Singlish vocabulary

Singlish vocabulary

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.

inglish dictionaries and word lists

There have been several efforts to compile lexicons of Singlish, some for scholarly purposes, most for entertainment. Two early humorous works were Sylvia Toh Paik Choo's "Eh, Goondu!" (1982) [cite book
last = Toh
first = Paik Choo
title = Eh, Goondu!
publisher = Eastern Universities Press
location = Singapore
id = ISBN 9971-71-168-0
] and "Lagi Goondu!" (1986). [cite book
last = Toh
first = Paik Choo
title = Lagi Goondu!
publisher = Times Books International
location = Singapore
id = ISBN 9971-65-224-2
] In 1997 the second edition of the "Times-Chambers Essential English Dictionary" [cite book
title = Times-Chambers Essential English Dictionary
edition = 2nd ed.
publisher = Federal Publications
location = Singapore
id = ISBN 981-01-3727-3
] was published. To date, this is the only formal dictionary containing a substantial number of Singaporean and Malaysian English terms. Such entries and sub-entries are arranged alphabetically amongst the standard English entries. A list of common words borrowed from local languages such as Hokkien and Malay appears in an appendix. It appears that no subsequent editions have been published.

2002 saw the publication of the "Coxford Singlish Dictionary", [cite book
title = The Coxford Singlish Dictionary
publisher = Angsana Books
location = Singapore
id = ISBN 981-3056-50-9
] a light-hearted lexicon which was developed from material posted on the website [] . In 2004 a website, [ "A Dictionary of Singlish and Singapore English"] , was launched to document the actual usage of Singlish and Singapore English in published material, in the way that the Oxford English Dictionary does for standard English. Compiled by an amateur lexicographer, the "Dictionary" appears to be one of the more comprehensive and professionally-written dictionaries dealing exclusively with Singlish and Singapore English available so far.

The Singapore Tourism Board and tourism-related businesses have also produced short lists of commonly used Singlish terms, ostensibly to allow foreigners visiting Singapore to comprehend the local language better. Such lists have been printed in brochures or booklets, and also published on websites.

The lack of an officially-printed version of a Singlish dictionary is due to the fact that the Singapore government frowns upon the use of Singlish, their official stand being that the speaking of Singlish will make Singaporeans difficult to understand when communicating with foreigners who are not familiar with Singlish. Thus, the government has made an effort to quash the use of Singlish and to promote the use of standard English through the Speak Good English Movement over the past few years. Though failing to discourage the use of Singlish, it has resulted in Singlish having a bad reputation in recent years, further stalling efforts to document actual Singlish usage.

Recently, there has been a resurgence in support for Singlish in Singapore. Letters contributed to the forum of The Straits Times, the main local newspaper, by readers have called for Singlish to be kept alive in Singapore. The idea of promoting Singlish was raised as part of a larger debate on creating a uniquely Singaporean identity. However, the government has yet to officially change its stand regarding Singlish.

inglish vocabulary

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.

General terms


;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



;Baboo Seng : Indian guy;Bang Balls : To be frustrated; Thwarted;Bar-yee : Sikh Indian;Beh Peoh : "Hokkien" (馬票) Lottery;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. [Brown, Adam (1999) "Singapore English in a Nutshell", Singapore: Federal, p. 33.] ;Bodoh : "Malay." Stupid, ignorant. [Brown, Adam (1999) "Singapore English in a Nutshell", Singapore: Federal, p. 33.] ;Boh geh : "Hokkien" (無牙) No teeth.;Boh kah lan : "Hokkien." Don't give a damn.;Boh lang ai : "Hokkien." "Lit. "loved by no one"." 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. [Brown, Adam (1999) "Singapore English in a Nutshell", Singapore: Federal, p. 35.] ;Brudder: Brother;Buay : "Hokkien." Literally means cannot. Buay tahan = Cannot stand it;Buaya : "Malay." "Lit. "crocodile"." A womanizer, flirt. [Brown, Adam (1999) "Singapore English in a Nutshell", Singapore: Federal, pp. 37-38.]


