Singlish vocabulary

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Singlish is the English-based creole or patois spoken colloquially in Singapore. English is one of Singapore's official languages, along with Malay, Mandarin, and Tamil.[1] Although English is the lexifier language, Singlish has its unique slang and syntax, which are more pronounced in informal speech. It is usually a mixture of English, Mandarin, Tamil, Malay, and other local dialects like Hokkien, Cantonese or Teochew. There are a few loan words from these languages i.e. 'pek chek' is often taken as being annoyed or frustrated and originate from the Hokkien dialect.[2] It is used in casual contexts between Singaporeans, but is avoided in formal events when certain Singlish phrases may be considered unedifying. Singapore English can be broken into two subcategories. Standard Singapore English (SSE) and Colloquial Singapore English (CSE) or Singlish as many locals call it. The relationship between SSE and Singlish is viewed as a diglossia, in which SSE is restricted to be used in situations of formality where Singlish/CSEi s used in most other circumstances.[3]

Some of the most popular Singlish terms have been added to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) since 2000, including wah, sabo, lepak, shiok, and hawker centre.[4] On 11 Feb 2015, kiasu was chosen as OED's Word of the Day.[5]

Word origins[edit]

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" (soccer—originally slang for association football—while used in Britain, is more usually called just football). Singlish also uses many words borrowed from Hokkien, the non-Mandarin Chinese language 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. Vocabulary is also taken from Indian words such as dai meaning 'hey', goondu meaning 'fat', etc. This is most obvious in such cases as borrow/lend, which are functionally equivalent in Singlish and mapped to the same Mandarin word, (jiè), which can mean to lend or to borrow. For example: "Oi, can I borrow your calculator?" / "Hey, can you lend me your calculator?"

Singlish dictionaries and word lists[edit]

The Coxford Singlish Dictionary, a light-hearted lexicon of Singlish published in 2002

There have been several efforts to compile lexicons of Singlish, some for scholarly purposes, but most for entertainment. Two early humorous works were Sylvia Toh Paik Choo's Eh, Goondu! (1982)[6] and Lagi Goondu! (1986).[7] In 1997 the second edition of the Times-Chambers Essential English Dictionary[8] was published. To date, this is the only formal dictionary containing a substantial number of Singaporean 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,[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.

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. Community efforts to do so include the aptly named "Speak Good Singlish Movement". 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.

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.

Phonological sounds used in Singlish[edit]

Below are the phonological sounds used from the International Phonetic Alphabet used in Singlish.

Consonants used in Singlish vocabulary[10][edit]

Bilabial Labio-dental Dental Alveolar Post-Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m n ŋ
Plosive p b t d k g
Fricative f v θ ð s z ʃ ʒ h
Approximant ɹ
Lateral l w

Vowels used in Singlish Vocabulary:[11][edit]

Front Central Back
Close i u
Close-Mid e ə o
Open-Mid ɛ ə ɔ
Open a


Term Origin Definition
4D Singlish Local 4 digit lottery game run by Singapore Pools.
5Cs Singlish Refers to the 5 C's of Singapore (cash, car, credit card, condominium, country club membership). Commonly associated with materialistic success in modern Singapore.
11B Singlish Stands for 11 basic information. Army official vernacular. Refers to the Singapore Armed Forces Identity Card held by servicemen during their National Service. Servicemen's original civilian identity cards before their enlistment are exchanged with these SAF identity cards. Upon completing National Service and reaching their Operationally Ready Date, they will receive their civilian identity cards whilst retaining their 11B.


