flavours.

Cher Singlish. Not to be confused for the American singer Cher. This term is a short way of addressing 'teacher'.

Chikopeh Hokkien Pervert.

Chin cai lah! In answer to a query: "I have no preference; it's up to you, don't bother me!"

Chiobu Hokkien. Good-looking female. Similar to use of "hot chick" in America.

Chiong sua Hokkien. Gung ho. Lit. "to charge up a hill". In National Service/ military context the literal meaning may be used.
Chop Stamp, seal. From Malay cap, which is from Hindi छाप ćhāp (stamp). "Make sure your passport got chop ar!"
Chop Chop Do it Fast, don't waste time... For Example, "chop chop finish the work lah.. don't waste time lah."

Chope Reserve a seat. Derived from chop; to leave a mark. Singaporeans have a habit of leaving objects on seats/ tables to reserve places. "Don't take this seat, I choped it already."

Confirm plus Chop Shortened from "confirm plus guarantee got chop" To mean that you are extremely sure of something (derives from National Service/ military situations where one needs to be absolutely sure about something; guarantee got chop denotes that the paperwork will be approved)
A: "You sure next week sargent giving us leave?" (Are you sure our sergeant is granting the platoon a day off next week?)

B: "Confirm plus guarantee got chop." (The sergeant would have to get approval to grant the entire platoon a day off)
Da bao (or Ta Pau) (from Cantonese 打包) To take away food.
E.g. "One nasi lemak. Da bao."
Dey! Indian. "Hey!"

Double confirm Confirm and reconfirm. Used to emphasis the confirmation.

Dulan Hokkien. Pissed. Literally to have oneself's testicles poked.
Eye-power Refers to someone who sits back and watches others do the work. The comic book character "Cyclops" of the X-Men is sometimes used to describe someone who uses eye-power all the time. "Whao, we do all the work, you sit there do nothing, your eye-power very good hor?"

Encik Teacher. Also a term for Company Sergeant Major in military usage. Malay origin (Malay: Uncle)
Gabra Very confused or very disorganized. Clumsy or edgy.
Gahmen Deliberate mispronunciation of the word "government". Used as a substitute for the actual word especially when criticising the government in written form to prevent possible sanctions against the author.

Garang Malay. Gung-ho. Lit. "fierce"

Gone-case English. Presumed to originate from the term "I'm a goner." To mean that your doom has been confirmed. Wah lau, the exam so difficult, I gone-case liao ar

Goondu Tamil Idiot, simpleton.

Gostan Pidgin English. Go backwards / Reverse. This actually originates from the nautical phrase "go astern".

GGXX Adapated from arcade games, where during the end of a sparring game, the words 'GGXX', meaning 'good game' and 'game over', will be displayed prominently on the screen. It is frequently used in its short form 'GG', both forms of which means that you are doomed (i.e. game over). Rumour has it that the XX stems from the practice of a 'redouble' in contract bridge convention. If you continue like this and don't study, your exam sure ggxx liao.
Hao Lian Hokkien. To boast

Heng Hokkien. Lucky, fortunate.

Hoot Hokkien. To beat (somebody) up. Let's go hoot him up! He stared at me for very long time.
Hosei liao Hokkien. Very good! Excellent! Mostly used in a sarcastic manner: You never study still want to do exam? Hosei liao!

Hosei bo? Hokkien. How are you doing? (Greeting)

Huat Hot
Jiak Hokkien. Eat.
Jiak chao Hokkien. A low tone means to play dirty, lit. "to eat dirt"; a high tone means refers to a skiver, or the act of skiving, lit. "to eat grass".

Jiak zhua Hokkien. Refers to a skiver, or the act of skiving. Lit. "to eat snake".

Jia Lat Hokkien. Oh dear! Lit. "sapping strength". Used to describe a terrible situation. "Ah! You broke your leg!? Jia lat ah! How you play soccer later?"

Jilo Deliberate mispronunciation of the number "zero".

Jing Gang Used to refer to a group of idling individuals. Eh, I want the whole jing gang to fall in in the parade square in 2 minutes' time.

Kampung Malay. Village. "I was born in a kampung ... somewhere in Novena"

Kaopeh kaobu Hokkien. (哭父苦母) Complain too much. Commonly abbreviated as "KPKB". Literally "cry for your parents".

Kay poh (or Kaypo) Chinese origins (written as 雞婆 in Chinese) . Refers to a person that is nosey parker or busybody. Eg 'Eh, Don't be so kaypoh leh!'. Sometimes abbreviated as "KPO".

Kee Siao Hokkien. To go mad. Often used to scold people. "You kee siao or what? Go complain to teacher for what? Think i scared of you issit?"

Kena to be afflicted with, to suffer (from) (Malay passive auxiliary)

Kenasai! / kanasai! Exclamation of anger to show your frustration at something that is not done satisfactorily. "Kanasai! How come today test so hard arh? Gone case liao lah!"