;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.;Chap Zeng : "Hokkien." Person of mixed hertitage, usually with one side of the parentage being "ang moh" (caucasian).;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.;Chee Bye : "Hokkien" Cunt. Vulgar expression, sometimes used as an expletive.;Chee Hong: "Hokkien". A behavior or somebody who is crazy about cunts;'Cher : "Singlish." Not to be confused for the American singer Cher. This term is a short way of addressing 'teacher'.;Chicken Business : English and Cantonese origin. A direct translation of the slang term "to be a prostitute" (做雞) in Cantonese.;Chikopeh : "Hokkien" Pervert.;Chim: "Hokkien" (深) Difficult.;Chin cai lah! : "Hokkien" 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. [Tongue, R. K. (1979) "The English of Singapore and Malaysia", Singapore: Eastern Universities Press, p. 69.] From Malay "cap", which is from Hindi "छाप ćhāp" (stamp). [Brown, Adam (1999) "Singapore English in a Nutshell", Singapore: Federal, p. 50.] "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. [Brown, Adam (1999) "Singapore English in a Nutshell", Singapore: Federal, p. 50.] 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)


;Fleem : Film;Fuck spider : Used to express extreme frustration. Originates from the Army, where a "spider" was dirt in the barrel of one's rifle. If during inspection, you found a "spider" in your rifle, you'd have to strip it and clean it all over again. Hence, the term would be a rather common expletive uttered amongst recruits forced to clean their rifles over and over again.


;Gabra : Very confused or very disorganized. Clumsy or edgy. [Brown, Adam (1999) "Singapore English in a Nutshell", Singapore: Federal, p. 92.] ;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";Geh-lang: Geylang. Singapore's Red Light District.;Gers: Girls.;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";Gong-tau:"Hokkien" (降头) Voodoo;Goondu : "Tamil" Idiot, simpleton. [Brown, Adam (1999) "Singapore English in a Nutshell", Singapore: Federal, p. 95.] ;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 being broke hence no money for daily living, 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. [Wee, Lionel (1998) 'The lexicon of Singapore English'. In J. A. Foley et al. (eds.) "English in New Cultural Contexts: Reflections from Singapore", Singapore: Singaore Institute of Management/Oxford University Press, pp. 175-200.] "I was born in a kampung ... somewhere in Novena" [Deterding, David (2007) "Singapore English", Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, p. 75.] ;Kan ni na bu (chao chee bye): "Hokkien". "Vulgar". Lit. "Fuck your mother", this is the archetypal Singlish insult, but it is often used just as an intensifier akin to English "fucking", and commonly abbreviated as "KNN" in written form. The long form "KNNBCCB", meaning "fuck your mother's smelly cunt", is extremely rude.;Kaopeh kaobu : "Hokkien." (哭父哭母) 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. [Brown, Adam (1999) "Singapore English in a Nutshell", Singapore: Federal, p. 121. ] 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) [Brown, Adam (1999) "Singapore English in a Nutshell", Singapore: Federal, p. 123. ] ;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) [Brown, Adam (1999) "Singapore English in a Nutshell", Singapore: Federal, p. 123. ] [Wee, Lionel (1998) 'The lexicon of Singapore English'. In J. A. Foley et al. (eds.) "English in New Cultural Contexts: Reflections from Singapore", Singapore: Singaore Institute of Management/Oxford University Press, pp. 175-200.] See also|kiasu ;Kiah si / kiasi : (literally "scared to die/of death") "somebody who fears losing out" (from Hokkien 惊死) See also|kiasi;Kiam : "Hokkien" (咸) "lit "salty" Stingy.;Kiam Pah : "Hokkien" (欠打) Deserve a beating.;Kio Kuay: "Hokkien"(叫鸡)lit.Call Chicken. Go look for prostitutes;Kope : (copy) to take without permission. "eh, don't kope my homework leh";Kopi : "Malay" Coffee ;Kuku : stupid/silly; unfashionable; crazy. "Eh, Leonard, why the kuku face?!";Kuku house : asylum (kuku here refers to crazy);Kum Lan: Suck Cock


