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The term can be translated into English as "afraid to lose out" from 'kia' "afraid" and 'su' "lose". Like many proverbial expressions it can have both positive and negative connotations, but is generally negative, used to refer to someone who thinks of themselves first and is always trying to get ahead in one way or another. The English equivalent would be "overcompetitiveness".
Etymology and usage
Kiasu comes from the vernacular Chinese word 怕输, meaning 'fear of losing’. It is commonly used in Singapore and has been introduced into the English language by speakers of colloquial Singaporean English. It is often used to refer to anxious, selfish behaviour characterised by a fear of "missing out" or "losing out".
Kiasu is similar in etymology to Kiasi (literally, fear of death), and both terms are used to describe similar behaviour. Kiasu or Kiasu-ism means taking extreme measures to achieve success, whereas Kiasi or Kiasi-ism means taking extreme measures to avoid risk.
So, put together the term kiasu means "avoiding competition due to the fear of losing out (yet still thinking that one is the best, or better than the other party)".
- Leo, David (1995). Kiasu, Kiasi: You Think What?. ISBN 981-204-626-7.
- See, Ee Lin (2005). My Kiasu Teenage Life in Singapore. ISBN 981-05-3016-1.