Kilat excellent - army term referring to someone who shines his boots well. See also "solid"

Ki Chia (literally "Up the Car") Used to describe something very bad. Eg 'My exam ki chia liao.' Possibly derived from the action of an injured person being lifted into an ambulance. Another term used is "Up Lorry".

Kiah su / kiasu (literally "scared to lose/of loss") somebody who fears losing out (from Hokkien 惊输)

Kiah si / kiasi (literally "scared to die/of death") somebody who fears losing out (from Hokkien 惊死)

Kiam Hokkien (咸) lit "salty" Stingy.

Kiam Pah Hokkien (欠打) Deserve a beating.

Kope (copy) to take without permission. "eh, don't kope my homework leh"

Kopi "Malay" Coffee

Kuku stupid/silly; unfashionable; crazy

Kuku house asylum (kuku here refers to crazy)
Lah! Most basic and famous of Singlish expressions. Tagged as an exclamation usually (but not in questions). "Good lah!" / "Go home lah!" / "Ok lah!" / "Eat lah!" / "Cannot do it like this lah!"
Lam pah pronounced LUM PAR Hokkien. Packet of the balls. Also used as a vulgarity to show exclamation, "Lampah! Who said you can do this?"

Lap sap bar/KTV Cantonese + English Used to refer to those sleazy establishments where girls would do "unclean" stuff to customers. Lap sap literally means "garbage".

Lan jiao Hokkien. Penis.

Lim peh Hokkien. Used when demonstrating authority, usually in a sneering manner. Lit. "your father".

Lim bu An offshoot from the term Lim peh, used perhaps as a demonstration of feminist power, as opposed to patriachy in the term 'lim peh'. Lit. "your mother"

Luan hoot! Hokkien. To bark up the wrong tree; to cast a wide net hoping to catch something. Lit. "randomly hit".

Leh Most basic and famous of Singlish expressions. Similar to Lah, depend on the situation to use. Usually it trying to put across the meaning "Don't make thing difficult or Don't you understand?!?!?!" What it's trying to emphasize is determine by the tone. Ex: "Dun be angry leh / I didn't do it on purpose de leh". or "I told you I dunno how to do it liao leh"

Leh Chey Tedious

Liao Most basic and famous of Singlish expressions. Means "already". From Chinese "了". Ex: "Lai liao, Lai liao!!" Lai is "Come" in Chinese, so "Lai liao" means "Come already"/ "I am coming"/ "(someone) has come". Liao can also be used with Leh or Lah. "I told you he came liao leh!/I told you he came liao lah!"

Mah / Ma *Most basic and famous of Singlish expressions. Tagged as a question. From Chinese "吗". "Can he do it mah/ma? / He come liao ma/mah?"

Mah-cham Malay. As if; to resemble something in a certain way.

Mai siao lah! Hokkien. Don't be crazy!

Makan Malay. To eat.

Mangali / Mankali A corruption of "Bengali". A crude way to refer to ethnic Indians.

Masak-Masak A child's game. Malay origin.

Mata Malay. Police. Sometimes used as a quick warning that the police are here. Lit. "eye".

Mati Malay. To die, to be doomed.

Merepek Malay, Nonsense, Rubbish

Merlion (verb) To vomit, especially after drinking. Also used in the Navy to describe sailors vomiting due to seasickness. A reference to the famous Merlion statues
More better The incorrect, but frequently used expression of the word "better"

Mong xing xing / Mong cha cha Cantonese. To be generally unalert, aware, in a daze, or "blur"; "don't know what happen".
(1)You always mong xing xing, later za boa take away all your money then you know.
(2)He always Mong cha cha since his girl friend left him last year.
Mug To cram; to study excessively.

Ngeow Hokkien. Someone who is overly meticulous, nit-picky or tries to find fault. Lit. "cat".

Orbi / Orbi quek / Orbi good 'Another term for "Serves you right."'
Orbit / Obiang 'Someone or something that is gaudy or overly flamboyant in taste.'

ORD loh! ORD (Operationally Ready Date) is the date on which a National Serviceman completes his 2-year military service. A favourite exultation of those nearing their ORD. Sometimes, ORD is also used as a verb. "I am going to ORD soon!"

Orredy Sloppy pronunciation of "already". "You finish homework orredy or not hah?"

OTOT 'own time/ own target. Meaning "to act on your own initiative." or in the context of training in sports etc, "to do it at your own pace and abilities"' Of army origins, during shooting practice, before shots are fired at the range, the commander will usually give the order "Firers, own time own target, carry on". Evolved to the bastardised Singlish version "Own time, own target, carry on!"
Pantang Malay bad luck, being superstitious, superstitions
Pasar Malam Malay Night Market. "The food over at those pasar malam markets are very much better I think"

Pak Toh Cantonese 拍拖. To flirt

Photostat photocopy (reference to old photostat)

Pia(h) / Bia(h) to rush or charge; to work hard at something. "I need to pia for my exam sia" or "I want to pia taxi home"

Pok Kai Cantonese to go bankrupt or lose money
Qia zha bo Qia means fierce and arrogant, zha bo means a lady. Thus, the complete term 'Qia Zha Bo' refers to a fierce and arrogant lady who wants everything done her way.

