Singlish 101

If you are working in Singapore for quite some time, and you often communicate with local Singaporeans, you will certainly notice that they have a significant way of talking amongst themselves.  It’s kind of confusing at first, but eventually you’ll get the hang of it.  I’ve tried to compile a list of terms, words, and expressions that are uniquely singlish.  *I am in no way an expert, I also have my reference every now and then.  Did you know that there is a Singlish Dictionary actually available online? It’s a very useful tool to get used to the terms.

* Lah, leh, lor, mah, meh, hor (you get the drift)  —  used at the end of words or phrases for emphasis

Okay this is the most basic I’ve learned. My friend who has worked for 2 years before I came here was the one who started using this on me.  Its simple as putting the words at the end of the phrases such as in these:

can meh?

can meh?

I honestly don’t know the difference to each and every word listed.  I just use it at the end of each phrase for emphasis.  Most commonly used is in addition to the answer “OK” as in OK lah!

* Can or Cannot — Common answer to questions answerable by Yes or No.  For the English language, ‘can’ usually depicts the ability to, power or skill as with regards to doing something.

* Blur / Act blur — Blur usually depicts to someone who is clueless, in a daze or often seemed confused

about something.  To act blur is to pretend to be ignorant or feign ignorance.

* Act cute — like pa-cute in Tagalog, it’s usually to depict someone behaving in an  exaggeratedly cute or adorable fashion.

* Aiyah! / Aiyoh! — used to express the exclamation “Oh Dear!” or “Oh No!”, for Tagalog it would be “Hala!” or “Naku!”

* Alamak (usually pronounced with silent ‘k’) — used to express shock or surprise. Singlish equivalent of the expression “Oh my Gosh!” or “Oh my god!”

* Already — commonly used at the end of a statement to say that the action has been finished or done. “I ate already!” “I’m here already”

* Ang Moh — is a term usually to refer to people of Caucasian descent.   It literally means “red-haired” and originates from Hokkien (Min Nan)

* Atas — used to describe someone who acts proud and snobbish.

* Auntie / Uncle — how we always call a friend’s parent, or generally used as term for middle-aged to old females/males.  Tagalog equivalent would be “Tita / Tito”

* Botak (or botah) — bald head

* Chop — to put a stamp or seal on something.

* Confirm, Double-Confirm, Confirm plus Chop — different variations to mean that you are extremely sure of something.

* Da Pao / Ta Pau — To ‘take-away’ food. Like how we say ‘take-out’ in PH.

* Jalan (Jalan-Jalan) — Malay word for “walking”.  Jalan-jalan means strolling or walking about, as in ‘gumala/gala’ in Tagalog

* Kampung — Malay term for village

* Kay poh / Kaypo — a person who likes to gossip or is nosey.

* Kena — to be afflicted with, to suffer from or be a recipient of something unpleasant or bad

(sounds like kana in Tagalog, as in the term for a shooting arrow to hit is target)

* Kiah Su / Kiasu — someone who fears losing out. Like when you want to reserve for a concert ticket way ahead of everyone, because you are Kiasu.

* Kan Cheong — always in a hurry, in haste or always worried

* Kan ni na (Kanina) — to offend against modesty and propriety. a highly vulgar and offensive word

I was teaching the bf some Tagalog terms, and while texting, I typed the words “kumain ako kanina“.  He was actually shocked then asked me if I was aware that I used a vulgar word. I told him no,  because the literal translation of the text would be “I ate earlier”—- kumain is ate and kanina is earlier.  Nevertheless, I wouldn’t dare to use this term in public again.

* Kopi — Malay word for Coffee

* Kuku — referring to someone stupid, silly or crazy

* Liao — see ‘Already’

* Makan — Malay word for eat (or to eat)

* Mati — To die, to be doomed

* Orredy, Oredi — slang or sloppy pronunciation of “already”

* Pasar Malam (Pasamalam) — Night Market, or ‘tiangge’.  Mobile markets that change location from time to time.

* Photostat — photocopy

* Sabo — to sabotage. to do some intentional or careless act or omission that causes inconvenience, harm, etc., to others or leads to others being punished

* Sia/Seh — an exclamation. “Wah! You crazy sia!”

* Shiok — Great! An expression of satisfaction.  can also literally mean “Shock”

* Sotong — literally means squid in Malay, it is also used to depict someone who is forgetful or not knowing what is going on

* Talk Cock / tok kok — talking nonsense or rubbish

* Teh — Malay word for Tea

* Wah Lao! (Wa lau eh) — Exclamation of shock.

* Ya ya papayah — arrogant, proud and boastful.  Someone behaving in a self-important matter.

*  To follow — to accompany or go with someone

In the English language, to follow means to go after someone, to proceed behind or to come after as in pursuit of.  Here, they use the word ‘follow’ to mean coming along with someone.

* Spoil — something broken. or to depict rotten food

This is commonly used in my workplace, to mean something like a machine in need of repair.

* Having here /Take-Away — Having Here is dining in or ‘dine-in’, Take-away is to ‘take-out’ food.

This is just roughly an estimate based on what I know and would normally use or hear in a conversation involving locals.  For a more comprehensive list, here’s some references with links:

AussiePete:  SINGLISH – A Language Guide for Foreigners


A Dictionary of Singlish and Singapore English



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