;Lah! : Most basic and famous of Singlish expressions. [Richards, Jack C. and Tay, Mary W. J. (1977) 'The la particle in Singapore English', in William Crewe (ed.), "The English Language in Singapore", Singapore: Eastern Universities Press, pp. 141–56.] [Deterding, David and Low Ee Ling (2003) 'A corpus-based description of particles in spoken Singapore English', in David Deterding, Low Ee Ling and Adam Brown (eds.), "English in Singapore: Research on Grammar", Singapore: McGraw-Hill Education (Asia), pp. 58–66.] [Wee, Lionel (2004) 'Redupliation and discourse particles'. In Lisa Lim (ed.) "Singapore English: A Grammatical Description", Amsterdam: John Benjamins, pp. 105-126.] 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 par : pronounced LUM PAR "Hokkien." Packet of the balls. Also used as a vulgarity to show exclamation, "Lampah! Who said you can do this?" In 2004, Chen Tang-shan, foreign minister of ROC, condemned the speech of Singaporean foreign minister as "Holding PRC's lampar" which means "supporting PRC indefinitely".

;Long-Piak: "Hokkien" Bang Wall;LPPL: Lam par par lan. Balls hit the dick. Means damned if you do, damned if you don't i.e. I'm fucked.;Lup sup bar/KTV : "Cantonese + English" Used to refer to those sleazy establishments where girls would do "unclean" stuff to customers. Lup sup 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. [Brown, Adam (1999) "Singapore English in a Nutshell", Singapore: Federal, p. 135.] ;Mangali / Mankali : A corruption of "Bengali". A crude way to refer to ethnic Indians.;Masak-Masak : A child's game. Malay origin.;Mat: prounounced 'Mut' - refers to Malay guy;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.


;Nah Bei / Na beh : Various contractions of "Ka Ni Na Bu Chao Chee Bye". The rudest phrase of all. Use only if you wish to be beaten up or want other people to think you were raised in a longkang. "Lit. "Fuck your mother/Fuck your mother's smelly cunt.".";Neh Neh (or nair nair): Breast;Ngeow : "Hokkien." Someone who is overly meticulous, nit-picky or tries to find fault. "Lit. "cat"." [Brown, Adam (1999) "Singapore English in a Nutshell", Singapore: Federal, p. 147.] ;Ngeow Chee Ngeow Lan: Extremely Stingy


;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!";Orh Gwee Tau: Lit. Turtle-head. Pimp.;Orh Pee Sai: Dig nose;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;Pang Sai: "Hokkien" To do bowel movement;Pang Sai Kor Piak: "Hokkien" to strive hard. corruption of the standard chinese idiom 发奋图强;Pasar Malam : "Malay" Night Market. [Brown, Adam (1999) "Singapore English in a Nutshell", Singapore: Federal, p. 158.] "The food over at those pasar malam are very much better I think" [Deterding, David (2007) "Singapore English", Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, p. 76.] ;Pai Kia: Gangster;Pee Koh: mucus;Pee Sai: snot;Pak Toh : "Cantonese" 拍拖. Dating;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" In Singapore Cantonese and Singlish, it means to go bankrupt. In standard Cantonese as spoken in Hong Kong or Guangdong, it means cursing people to die on street or scolding that person bastard;Por Lam Par: "Hokkien" Carry balls;Pu Bor : "Teochew." "Vulgar". Lit. "Fuck your mother", is extremely rude.;Puah Chee Bye: Torn vagina


;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.