Term Origin Definition
ABC English English (language). Acronym for "American-born Chinese." English-speaking person, i.e. Anglophone Singaporeans. Could also describe when the mentioned subject has western elements or influences.
Abit English To mean a little bit. Usually used sarcastically. As in "You abit fast ah" when the person in question is deemed to be slow (sarcasm).
Abuden Manglish Obviously; of course.
ACBC English and Hokkien Acronym for "act cute, buay cute." Acronym and phrase which describes somebody attempting to behave in an exaggeratedly cute or adorable fashion, but who comes across more annoying than cute. (Buay – see entry below – is a negative, conveying 'not' or 'un-'.)
Act Blur English and Cantonese To feign ignorance.
Act Cute English and Cantonese A phrase which describes behaving in a cutesy manner. Can be used as both verb and adjective. See also ACBC above.
Action English In this context, the term means that the person being described is arrogant and haughty.
Agak-Agak Malay An estimate.[12] Not to be mistaken as "agar-agar" which means jelly/jello.
Agak-Ration Malay and English An estimate or estimation. Also pronounced as "agar-ration".
Ah Beng Hokkien A hillbilly, someone with little dress sense. Also used to refer to a gangster[13] The expressions came about because Ah Beng is a common Chinese male name. A transliteration of the Chinese name "阿明" (a-bêng).
Ah Qua/Gua Hokkien A transvestite, who will often be assumed to be a Thai transsexual. From Hokkien "阿倌" (a kuann) (the word "kuann 倌" is a term used to politely refer to a person, usually a bridegroom, or a female).
Ah Lian Hokkien A hillbilly, someone with little dress sense. Also used to refer to a gangster[13] The expressions came about because Ah Lian is a common Chinese female name. A transliteration of the Chinese term "阿莲" (a-lián), female form of Ah Beng,
Ah Long Cantonese A transliteration of the Chinese name "阿窿", which is a shortened form of "大耳窿". Slang term for a loan shark, or sometimes used to mistranslate Lee Hsien Loong.
Ah pu neh neh/Ah neh Hokkien / Tamil "Ah pu neh neh" is a hokkien slur which is a crude term for Indians. Ah neh (anna) means elder brother. The two are not interchangeable.
Ah Tiong Hokkien A transliteration of the Hokkien term "阿中" (a-tiong), usually used simply as 'Tiong'. A crude term for Chinese nationals.
Ai See Hokkien/Teochew Transliteration of the Hokkien term "愛死" (ài-sí, Mandarin 要死). Used to describe someone on thin ice.
Ai See Buay See Hokkien Transliteration of the Hokkien term "愛死袂死" (ài-sí buē-sí, Mandarin 要死不死). Used to describe someone on thin ice.
Ai Swee Mai M'niah Hokkien Literally "love beauty until death", used of a person who acts cute till he or she becomes obsolete
Ai Sui Hokkien Literally means "Love beauty". Refers to a person who is beauty conscious. (Usually used of females).
Ai Tzai Hokkien Used in a reassuring manner to calm people down. From Hokkien term "愛在 ài tsāi"- must be firm, calm and solid)
Aiyah Chinese / Tamil Sometimes used as "Aiyoh".(Tamil: ஐயோ) Transliteration of the Chinese terms "哎呀" and "哎唷". Chinese equivalent of "Oh No!", "Oh Dear!". Another derivative of the term, Ai-Yoh-Yoh (Chinese: 哎唷唷) (Tamil: ஐயையோ) Extreme of "Aiyoh", was popularized by the Mediacorp drama series Good Morning, Sir!.
Akan Datang Malay Means "coming soon", as seen in movie trailers. Used to reassure an impatient person.
Alamak Malay Phonetically close to the Chinese term "Oh, my mother!". It expresses shock or surprise.
Amacam Malay A contraction of the Malay word "Apa macam", which is used as a greeting, similar to "What's up?".
An Zhua? Hokkien Hokkien equivalent of "What's up?." Transliteration of the Hokkien term "按怎" (án-chuáⁿ).
Ang Moh Pai Hokkien Literally translated from Singlish as the "Red Hair Faction", developed from the Hokkien term "紅毛派" (hóng máo pài). A term used for Chinese Singaporeans who speak good English but poor Chinese. The term suggests they are more "Red Hair"/Westernised than Chinese.
Ang Pau Hokkien/Teochew Red packet with money to be given on Chinese New Year or during some occasion like wedding, birthday party and so on as a wishes to the receiver. Hokkien or Teochew transliteration of the Chinese term "紅包" (hong bao).
Ang Moh Hokkien Literally means red hair "紅毛" (âng-moo). A term for people of European descent.
Ar Hokkien Used as either noun or a verb to denote a very cozy, non-sexual relationship with someone that might result in special considerations or leeway not available to anyone else without such a relationship. As in "I ar with the boss because I'm his golf buddy so I can occasionally come to work later without getting into trouble with him." Or "You got ar with him or not?" to inquire as to the status of the relationship between two people. Similar to the American slang expression "having juice with someone."
Ar? Cantonese and Mandarin Used within questions and rhetoric where opinions and affirmations are being sought. Originated from the Chinese term "啊".
Ar Bo Hokkien/Teochew Means "What else?" or "How else?". Usually used as an answer to a question with an obvious answer. Transliteration of the term "阿無" (á-bô).
Arrow English To delegate an unpleasant or boring task to someone. Term derives from the military and government's practice of stamping a tiny arrow next to the name of the person in official documents.
Atas Malay Literally means "above". Either: (1) Used to describe a snobbish and arrogant person, or (2) Used to describe a "high class", well-to-do or sophisticated person.
Auntie English A generic address for middle aged or elderly woman.[14] It may also refer to a young woman who dresses very unfashionably.
Ayam Malay Literally means "chicken". Used to describe someone who is easily intimidated.