Return back To give back. Direct translation from the Chinese phrase.

Sargen Sergeant
Sakar Malay. To flatter, to lick one's boots. Derived from Malay meaning 'sugar', which may have been derived from Hindi 'sakar' or 'Sakkar' meaning 'sugar' and 'sweet words', and ultimately from Persian 'shakar' meaning 'sugar', 'sweet'.

Sekali Malay. Pronounced SCAR-ly. Lest, what if. "Sekali no way to go out, then how?"

Shiok Punjabi. Great! An expression of satisfaction. Originally "shauk" in Punjabi.

Sia An exclamation "Wah! He pro sia!"

Siam Hokkien. Get out of the way! Considered rude but effective.

Sian Hokkien. Bored, tired, or sick of something. "I am so sian! Nothing to do, man!"

Siao / Xiao Hokkien. Refers to either "crazy" in response to: "You wan to go the haunted hospital tonight anot?" "Siao ah you?" or an offensive term used to address a friend: "Xiao eh! wan to go clubbing tonight anot?" (Not considered offensive if used between close friends.)

Song Hokkien. (爽) Used to express pleasure. "After the bath, I feel very song!" Lit. "feels good".

Sotong Malay. Forgetful or not knowing what is going on. Lit. "squid".

Suaku Hokkien. (山龜) Not well informed or backward; a country bumpkin. Lit. "mountain tortoise".

Suay Hokkien. Unlucky.

Sup sup sui Cantonese. Something that is insignificant or easy to do. Lit. "a little drop of water".

Seh Malay. an exlamation "wah pro seh!"
Ta pau Cantonese 打包 Take away (used only when cooked food is concerned)
Tai ko (also spelled "tyco") Hokkien Lucky (only used sacarstically). Literally "leper"

Talk cock / tok kok Talking nonsense / senselessly. Probably originated from the English expression "cock and bull story". "Don't tok kok lah! Where got like that one?"

Tangi Funeral.

Thiam/Diam Hokkien. A very rude way of saying "shut up!" "Oi! Thiam lah! I'm trying to study!"

Toot Stupid / silly. "He wear like that look very toot hor?"

Tombalek Malay Opposite / Upside-down / Inside-out. "Did you see that? He wear his shirt tombalek leh!"
Tua pai Hokkien. A big shot; someone of a high status. "You think you got money damn tua pai is it?"

Tu Tu Train Train; toot-toot train. Boy ah, u go onto the tu tu train, mummy take nice picture of you, you must smile sui sui ok?''

Ulu Malay. Used to describe a rural or remote area. Commonly found in road names around Singapore as well.

Uncle Used as a generic title for males who are middle-aged or older, especially those who are not well acquainted. "Uncle! One teh-C and one milo-peng!" Similarly to auntie, used by young children to denote respect for a male adult.
Also used to describe a younger person who behaves/dresses in an uncool/unfashionable manner. (See Auntie)
Very the Same meaning as just saying "very" but is usually used with a clearly sarcastic tone. "Wah! You like that also cannot do? You very the good leh!"
Wah lao! / Wah piang! / Wah seh! / Wah kao! Hokkien. Exclamation of shock. "Wah piang! Why he so bad one!"

Womit Bad pronunciation of "vomit" "Ee! He going to womit already liao!"
Ya ya papaya An arrogant person.
Your head Mild curse used to disabuse someone of his or her erroneous assumption. "He get first in class? Your head lah!"

Yandao A handsome male, see Chio Bu (female version)
zheng ah (cantonese)means "good" or "great". you are so "zheng ah". you are so good or great.
Singlish is prominently used in local coffee shops, or kopitiams (the word is obtained by combining the Malay word for coffee and the Hokkien word for shop), and other eateries. Local names of many food and drink items consist of words from different languages and are indicative of the multi-racial society in Singapore. For example, teh is the Malay word for tea which itself originated from Hokkien, peng is the Hokkien word for ice, kosong is the Malay word for zero to indicate no sugar, and C refers to Carnation, a brand of evaporated milk.

NOTE: Hokkien is NOT Singlish. Only local dishes which have no other English terms would then be considered Singlish. However, drinks in local coffeeshops have slowly evolved into their own Singlish jargon, in a mix of Malay, Hokkien and English - which would be considered Singlish in this context. (Please see section on Drinks)


Names of common local dishes in Singapore hawker centres are usually referred to in local dialect or language. However, as there are no English words for certain food items, the dialect terms used for them have slowly evolved into part of the Singlish vocabulary. Ordering in Singlish is widely understood by the hawkers. Some examples of food items which have become part of Singlish:

Chze Char (Hokkien) Literally means cook and fry. General term for food served by mini restaurants in local hawker stalls serving restaurant style Chinese dishes, like fried noodles, sweet and sour porked, claypot tofu etc.
Char Kway Teow (Hokkien) Fried flat rice noodles with bean sprouts, Chinese sausages, eggs and cockles, in black sweet sauce, with or without chilli.