;Sahn-mahn: Traffic Summons;Sam Seng: or Sam Seng Kia - Gangster. Sam Seng was one of the infamous Chinese gangs in Malaysia-Singapore pre-1965;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.;Siam-bu: Thai girl;Siam-kia: Thai Guy;Sian : "Hokkien." Bored, tired, or sick of something. [Brown, Adam (1999) "Singapore English in a Nutshell", Singapore: Federal, p. 195.] "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, Cantonese." (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. [Brown, Adam (1999) "Singapore English in a Nutshell", Singapore: Federal, p. 215.] ;Sup sup sui : "Cantonese." Something that is insignificant or easy to do. "Lit. "a little drop of water".";Sui: "Hokkien". Pretty;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.;Tang Kee: Temple Medium;Tekan: "Malay" Bully/Torture.;Thiam/Diam : "Hokkien." A very rude way of saying "shut up!" "Oi! Thiam lah! I'm trying to study!";Thambi: Tamil for Brother;Tiao Tang: Go into trance;Tok Kong: lit. Single Claw or Single Horn - means superb, without equal;Toot : Stupid / silly. "He wear like that look very toot hor?";Terbalek / Tombalek: "Malay" Opposite / Upside-down / Inside-out. "Did you see that? He wear his shirt terbalek leh!";Tua neh bu: "Hokkien" A girl with large breasts.;Tua pai : "Hokkien." A "big shot; someone of a high status. "You think you got money damn tua pai is it?";Tua Peh Kong: "Hokkien" A popular Taoist deity. Also refers to the fall guy bearing the charges on behalf of a criminal syndicate;Tu Tu Train : Train; toot-toot train. "Boy ah, you 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. [Brown, Adam (1999) "Singapore English in a Nutshell", Singapore: Federal, p. 229.] 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. [Tongue, R. K. (1979) "The Engish of Singapore and Malaysia", Singapore: Eastern Universities Press, p. 68.] "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!"


"There are currently no entries in X because in Singlish, 'X' can always be replaced by 'S'."


;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.

Food and beverages

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.

English words with different meanings in Singlish

*expressway - a "motorway" - "I was driving on the Pan-Island Expressway".
*follow - "to come along/accompany" [Brown, Adam (1999) "Singapore English in a Nutshell", Singapore: Federal, pp. 85-6] - "Can I follow?"
*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" [Brown, Adam (1999) "Singapore English in a Nutshell", Singapore: Federal, p. 128.] - "Last time I would want to go down to Africa, but I don't know about now." [Deterding, David (2007) "Singapore English", Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, p. 80.]
*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." [Deterding, David (2007) "Singapore English", Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, p. 81.]
*next time - "in the future" - "Next time when you get married, you'll know how to cook." [Deterding, David (2007) "Singapore English", Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, p. 80.]
*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." [Brown, Adam (1999) "Singapore English in a Nutshell", Singapore: Federal, p. 154.] (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) - "Please revert your decision to us" doesn't mean "Please change your decision", but rather "Please get back to us with your decision".
*send - "to take (i.e. drive) somebody somewhere" - "She gets her maid to send the boy in a cab." [Deterding, David (2000) 'Potential influences of English on the written English of Singapore'. In Adam Brown (ed.) "English in Southeast Asia 99: Proceedings of the 'English in Southeast Asia' conference held at NIE Singapore", Singapore: National Institute of Education, pp. 201-209.]
*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. [Brown, Adam (1999) "Singapore English in a Nutshell", Singapore: Federal, pp. 187] - "Because he sabo me, now boss mad at me!"
*stay - "to live (in a place)". [Brown, Adam (1999) "Singapore English in a Nutshell", Singapore: Federal, p. 211.] From Malay "tinggal". - "My grandmother, my aunt and uncle also stay next door." [Deterding, David (2007) "Singapore English", Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, p. 81.]
*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" [Brown, Adam (1999) "Singapore English in a Nutshell", Singapore: Federal, p. 217] - "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.

ee also

* Singlish
* List of Singapore abbreviations



*Ho, Mian Lian and Platt, John Talbot (1993). Dynamics of a contact continuum: Singapore English. Oxford: Clarendon Press; New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-824828-8.
*Lim, Lisa (2004). Singapore English: a grammatical description. Amsterdam; Philadelphia: John Benjamins. ISBN 1-58811-576-3.
*Newbrook, Mark (1987). Aspects of the syntax of educated Singaporean English: attitudes, beliefs, and usage. Frankfurt am Main; New York: P. Lang. ISBN 3-8204-9886-9.
*Platt, John Talbot and Weber, Heidi (1980). English in Singapore and Malaysia: status, features, functions. Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-580438-4.

External links

* [ The Coxford Singlish Dictionary @]
* [ A Dictionary of Singlish and Singapore English]
* [ Potential influences of Chinese on English]

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