Term Origin Definition
Balik Kampong Malay Pack up things and go home. Also spelt balek kampung.
Bak Kwa Hokkien rougan (Chinese: 肉干) or roupu (Chinese: 肉脯), is a Chinese salty-sweet dried meat product similar to jerky.
Banana English A Westernised Chinese Singaporean who lives distinctively like a Westerner (lifestyle, religion, dresscode, food, activities, English proficiency etc.) and usually cast aside or reject Chinese folk religions and traditions. Such a person is called a "banana", the point of comparison being that both are "yellow on the outside and white on the inside".
Barang Barang Malay Personal belongings.
Berak Malay To defecate.
Belanja Malay To give someone a treat.
Blur English Clueless. In a daze, unaware of what is going on.[15] Also commonly used in the phrase "act blur", which refers to the act of intentionally playing innocent.
Bodoh Malay Idiot, ignorant.[15]
Boh Beh Zao Hokkien Hokkien or Teochew pronunciation of "無馬走" (bô bé cháu) Literally "no horse run" from horse racing jargon. Used to describe something that is without rival.
Boh Chup Hokkien Hokkien for to not give a damn.
Boh Eng Hokkien To have little or no time on one's hands.
Boh Gay Hokkien/Teochew Hokkien or Teochew pronunciation of "無牙" (bô-gê), which literally means "no teeth". Usually used to describe someone with a missing tooth.
Boh Jio Hokkien/Teochew You didn't invite me. Hokkien or Teochew pronunciation of "無招" (Mandarin 没招 méi-zhāo).
Boh Liao Hokkien/Teochew Hokkien or Teochew pronunciation of "無聊" (bô-liâu), which means "boredom". A slang expression to describe being in a situation of idleness. Also used to describe an act of doing something silly.
Boh Pien Hokkien No choice.
Boh Ta Bo Lan Pa Hokkien Literally means you have no balls if it's not dry. Usually used in drinking for "bottoms up".
Boh Tao Boh Beh Hokkien Without head or tail i.e. a story that has no linkage
Boh Zheng Hu Hokkien Hokkien or Teochew pronunciation of "無政府". Used to describe a lack of governance or an authority.
Boleh Malay Can; possible. Sometimes used sarcastically to refer to one's inability to do something.
Botak Malay Used to describe someone bald. This term inspired the famous Botak Jones in Singapore.[16]
Buay Hokkien Hokkien pronunciation of "袂" (buē). Means "cannot".
Buaya Malay Literally means "crocodile". Refers to a womanizer or flirt.[17]
Buay Pai Hokkien Hokkien pronunciation of "袂歹" (buē-pháiⁿ, Mandarin: 不错). Literally means "not bad". This is commonly used for food, saying that it isn't very bad or not bad. It can also be applied to other things.
Buay Song Hokkien Hokkien pronunciation of "袂爽" (buē-sóng, Mandarin: 不开心). To be unhappy or angry about something.
Buay Gan/Kan Hokkien Hokkien pronunciation of "袂干" (buē-gan, Mandarin: 不会干). Useless, a BB
Buay Steady Hokkien/English Usually used to reply to someone whose conduct spoils the pleasure of others. A spoilsport.
Buay Tahan Hokkien and Malay Combination of the Hokkien term "buay" and Malay term "tahan". Means "unable to withstand" or colloquially "cannot stand it" i.e intolerable.


Term Origin Definition
Cert English Abbreviation of "Certificate". "Can copy your cert or not?"
Chao Hokkien/Teochew Used to refer to foul smells. From Hokkien or Teochew 臭 (chhàu). It may also be used to describe cheating or playing foul (Jiak Chao) in a game.
Chao Keng Hokkien Feigning sickness or injury. Commonly used during National Service to describe recruits who pretend to be unwell to avoid participating in certain activities. Sometimes shortened to Keng.
Chao Mugger Hokkien Someone who frequently crams for tests for fear of failure
Chap Lau Chu Hokkien A colloquial term to describe 10-storey flats.
Char Bor Hokkien/Teochew Girl/Woman. From Hokkien or Teochew 查某 (cha-bó).
Chee Bai Hokkien CB for short[18]. Means vagina but used mainly as a swear word. See Jibai.
Chee Ko Pek Hokkien/Teochew Hokkien or Teochew slang for "pervert" or "dirty old man". sometimes used by children on riding an object.
Cheena Peranakan/Malay Originated from Malay spelling "Cina". A derogatory term used to denote people exhibiting very unpolished behaviour or mannerisms, deriding their Chineseness. Basically to denote the uncultured (from an Anglophone standpoint), any occasionally be used to denote Chinese people.
'Cher (Tcher) Singlish Corruption & abbreviation of "teacher".
Chicken Business English and Cantonese Direct translation of the Cantonese slang "做雞", which means to prostitute oneself ("chicken" is the slang term for a prostitute).
Chim Hokkien/Teochew Hokkien or Teochew pronunciation of "深", which means "deep". Used to describe something or a situation that is extremely hard to understand or comprehend. "Wah you hear how he talk, so chim hor!" Variants include nouns such as chim-ness and chimology ("Wah this homework damn chimology man!") and chiminology (also cheeminology) ("Ooi! Wat you say I dun understand lah, stop using chiminology can or not!").[19] Ghil'ad Zuckermann defines chiminology as "something intellectually bombastic, profound and difficult to understand" and explains the suffix -inology (rather than -ology) as being based on the English pattern X↔Xinology deriving from Latin-based pairs such as crime↔criminology and term↔terminology.[19]
Chinaman English A crude term to call immigrants or foreign workers from the PRC.
Chin Chai Hokkien/Teochew Hokkien or Teochew pronunciation of "凊彩" (chhìn-chhái). When applied colloquially, it means "anything" or "whatever". Used in situations when one does not feel like making a decision and wants another to help him/her make a decision. Can also be applied to situations to do something in a half-heartedly manner.
Chio Bu Hokkien Hokkien pronunciation of 俏母 (chhiò-bú). Hokkien equivalent of "buxom woman". Used to describe a voluptuous woman but in a derogatory manner. However, nowadays teenagers often use it to genuinely describe/compliment a pretty girl/woman.
Chiong Hokkien To rush or to charge
Chiong Sua Hokkien Literally means "to charge up a hill”. Otherwise used as a more exaggerated form of "chiong". In National Service or the Singaporean military context, the literal meaning may be implied.
Chop Singlish Refers to stamp or seal.[20] From Malay cap, which is from Hindi छाप ćhāp (stamp).[21]
Chop Chop English Used to tell someone to do something fast.
Chope Singlish Slang for reserving a seat.[21] Derived from chop; to leave a mark. Singaporeans have a habit of leaving objects on seats or tables to reserve places (usually tissue packets). Sometimes also pronounced as simply "chop".
Chiu Kena Kah, Kah Kena Lum Pah Literally "feet like hands, hands like testicles". Used to describe a clumsy person.
cmi English An acronym for "can't make it", pronounced letter by letter (c m i).
Cockanaathan Tamil Similar meaning to "cock fella". Extreme term for useless or stupid.
Confirm plus Chop Singlish 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 action and whatever subsequent paperwork, if any, will be approved). Basically "officially sanctioned."
Corright Singlish Shortened corruption/amalgation of the words "Correct" and "Right". To confirm that something is correct and right. Rarely used.