Chwee Kuay (Hokkien) cup shaped steamed rice flour cakes topped with preserved vegetables (usually radish) and served with or without chilli

Ice Kachang Crushed ice with flavoured liquids poured into them. Beans and jelly are usually added as well.

Kaya (Malay) Local jam mixture made of coconut, sugar and egg of Straits Chinese origins

Kaya-roti (Malay) Toasted bread with Kaya

Mee Goreng (Chinese/Malay) Malay fried noodles

Otah (Malay) Fish paste wrapped in banana leaf or coconut leaves and cooked over a charcoal fire. South East Asian influence - you can find similar versions in Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia

Popiah (Hokkien) Chinese spring rolls (non fried). Various condiments and vegetables wrapped in a flour skin with sweet flour sauce. Condiments can be varied, but the common ones include turnip, bamboo shoots, lettuce, Chinese sausage, prawns, bean sprouts, garlic and peanut. Origins from China. Hokkien and Straits Chinese (Nonya) popiah are the main versions.

Rojak (Malay) local salad of Malay origins. Mixture of sliced cucumber, pineapple, turnip, dried beancurd, Chinese doughsticks, bean sprouts with prawn paste, sugar, lotus buds and assam (tamarind).

Roti John (Malay/English) Indian version of western hamburger comprising of 2 halves of French loaves fried with egg and minced beef/mutton. Colonial origins.

Types of tea

Teh (Hokkien/Malay) Tea
Teh-O (Hokkien) Tea without milk but instead with sugar.

Teh-O-ice-limau (Hokkien-English-Malay) Home brewed iced lemon tea

Teh-C (Hokkien/Malay-Roman alphabet) Tea with evaporated milk. The C refers to the Carnation brand of evaporated milk.

Teh-cino Tea version of cappuccino

Teh-Peng (Hokkien) Tea with ice.

Teh-Poh Weak or thin tea.

Teh-kah-dai Tea with more sugar and milk.

Teh-siu-dai Tea with less sugar and milk.

Teh-O-kah-dai Tea with more sugar.

Teh-O-siu-dai Tea with less sugar

Teh-C-kah-dai Tea with more milk.

Teh-C-siu-dai Tea with less milk.

"Teh-packet" or "Teh-pao" Tea to go.

Teh-Tarik 'Pulled' tea with milk, a Malay specialty.
Types of coffee
Kopi (Hokkien) Coffee
Kopi-O Coffee without milk

Kopi-C Coffee with evaporated milk. The C refers to the Carnation brand of evaporated milk.

Kopi-Peng (Hokkien) Coffee with ice.

Kopi-packet or Kopi-pao Coffee to go.

Kopi-gao Thick coffee.

Kopi-poh Weak or thin coffee.

Kopi-kah-dai Coffee with more sugar.

Kopi-siu-dai Coffee with less sugar.
Other beverages

Bandung (Malay) Rose syrup-milk drink, of Indian origins. (Goat's milk was used in the old days)
Ice kosong (English-Malay) Iced water

Horlick-dinosaur Iced Horlicks with extra scoop of Horlicks powder on top

Horlick-sio Hot Horlicks

Horlick-peng Iced Horlicks

Milo-sio Hot Milo.
Milo-dinosaur Iced Milo with extra scoop of undissolved Milo powder on top
Milo-Peng Iced Milo

Tak Kiu (Hokkien; literally means football or soccer) Milo; Nestlé Milo often uses soccer and other sports as the theme of its advertisement.

Tak Kiu-Peng Iced Milo

Tiau Herr (Hokkien; literally means fishing). Tea with the tea bag. Reference to dipping of tea bag.
The above list is not complete; for example, one can add the "-peng" suffix (meaning "iced") to form other variations such as Teh-C-peng (tea with evaporated milk with ice) which is a popular drink considering Singapore's warm weather.


  • follow - to come along/accompany - "Can I follow?"
  • expressway - a motorway - I was driving on the Pan-Island Expressway.
  • having here - to eat in at a restaurant. The antonym is "take away" or "tah-bao".
  • help, lah - please, do lend me a hand by desisting from whatever it is you are doing; help me out here - "Help lah, stop hitting on my sister"
  • last time - previously, in the past - "Last time I would want to go down to Africa, but I don't know about now."

  • mug - to study - Derived from British 'mug up'. Common expression amongst all students. Instead of 'He's mugging up...', locally used as 'He's mugging for...'.

  • marketing - going to the market or shops to buy food - Rare expression."My dad may help in the marketing side, by going to the market to get some things."

  • next time - in the future - "Next time when you get married, you'll know how to cook."

  • on, off - to switch on/off - "I on the TV"

  • on ah - It's settled then?