Term Origin Definition
Dey Tamil To call someone in a friendly informal way. Same as "Hey!". Only to be used towards friends or someone of the same age. Example: "Dey! what are you doing?"
Du lan Hokkien A swear term that means "very pissed." Can also be used to describe someone who is very picky and who insists on following the rules literally and blindly with no accommodation for circumstances. Literally means "poke dick".
Double Confirm Singlish Confirm and reconfirm. Used to emphasize the confirmation. Also to emphasize the seriousness of the topic, 'Triple Confirm' is also used.


Term Origin Definition
Echerly Singlish Corruption of "actually".
Eeyer Malaysian Chinese To express disgust.
Encik Malay Literally means "Mister" in Malay. When used in a military context, it is used to address warrant officers in the Singapore Armed Forces. Also spelled as "encek".
Eye-Power English Sarcastic remark to describe someone who does not contribute in group work and watches while others do the work. It is also often associated with army officers who stand around doing nothing, getting things done by using their eye power and watching their subordinates. The term probably originated from the X-Men character Cyclops from Marvel Comics.


Term Origin Definition
Gabra Singlish Used to describe confusion or disorganisation.[22]
Gahmen Singlish Mispronunciation of the word "government"; the omitted "v" is especially common among people from Chinese-speaking backgrounds. In the modern context, it is used as substitute for the actual word when criticizing the government in written form to prevent possible legal action taken against the writer.
Garang Malay Literally means "fierce". Used to describe someone as courageous or enthusiastic.
Geh Geh Hokkien Means faking. Usually used to describe those who are hypocritical.
Geh Kiang Hokkien Literally means "fake smart". Making decisions quickly and rashly. Normally ends up bringing trouble.
Ger Singlish Corruption of "girl".
Get Hokkien Pronounced in the same way one would prounce "let". It means to be very cheeky. "Eh you know my son very "get" one hor. When he young that time he broke a lot of my things one, you leh?"
Gone-case English Means that one is doomed
Goondu Tamil Literal meaning "fat" in Tamil. Local meaning "idiot".[23][24]
Gor chiam tua guay gu chia leng Hokkien Literal meaning “fifty cents coin bigger that cart wheel.” To think that one's money can go further than it can actually afford.
Gostan English To reverse or go in the backward direction. Originates from the nautical phrase "go astern".


Term Origin Definition
Hao Lian Teochew Slang term for "boast" or to describe someone that is narcissistic. From Teochew word “好臉 haon3 liêng2” (love to boast, show off).
Heng / Huat Hokkien/Teochew Hokkien or Teochew pronunciation of "幸" (xīng), which means to be lucky or fortunate. Commonly used in conjunction with "ah", i.e. "heng ah".
Helication Singlish Corruption of "education".
Horlan English Deliberate mispronunciation of "Holland". Of uncertain origin, the term is used to denote finding oneself in a far-off place, or unexpected consequence, usually unpleasant.
Hor Liao Hokkien It means done.
Ho Seh Bo Hokkien How Are You?
Hosei Liao Hokkien The phrase means "Very Good" or "Excellent" and carries the positive connotation of respite. (e.g "Eh wah the cher never come today ah? Hosei liao, I never do her homework sia!"). Can also be used sarcastically (e.g "Walao you never study for your final papers then still don't want pon? Hosei liao!"). Alternate spellings include "Ho Seh Liao" and "Ho Say Liao".
Hum Ji Hokkien Literally means "no balls" or "shrunken balls", it is a phrase that denominates cowardly behaviour.(e.g "walao don't humji la go ask her out!"). Usually used of males. (e.g James damn humji sia he see cockroach only he piss his pants sia really cmi.) Alternate spellings include humji, hum chi and humchi.


Term Origin Definition
Ini Macam Malay "Like this" Means to be very certain.


Term Origin Definition
Jam English Can also mean traffic congestion. Shortcut of the word "traffic jam".
Jelak Malay To be overly satiated by food to the point you are repulsed by it, particularly food that is too rich.
Jiak Hokkien/Teochew Hokkien or Teochew pronunciation of the Chinese term "食" which means to eat.
Jiak Chao Hokkien/Teochew Literally means to eat grass. From Hokkien or Teochew "食草" (chia̍h chháu). It may refer to being in a situation of having no money for daily expenses (i.e. broke). It may also mean to play foul in a game (slightly different pronunciation).
Jiak Zua Hokkien Hokkien or Teochew pronunciation of "食蛇".Literally means to eat snake. Used of a person who slacks from his duty.
Jiak Kantang Hokkien and Malay Literally means 'eat potato'. Formed by the Hokkien term "Jiak" (eat) and Malay term "Kentang" (potato). It is a pejorative term referring to pompous condescending intellectuals who are slightly more educated about Western cultures. "Eating more potato" means more westernized than being Asian (eating rice). Also refers to someone displaying a western English accent that is not authentic: referring to the sound that one would make while attempting to speak with a mouthful of potato.
Jia Lat Hokkien/Teochew Hokkien or Teochew pronunciation of "食力". Literally means "sapping strength". Used to describe being in trouble or a terrible situation.
Jibai Hokkien Vulgar term for the female sexual organ; or the English equivalent of 'cunt'. Also a general negative expletive/interjection in colloquial speech. Alternatively spelled "chee bye", "ci bai", or "chee bai" (abbreviates to "cb" in digital communication).
Jibra Singlish Corruption of "zebra".
Jio Singlish Invite. Could also mean asking someone out.
Jilo Singlish Corruption of "zero". Also pronounced "zilo" or "jiro".


Term Origin Definition
Kae Ang Moh Hokkien Hokkien or Teochew pronunciation of "假紅毛". Literally "fake red hair". Used of someone who tries to act like a Westerner.
Kah Kenna Chiu, Chiu Kenna Kah Singlish Literally "hands like feet, feet like hands." Used to describe a clumsy person.
Kampung Malay Means "village". Sometimes spelt as "kampong".[25][26]
Kar Chng Hokkien/Teochew Buttocks. From Hokkien or Teochew "尻川" (kha-chhng).
Kar Pak Singlish Parking Lot (Car Park).
Kaypoh Cantonese Hokkien transliteration of the Chinese slang term "雞婆" (ke-pô), which refers to a busybody.[27] Sometimes abbreviated to "kpo".
Kayu Malay Traditionally used to accuse that soccer matches have been fixed with shouts of "referee kayu" or soccer fans (i.e., that the referee was so blind to foul play from the opposing team by refusing to penalize them that he might as well have been a block of wood). Also used to describe lack of spontaneity or wooden behaviour. (Lit. "wood")
Kee Siao Hokkien To go mad. Usually, this phrase is used in the context of scolding people.
Keling Kia Hokkien Used as a slur. Old name for Tamil Indians working for British (colonial days). Keling, or Kling name for Madras Administration by British, and Kia, means people or person.
Kena Malay Means to be afflicted with or to suffer from something.[28] Also pronounced as "kana" or spelled as "gena/genna/kenna".
Kena Sai Malay and Hokkien A pejorative term in which "kena" means to be afflicted with and "sai" (屎) means "shit". Means to "get into deep shit" or get into deep trouble. When "kena" is in this context it is more often pronounced as "kana sai".
Kenz Malay Short form of Kena.
Ki Chia Hokkien Die. Refers to the loading of a coffin into a hearse. The English word is “Up (The) Lorry”.
Kiam Hokkien/Teochew Transliteration of the Chinese term "咸" (kiâm) which literally means "salty". Also used to describe a stingy person.
Kiasi Hokkien Hokkien transliteration of the Chinese slang term "驚死". Literally means to be afraid of dying. Used in the same manner as "kiasu".
Kiasu Hokkien/Teochew Hokkien transliteration of the Chinese slang term "驚輸". Literally means to be afraid of losing.[25][28]
Kilat Malay Means "excellent". Commonly used in the military. (Lit. "shining")
Kong Ka Kiao Hokkien Die.
Kopi Singlish/Malay Coffee. Below is a list of the most common coffee orders in Singapore:[29]

Kopi: The most popular mix of coffee with sweetened condensed milk

Kopi Gau: A strong brew of coffee

Kopi Poh: A weak brew of coffee

Kopi Kosong: Substitutes condensed for evaporated milk

Kopi-C: Coffee with evaporated milk and sugar (most similar to a “regular” western coffee)

Kopi-O: Coffee with sugar but no milk

Kopi Peng: Iced coffee

These terms can be combined together. For example, a strong iced coffee with evaporated milk and sugar would be called “kopi-c gau peng.”

Kopitiam Malay and Hokkien Literally means "coffee shop". "coffee shop" in Singapore refers to "food centre". From Hokkien 咖啡店 (ka-pi-thìam).
Kiam pa Hokkien Directly translated - Asking for (kiam) a beating (pa). Used to say that (the appearance or actions of) an individual evokes a desire to physically hit them.
Ku Ku Jiao Singlish Crude term. Refers to the male genitalia. Also "ku ku bird".


Term Origin Definition
Lah Singlish, Cantonese Tagged at the end of a sentence as an exclamation but pronounced differently in questions.[30][31][32] Used mainly at the end of both phrases and sentences. Most speakers prefer "ah" at the end of questions.
Lan Jiao Hokkien/Teochew Chinese transliteration of 卵鳥 (lān-chiáu). Means guy's private part (crude).
Lao Lan Singlish Arrogant; egoistic; pretentious, same meaning as Xia Lan
Lao Pei Huet Hokkien To have a nosebleed. Typically used as a reaction upon seeing a pretty girl.
Lao Sai Hokkien/Teochew Chinese transliteration of 拉屎. Means diarrhoea.
La Sai Singlish Means to "≈stir shit" i.e. create trouble.
Lagi Malay Means to want more of something
Leh Singlish Written 叻. Tagged at the end of a sentence in a similar manner as "lah". Used to emphasize the sentence.
Leh Chey Singlish meaning troublesome
Lepak[33] Malay Has the same meaning as relaxing, for example "Let's go lepak one corner."
Liao Hokkien/Chinese Means "already" or "over", or generally indicates the past tense. Sometimes used as a substitute for the "already" used in Singlish, especially by Chinese-speaking people. Chinese transliteration of 了 (liáo). Sometimes also pronounced as the Mandarin "le" (light tone) by Chinese speakers.
Liek Boh Kiew Hokkien Hokkien idiom which means "catch no ball". Used when one is unable to comprehend what others are saying.
Lombang Hokkien/Chinese Pronounced with a round "o" ("lomh-bang") is from Malay "tumpang" which means "to hitch a ride". May also be pronounced and written as "lobang".
Lor Singlish, Cantonese Tagged at the end of a sentence in a similar manner as "lah". Used to emphasize and indicate that what was said should be obvious to the listener, self-evident or to express inevitability.
Luan Hokkien, Mandarin Hokkien word which means very messy. "Eh you very luan ah. You everytime lose your things, siao meh?"