  • open - to turn on a light - "I open the light." (Derived from Chinese, which uses the verb "to open" in this manner. Use of "open" to mean "turn on" is limited specifically to lamps or lights.)

  • pass up - to hand in - "Pass up your assignments". Although once common, usage is now discouraged in schools.

  • revert - to get back (commonly used in business emails) - "I'll revert to you by tomorrow"

  • send - to take (i.e. drive) somebody somewhere - "She gets her maid to send the boy in a cab."

  • solid/steady - capable; excellent - "Solid sia, that movie." See also "Kilat"

  • sabo - to play a trick on someone. Short for "sabotage", but with an everyday usage. - "Because he sabo me, now boss mad at me!"

  • stay - to live (in a place). From Malay "tinggal". - "My grandmother, my aunt and uncle also stay next door."

  • steady - attached (in relationships) OR agreeing over something, usually over an appointment - "Eh u two steady liao ah?", "Today, come 3 o'clock? Steady."
    - cool, capable (to praise integrity or strength) - "Wa you sick also turn up for work? Steady!"
  • stone - to space out; to do nothing

  • take - to eat; to have a meal - "Have you taken your lunch? I don't take pork."

  • tok kok - (talk cock) - Probably from the English "cock and bull story". Talking senselessly/rubbish; "Don't tok kok lah!"


  • Blur like sotong - literally blur like a squid. To be extremely clueless. Squids squirt ink as a self-defence mechanism to get away. The ink makes it hard to see, thus "blur". - "Wah! You damn blur leh! Liddat also dunno!"

  • Don't fly my kite/aeroplane - Rare expression. A Singlish expression which means 'Please do not go back on your word' or 'Please do not stand me up'

  • Don't play play! - Uncommon expression, popularised by the local comedy series Phua Chu Kang Pte Ltd. Used only to evoke humour. Means 'Don't fool around' or 'Better take things seriously'

  • Got problem is it? - an aggressive, instigatory challenge. Or an expression of annoyance when someone is disturbed. 'Do you have a problem?'

  • He still small boy one - a remark (Often offensive) made against someone who is not of a legally median age allowed by the law. Or expression used to excuse someone because he is either immature or still too young to know the difference.

  • Issit/Izzit? - lazy/bastardised form of "is it?" Used in various contexts, to question in both positive and negative forms, or as a response in a rhetorical quizzical manner. Eg: You going home now issit? Eg: You not going home issit? Eg: Someone comments: "You look good today." Answer: "Issit??"

  • Last time policemen wear shorts! - a retort made to someone who refers to how policies were made in the past. Or in response to something which is passe. Or to brush aside old references or nostalgia. Direct reference to the British colonial police forces who wore three-quarter khaki pants in the 1950s and 60's.

  • Liddat oso can!? - (English - Like that also can?) In response to feats of achievement or actions which are almost impossible, or unexpected. Usually with tinge of awe, sarcasm or scepticism.

  • My England not powderful! - (English - My English is not powerful (good)) Uncommon expression, used only to evoke humour. Literally means 'My English is not good'.

  • no fish prawn oso can - accepting a lesser alternative (direct translation of the Hokkien idiom "bo hir hay mah hoh.")

  • Not happy, talk outside! - Used as a challenge to a fight to settle an argument, by taking it outside. (Hokkien: Ow buay gong (settle it at the back/alley way))

  • No horse run! - (Hokkien - Bo bei chow) Original Hokkien expression used in horse racing jargon to describe a champion horse which is way ahead of the field. Used to describe things (food usually) which are ahead of its peers.

  • On lah!/On!/Set! - "It's on!"; expression used to voice enthusiastic agreement or confirmation (of an arranged meeting, event etc.)

  • Relak lah! - (Malay-English for Relax) Expression used to ask someone to chill, cool it.

  • ..then you know! - Expression used at the back of a sentence to emphasise consequence of not heeding advice. 'Tell you not to park double yellow line, kena summon then you know!'

  • Why you so liddat ar? - (English - Why are you so "like that"?) 'an appeal made to someone who is being unreasonable.'

  • You think, I thought, who confirm? - army expression used during organisational foul ups. Generally used as a response to "I thought..." when something goes wrong.

  • You want 10 cent? - Means to "buzz off!" Refers to public phones that require 10 cents per call.

  • Your grandfather's place/road ah?, Your father own this place/road? - Used to cut someone down to size in terms of their obnoxious boorish behaviour, behaving as if they owned the place.
NB: To ensure no breach of copyright, please be aware that the following information is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.


Neon Tetra (Paracheirodon innesi) said...

lol super-long list but ya it's good! The drinks list v.useful when u get to a kopitiam~

Aussie Pete said...

Heh - hiya neon tetra. Yeh, I thought I was doing ok with my knowledge of Singlish, but when posting this very long list, I soon realized that I have a long, long way to go... :p

Anonymous said...

Thanks..... it's kinda useful for me as my knowledge of Singlish is limited...