Term Origin Definition
Macam Malay Like; Means to resemble something.
Mah Mandarin Usually tagged at the end of a sentence to seek agreement or argue a point. For example, "Cannot like that, mah."
Makan Malay To eat.[34]
Makcik Malay An auntie persona
Malu Malay Embarrassing; Usually used when one makes a fool of him/herself.
Mampat Malay Tight/firm. Usually referring to a woman's posterior or clothing.
Masak-Masak Malay Child's play. "Masak" by itself refers to cooking.
Mati Malay Literally means to die. "Die" in the Singaporean slang context means to be doomed.
Mata Malay Literally means "eye". Used as a reference to the police.
Meh Cantonese /Chinese Usually tagged at the end of a negative question to indicate someone is exploiting a possible loophole as in "Mata said cannot park here but I'm parking over there. Cannot, meh?" Or to (somewhat derisively) indicate capabilities heretofore unknown as in "Just because you never see me running, you think I cannot, meh?" From Cantonese me1.
Mong Cha Cha Cantonese To behave in a "blur" manner and be unaware of what is going on around. From Cantonese 矇查查 mung4 caa4 caa4.
Mug English To cram (for academic tests). Used interchangeably with/instead of the word "study".


Term Origin Definition
Neh Neh Pok Hokkien Neh Neh (奶奶) is commonly used to refer to a woman's chest or 'breasts'. Pok (撲) refers to the "bump" on the breasts, thus Neh Neh Pok refers to the nipples.
Ngeow Hokkien/Teochew Literally means "cat". Transliteration of Chinese 貓 (niau). Used to describe someone who is overly meticulous or tries to find fault in everything. Can also be used to refer to someone stingy.[35]
Nia Teochew Common used to depict the meaning of "only". It is of a belittling tone. May also be used to downplay intensity.
Nia Gong Teochew Direct Translation of "your grandfather".
Nia Gong De Ji Dan Hokkien/Teochew Direct Translation of "your grandfather's egg".


Term Origin Definition
O$P$ Singlish "Owe Money Pay Money". Used in threats from loan-sharks who would usually scrawl this in markers or spray paint outside debtors' units. An English translation of the Chinese expression 欠钱还钱.
Obasan Japanese Used to describe someone sloppily dressed and out of fashion. Usually women in an old faded T-shirts and cheap shorts carrying a plastic bag.
Obiang Unknown (Possibly Hokkien or Malay) Used to describe someone or something that is desperately out of fashion. Other variations include "orbit".
Orbi Unknown May be used as a single term or combined to form "orbi quek" or "orbi good", which means "serves you right".
ORD English Short-form of "Operationally Ready Date", which refers to the date on which a National Serviceman completes his full-time stint of National Service. And what older National Servicemen called their "ROD" or "Run Out Date."
ORD loh Singlish Army slang. An exclaim made by servicemen close to completing his two-year mandatory service term in the army to provoke jokingly his counterparts who have yet to see the end of their service terms.
Orh English Shortened from okay, meaning yes, understood.
Orh Hor Singlish Used when someone has done something wrong, and will now be in trouble.


Term Origin Definition
Pai Kia Teochew Teochew slang for "hooligan" or "gangster". Literally means "bad kid". From Teochew 歹囝(pháiⁿ-kiáⁿ). Commonly used to scold kids who doesn't appreciate their parents.
Pai Seh Hokkien Means to be embarrassed. Usually used as an apology after making an embarrassing mistake. From Hokkien 歹勢 (pháiⁿ-sè).
Pak Chiu Cheng (PCC) Hokkien Fire Hand Gun, or to masturbate
Pak Zam Hokkien/Teochew Literally means "needle injection". Used to describe something faulty or not usable.
Pak Tor Cantonese From the Cantonese term "拍拖", which means to go on a date. Colloquially refers to general physical intimacy.
Pang Chance Hokkien/Teochew To give chance.
Pang Sai Hokkien/Teochew To shit. Chinese transliteration of "放屎" (pàng-sái).
Pang Seh Hokkien Hokkien slang for "to be stood up" (at an appointment), or cancelled upon at the last minute. Not to be confused with 'pang sai', which means 'to defecate'.
Pang Jio Hokkien/Teochew Meaning to "pee" or "pass urine"
Pariah Tamil Used to describe something unsightly or disgusting. Used to describe the lowest and most unsightly caste (gravediggers and sewerage in Ancient India). In modern times, it is also used to describe something or someone of low quality.
Pasar Malam Malay Refers to the night markets.[36][37]
Photostat English Photocopy.
Pia Hokkien/Teochew To work hard at something, or to rush something (such as homework). From Hokkien word "拼 piànn“
Piak Piak Hokkien To have sexual intercourse.
Place English Refers to a person's place of residence (e.g. "You want to come to my place (house) and sleep over tonight?")
Pok Kai Cantonese Means to go broke. Also used to curse people. Lit. "to fall into the street" where the dispossessed are tossed into the street. Not normally used as a general expletive as in Cantonese-speaking societies like Hong Kong.
Pon Malay Short form of "ponteng". To play truant (e.g. "Want pon school today?").
Power English Usually means to praise someone or something.
PRC English Refers to a Chinese national (abbreviation of "People's Republic of China"). Often used disparagingly.
Pro English A short form for the word "Professional".



Term Origin Definition
Rabak Malay A situation out of hand.
Rabz Malay Short form of Rabak.
Rabz-Kebabz Malay/Singlish An out-of-control situation, usually with negative connotations. "Everyone was so drunk, damn rabz-kebabz."
Return English To give back. Direct translation from the Chinese phrase.
Revert English To reply. Often used in email and text messages.


Term Origin Definition
Sabo Singlish Short form of the English word "Sabotage" with a related meaning of "getting someone else in trouble"
Sakar Malay To flatter, to lick one's boots. Derived from Malay meaning 'sugar' although the Malay word for sugar is actually gula, which may have been derived from Hindi 'sakar' or 'Sakkar' meaning 'sugar' and 'sweet words', and ultimately from Persian 'shakar' meaning 'sugar', 'sweet'.
Saman Malay Used for traffic summons. Derived from the English word summons. (Lit. "to fine/summon")
Sampat Hokkien Mainly used to describe a woman who is a combination of almost all the following: bimbo/ muppet/ uneducated/ crazy/ half-cooked/ short-circuit in the head. Can also use on some men. Can also call them 13 O'clock.
Sam Seng Cantonese and Hokkien/Teochew Or Sam Seng Kia (三牲囝, saⁿ-seng-kiáⁿ) - gangster. From Chinese term 三牲 (Hokkien/Teochew saⁿ-seng).
Sargen Singlish Corruption of "sergeant".
Sei Hokkien Steady.
See first Singlish A short form of "wait and see what happens; we’ll see." Most often used when procrastinating and putting off plans to be considered later. A variant of this phrase is "see how first".
Sekali Malay Lest, what if. Pronounced SCAR-ly.
Send Singlish To bring someone somewhere "I send you to the airport lah".
Shame Shame Singlish Childish slang meaning of "very disgraceful" or "embarrassing".
Shiok Punjabi/Malay To express sheer delight with an experience, especially when eating great food. Popularly exclaimed in a single word "Shiok!", or combined with another - "Shiok man!", "So shiok!"
Showflat English An event held by an estate agency that spans several weeks to promote a housing project, usually condominiums.
Sia Malay An exclamation.
Siam Hokkien/Teochew "Get out of the way!" Considered rude but effective. From Hokkien term 閃 (siám).
Sian/Sien Hokkien/Teochew Bored, tired, or sick of something.[38] From Hokkien (siān).[39]
Siao Hokkien/Teochew Refers to either "crazy" in response to a silly suggestion or an offensive term used to address a friend. From Hokkien or Teochew word "siáu 嬲". Also refers to somebody who is a fanatic. "He Siao bicycles" is saying that someone is crazy about bicycles.
Sibeh Teochew Similar to "very". Originated from Teochew word 死父 (si2-bê6) (literally a curse vulgar word meaning "dead father"). Interchangeably used in Singaporean Hokkien and Singlish.
Si Mi Hokkien "What?" From Hokkien term 甚物 (sím-mi̍h) (may also be written as 啥物 or 啥咪). Mandarin equivalent of 什么.
Si Mi Lan Jiao Hokkien A much more derogatory term of "What's up?" Literally means "What's up dickhead?" Or an exclamation to the effect of "WTF"
Si Mi Tai Dzi Hokkien "Si Mi" is translated from Chinese's 甚物 and means "What" and when added to "Tai Dzi" (代誌). It means "What's up?"
Sod Cantonese/English Used to express a machine, person, or object that has gone mental or haywire. Localization of the word "short" from English term "short circuit".
Song Hokkien/Cantonese Used to express pleasure. Lit. "refreshing". From Hokkien/Cantonese 爽 (sóng). Same meaning as Shiok.
Sozai/Sor Zai Hokkien/Teochew used to express "silliness" example "these people are so sor zai one"
Sotong Malay Forgetful or not knowing what is going on. Lit. "squid". Spineless or without principles, like the cuttlefish.
Spoil Singlish Broken down.
Stay Singlish Live (reside) "I stay in Ang Mo Kio". Direct translation from the Malay tinggal.
Step Singlish Acting as if (person) "Eh, Don't step Ah Beng".
Stun Singlish To steal. See: Cope. Can be used as part of "Gostan". See: Gostan
Suay Hokkien/Teochew Unlucky.[40] From Hokkien or Teochew 衰 (soe).
Suku Malay/Teochew From the Malay for a quarter. Meaning of "silly" or "foolish", or "only a quarter there".
Sui Hokkien Means either: (1) nicely/just right/perfect, or (2): Clean, neat & tidy. Written as 美 in Chinese, and may also be written as "swee".
Swaku Hokkien Not well informed or backward; a country bumpkin. From Hokkien 山龜 (soaⁿ-ku; lit. "mountain tortoise").