Aussie Pete said...

Ah - paparazzo - thanks for the comment - you and me both!! Unfortunately the list is too long for a 'pocket' card to carry with me. I think the trick is to do like I do with my mandarin language.. just try and master and remember one or two words a day - over time the total vocabulary increases. Although with Singlish, I think it's also all about the accent. When some locals hear me trying to use Singlish with an Aussie accent, they look at me like I'm stupid (my friends are a little more tolerant)... :D

Anisah Abdullah said...

This is hillarious. Made me laugh!
I'm Malaysian chinese, we speak somewhat similar to Singlish.

Good job on the compilation.

Anonymous said...

I am a true blue, born and bred sinkie and would like to commend you on your good compilation even though some words are not correct in meaning and origins.

e.g. sakar = hokkien meaning 3 legs = carrying one's balls = currying favour. Malay equivalent would be angkat or carry.

"He sakar bo lui than, si kar hor kau kan."

Anonymous said...

Really interesting and helpful!

One question: what about 'meh'? Is that like 'lah' or is it different? I've seen it used in a way like it mught mean 'blah', or something a bit negative?

Anisah Abdullah said...

Hi Ian,

We use 'meh' when we respond negatively to a statement made by another.. equaivalent to 'really?' in English.

The difference between 'lah' and 'meh':
meh is more often used by chinese.
lah is used by malay.

Anonymous said...

slowly learn la i think u still got a long way to go leh friend maybe 3 to 5 years more

Anonymous said...

As a Singaporean myself, I look down on Singlish. Even the government is running campaigns to denounce the use of Singlish.

It is a corruption of the English language.

How did Singlish come about? In the 50s, education standards were extremely low, so a lot of Singaporeans did not even complete Primary or Secondary school. They were (and still are) illiterates, devoid of science and reasoning.

That is why today in Singapore, many of those above 50yo (or 40yo) do not even have a full O level certificate or Primary school certificate.

It is amazing to me that people glorify illiteracy.

Most of these people work as hawkers or retail assistants in the service industry; low paying jobs that are shunned by most Singaporeans.

And since 42% of the population in Singapore are foreigners (I haven't included the new citizens yet), most of the Singlish I hear today are mostly from the Malaysians (who are educated entirely in Malay or Chinese and Chinese speaking, hence they struggle with English) or some of the foreigners.

bb2005 said...

Hi AussiePete,

I happen to chance upon your blog via a link on the internet. I must say I'm very impressed. You have a very comprehensive "guide" on Singlish. As a Singaporean myself, I don't think I know as much as you do.

Anonymous said...

i agree with bb2005! i'm a singaporean myself and i have never even heard of some of these singlish phrases myself! i personally enjoy the efficiency of the 'language' even though sometimes it makes me cringe/embarrassed to speak it in front of an ang moh, but i prefer typing in good english when it's written and not verbal (like now). i think it's a 'switch' thing.

aaaand, i would personally consider 'ang moh' as a neutral term, because i use it pretty often and i don't mean it in any degratory manner, just that sometimes i prefer to refer to them without their knowing that i'm referring to them.

still, good job! you know more than a local!

singaporean said...

Wow, I'm impressed that a foreigner knows so much about SInglish. I haven't even heard of some of these expressions before. I wish there were more foreigners like u, who really make an effort to assimilate & integrate into our society (: unlike some other foreigners who are so stuck up and think they are superior to us.

Aussie Pete said...

Hi Singaporean - thanks... I'm still learning every day. To really feel like home in a foreign country, respect for local cultures, people and lifestyles is mandatory in my mind. Integration for us is our pursuit for happiness :)

a Malaysian said...

LOL, thx man, for your post. Gud stuff. Extremely entertaining. :D i have a lot of singaporean friends. this totally helps me in understanding some of the terms they use. + until i read the comments, i didn't know that it was an Aussie who wrote it! Gud job! :)

overseas SGrean said...

Ta pau can also mean retaking a course in the following semester (for students). e.g. bo bian ar, fail the final equal fail the course, so gotta ta pau for next sem again ...

Lilly said...

HAHA!This is gold. Iv lived in Singapore the last 6 years, moved here from aus when i was 16 and i get my 'ang moh' friends telling me to stop talking singaporean all the time! I dont even notice im doing it and argue with them that some of the things i say are completely normal, but from reading this list seems they're not! ARGH! So funny ah! :P

But P.S I will NEVER say double comfirm! HAHA!

judsjottings.wordpress.com said...

Hi Pete,
I'm an Aussie who only lived in Singas for 8 months while my husband was on contract there. I taught English in a language school. But that was 10 years ago. I am writing a mystery novel set in Singas but my memory won't give me the Singlish common words that I knew quite well when there. Like you I'm interested in language and learnt as much as I could.
I thought there was a word of assent - for yes - like ai or ah or hai or something - not meaning okay, but just a response eg is that you? Yes. You didn't have that in your very excellent list, that brought a lot of it back for me. Can you please respond to help me out. I'm working on my Pete to make a return visit asap. lol

Anonymous said...

"Bodek" also can be used. Or "lick 'someone's' shoe"

Anonymous said...

Hi judsjotting, is the word you want "ya"? It is the malay word for "yes" if I am wrong (I'm a Chinese Singaporean). But in actual fact, there are many alternatives to "yes" in everyday conversations. If I want to be more friendly, I say "yup/yep", if I feel "sian" (tired) I would say "yeah...". There are also words like "Uh huh" and also a particularly nasal "mm mm" (not too sure about the spelling).

I'm really glad that you express great interest in our colloquial language and such are the type of foreigners that we Singaporeans welcome. Do come back to Singapore in the future!

StillSingaporean said...

Here's another one for you.

"Just now" - an occurrence that has happened previous to now.

This one really confuses me sometimes. But I have to turn my internal Singaporean dictionary on whenever I talk to people back home.

It's like when I'm looking for someone, and someone else says, "Yah, I saw Sam at his desk just now"... which could very well mean Sam was at his desk 5 minutes to even an hour ago.

It never EVER means "right now".

Anonymous said...

is in malay too much java person? cause garang is java language. if you not trust at me you can search information in Dutch government library. there is an old java dictionary

Anonymous said...

I know that the expat (angmoh) here in Singapore do speak Singlish just for the fun of it with their Singaporeans. So Aussie Pete there is no need for you to get so work up on Singlish spoken by Singapore. Don't try act like "angmoh".

Anonymous said...

I just moved to Singapore. I find this guide very amusing, though I haven't heard most of the stuff up there.....

Village Idiot said...

Jolly good job, Aussie Pete. You've compiled a very comprehensive list indeed.

Here's a word I noticed that is not included:


meaning yes or affirmation or in agreement

A: "Want to go to a movie tonight?"
B: "Can!"
A: "Or you want to go chim-chim in SGH carpark?"
B: "Also can!"

*Chim-chim was commonly used years ago to mean sexual foreplay such as kissing, necking or fondling. Not been heard for a while.

Aussie Pete said...

Hi anon, my friend - not sure what point u're trying to make? Maybe u could elaborate - interestingly, my two boys (both born here in SG) speak flawless singlish :)

Aussie Pete said...

Welcome to this beautiful island ;)

Aussie Pete said...

Haha - brilliant, thanks anon - yeh I've heard 'chim-chim' ;p

U are absolutely spot on with your observation - I find myself confirming with 'can' often these days (even have it in the blog tag line). So yes - I should include it - can, can... Double confirm :)

Village Idiot said...

Here's an oft-heard phrase:

"Newspaper got say……….."

(Note the singular.)

A transliteration of a Hokkein phrase meaning "According to a report in the newspapers……." or "As reported in a newspaper………"

(As though everything that is reported in the newspapers in the gospel truth!)


Regards Thomas said...

Hi Singlish experts :)and Thx Aussie Pete for the post- I wanted to pls ask your feedback on an idea. Im wanting to run a website advertising to appeal to Singaporeans travelling to another country say Sydney Australia - Would one of these phrases appeal to a Singaporean as a compamny name - or just not work as a headline at all lol?
Sydney chope
Sydney liao
Sydney liao mah
Sydney liao ma
Sydney lo
Sydney Stylo
what do you think team - which is the best

Village Idiot said...

This is in response to Regards Thomas query.

Unfortunately, none of your proposed names appeal immediately. Perhaps 'free' could be used somewhere. Singaporeans love anything that is free.

Depending on what your website entails and its target market, 'chope' gives me the impression that it's a reservation service of some sort.

'Liao', 'liao mah', 'lo' makes me think of finality. That one has arrived at a destination.

'Stylo' evokes a fashion website or chic places to hang out at in Sydney.

I suggest 'Sydney so Shoik!' if it is a touristy website touting cafes, restaurants, bars and clubs and such.

And that's just my 2-cents' worth.


Anonymous said...

Not sure how I chanced upon your site but this is a really cool list. I've been a resident for 22 years now and I've been enamoured by Singlish since. I will say that Singlish is unique and is not the same as Manglish, the Malaysian equivalent which incorporates a lot more Malay and Tamil words while Singlish has a dominant Hokkien flavour. There is a phrase that's fairly new, I hadn't heard of it when I first arrived 2 decades ago, "Wake up your idea". I'm not too sure what it means. I'm guessing that it's a call to think out of the box or something similar? And about the accent, you have to drop your consonants and place your emphasis differently or the locals won't understand you especially when you're referring to names of places like Lavender, Tyersall, or Outram. The hokkien lilt is definitely what you'd want to achieve. While we're on the subject, you have to include Lulian (Durian) for the Esplanade in your list.

Anonymous said...

Huat actually means rich.

frigidbones said...

just to clarify (as i authored the first book, Eh Goondu, on singlish, you can still buy it in singapore).
"chim-chim" is "kiss-kiss" whereas "cheem" is "very deep" as in intense and difficult to comprehend.
sylvia toh paik choo

Anonymous said...

You should include
"Wah lao"- singlish expression- an opening to a sentence to emphasise dismay, distress.
e.g. Wah lao eh! the weather damn hot lah!

Wah lao is also synonymous with Wah Lan- but Wah Lan conveys a greater sense of dismay, and has a vulgar connotation.
"Wah Lan eh f*** this shit seriously"

Kenna Sai- literally "like shit" to mean 1. a low standard or 2. an expression to exclaim/ mean distress/ dismay.

e.g His Singlish standard is like kenna sai lah.
Kenna sai! He simply dumped all his work on me and left.

can be combined with walao eh: "Wa lao eh, Kenna sai! He simply dumped all his work on me and left lah."

"zherng" - singlish verb to mean improve on an existing work; commonly used for reports and documents, e.g. "Can you go and Zherng the Performance report"

"AA"- short form to mean attracting attention, a negative term to describe someone as flamboyant or tying too hard to stand out
e.g "Wa lao that guy damn AA lah, trying to get the gal's attention or what?"

Or what- an expression used at the end of a sentence to emphasise that something must be the case, and to invite an opinion that may disagree with the statement: e.g. "He is trying to be the top of the class or what?" Reply: "No lah, he is just hardworking nia."

"Nia"- a local term to mean "only"
E.g. HE not that smart one la, whole day mug nia.

"Peng San"- Hokkien, literally mean faint. Usually used to mean that someone suffered greatly in a difficult situation.
"Wa lan eh, boss today conduct meeting from 9am to 2pm, I hungry until peng san sia."

"sia lah"- to mean "wow"- "Sia lah, he bought a Mercedes Benz!"

Dua Neh BU- Hokkien, a degratory term meaning "Big breast woman", may be used to imply someone who only uses her looks/ assets to ascend the social ladder
e.g. That dua neh bu whole day do nothing, flirt with boss only also can get bonus

Lum Pa Pa Lan- Hokkien, literal meaning is penis bouncing back and forth against the inner thigh, to mean "to seem to do a lot with little result."
"He study whole day still fail exam, lum pa pa lan"

Gia lai gia ki- this is difficult to pronounce- Hokkien literally meaning "walking here and walking there" an expression to mean someone trying to get by without doing much.
"That dua neh bu whole day gia lai gia ki, pretend to do work only"

Anonymous said...

Pretend only- en expression to imply putting up a false image/ front/ action
"He open his textbook in front of him to study but keeps texting on the phone. Pretend only."

"He says he will help me with the project, in the end also never. Just fly kite and pretend only."

Posing- to mean trying to be flamboyant/ attractive/ fashionable in a distasteful way. Noun: poser
"For nothing he just start talking to everyone in British accent, trying to act atas. Super poser."

For nothing- to mean for no good reason.
"He scolded me for nothing"

Atas- to mean expensive, or describe a person as prone to an extravagant lifestyle.
"This is a damn atas restaurant"
or "Jack is damn atas lah, he takes cab everywhere, cannot take MRT one."

Ninja- verb, (with reference to ancient Japanese ninja warriors" to stealthily move from one place to another
"The gate is locked, so I had to ninja in"

Smoke- verb, to try to impress someone or cover up for ignorance or a mistake by eloquently talking around a topic and feigning great knowledge.
"He didn't prepare for the presentation so he was just smoking"

Anonymous said...

Can anyone explain meaning of "chut pattern"

Salt and Pepper said...

Cute singlish graphic for learning! http://blackpepperart.blogspot.sg

Anonymous said...

Wow, your list is spot on. Very geng for an angmoh! I couldnt stop laughing and cringing at the same time. My angmoh bf need to read this

FoxTwo said...

"Ai Pee Ai Chee Ai Tua Liap Nee" is slightly erroneous.

Ai Pee = Want Cheap
Ai Chee = Want fresh
Ai Tua Liap Nee = want big breasts.

Other than that, not bad :)

Also, the "lah" in your sentence "not my intention lah!" sounds funny. Would have sounded better if it was "not my intention hor!". The "lah" is not a universal suffix - it has the capacity to change the meaning of the entire sentence :) That's why sometimes we cringe when well-meaning non-speakers add "lahs" all over their sentences trying to fit in... it just sounds... weird.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget "paiseh" or, in written form, just "ps". It means embarrassed. Eg "Walao eh just now I screwed up my presentation! Damn ps sia!"

Unknown said...

'tok kok' could also have come from the hokkien term 'gong jiao wei' which means 'talking bird language'. 造句: you bought your iphone10 for $400? mai gong jiao wei la.

Unknown said...

tok kok could also have come from the hokkien term 'gong jiao wei' which means 'talking bird language'. 造句: you bought iphone9 for $400? Mai gong jiao wei la!

Anyway ah, your list is very comprehensive. Kudos for compiling it! Kilat sia!