Term Origin Definition
Tahan Malay Handle/tolerate, commonly used as 'I cannot tahan' meaning 'I can't bear it" or "I cannot tolerate"
Tai Ko (also spelled "tyco") Hokkien Lucky (only used sarcastically). Literally "leper".
Tak Boleh Malay Cannot.
Tak Boleh Tahan Malay Literally means, cannot endure. Used when someone is suffering from pain, or when you couldn't wait upon something.
Talk Cock/Tok Kok Singlish Vulgarity meaning of talking nonsense/senselessly and gibberish or engage in idle banter. Probably originated from the English expression "cock and bull story" or its equivalent, talking "gibberish" — English slang for talking nonsense.
Tan Ku Ku Hokkien directly means 'wait long long' Hokkien phrase meaning "Forget it, it won't happen".
Ta Pau Cantonese Take away (used only when cooked food is concerned). From the Cantonese word 打包 (da bao).
Tau Pok Chinese Literally means 'fried tofu'. By students who throw themselves on one another in a pile, usually for fun or to bully. Special cases with vertical tau pok where a person gets squashed against a vertical object, found in MRTs on a crowded day.
Teh Malay Tea. Refer to "Kopi/Coffee" for more information about the different types of orders for tea and coffee common in Singapore.
Tekan Malay Bully/Torture/Put under pressure. Military slang for punishments.
Terbalik/Tembalik Malay Opposite/Upside-Down/Inside-Out. Also pronounced "dom-ba-lek".
Thiam/Diam Hokkien/Malay If used as an imperative, a very rude way of saying "shut up!" or "please be quiet" But it literally means "quiet" and can be used as in "Doing guard duty on holidays is very sian but also very diam since nobody is here."
Tio Hokkien/Teochew To get. (Synonym: "kena" though it is used in different but overlapping contexts). Usually used as a verb (e.g. "He tio scolded by teacher" or "The car owner tio saman"). Also means to accurately choose something: "He always play 4D and this time he tio so he won big jackpot." From the Hokkien word 著 "tio̍h", equivalent to Mandarin 中 "zhong4".
Tir Ko Pek Hokkien A lecherous man.
Toot Singlish Stupid/silly [person].


Term Origin Definition
Ulu Malay Used to describe a rural or remote area or country bumpkin.[41] Commonly found in road names around Singapore as well (e.g. Ulu Pandan).
Un English/Cantonese Abbreviation for understand, was once used widely in Hong Kong.
Understooded English Corruption of understood.
Uncle English/Chinese Used as a generic title for males who are middle-aged or older, especially those who are not well acquainted. This comes from the Chinese languages, which refer the same group of males as 叔叔.[42] Similarly to auntie, used by young children to denote respect for a female adult
Also used to describe a younger person who behaves/dresses in an uncool/unfashionable manner.


Term Origin Definition
Very the Singlish Singlish phrase emphasising 'very', directly transliterated from the Chinese 非常的 (fēi cháng de), which means the same. Usually employed with a clearly sarcastic tone.


Term Origin Definition
Wah Lao (Eh) /

Wah Piang /

Wah Seh /

Wah Kao

Hokkien/Teochew Exclamation of shock. From the Hokkien phrase 哇塞 ("wah seh").
Wah Lan Hokkien/Teochew Crude derivative of "Wah Lau". Literally "Oh, my penis"
Wayang Malay Literal for puppetry, theatrical. Means "acting" or "for show".
White Horse English The son of a government official and/or other influential person. The term is derived from the drawing of a white horse that used to appear at the bottom left hand corner of the computer screen displaying patient information when said scion visits his camp's Medical Officer.
Womit Singlish Mispronunciation of "vomit".
World Singlish Nonsense, Bullshit.


Term Origin Definition
Xia Lan Hokkien Arrogant; egoistic; pretentious.
Xia Suay Hokkien/Teochew Disgrace; embarrassment. Unlucky.


Term Origin Definition
Yandao Hokkien A handsome male. Transliteration of Hokkien term "緣投" (iân-tâu).
Yaya Papaya Singlish Used to describe someone who's proud, arrogant, or showing off; often with disappointing outcomes. i.e. "Our football team's striker is damn yaya papaya, always try to solo dribble until lose the ball".
Your Head Singlish Mild curse used to disabuse someone of his or her erroneous assumption. Directly transliterated from Chinese "你的头". Often used in conjunction with the word "ah", i.e. "your head ah".


Term Origin Definition
Zai Hokkien to be very good at something. From Hokkien 才 (tsâi).
Zao Hor Hokkien Means impressive.
Zao Kng Hokkien to accidentally expose oneself.
Zhun Hokkien/Teochew Means accurate. From Hokkien 準 (chún).
Zhun Bo Hokkien/Teochew From Hokkien 準無 (chún-bô). Literally means accurate or not. Means "Are you sure or not?"
Zi siao Hokkien means to disturb, ridicule or tease. From Hokkien term 恥笑 (thí-siâu).

Food and beverages[edit]

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 have become Singlish and 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.


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:

Term Origin Definition
Char kway teow (Hokkien/Teochew) Fried flat rice noodles with bean sprouts, Chinese sausages, eggs and cockles, in black sweet sauce, with or without chilli.
Chwee kueh (Teochew; 水粿) cup shaped steamed rice flour cakes topped with preserved vegetables (usually radish) and served with or without chilli
Hokkien char mee (Hokkien/Fujian fried noodles; 福建炒麵) Refers to the Kuala Lumpur Hokkien noodle. It is a dish of thick yellow noodles braised in thick dark soy sauce with pork, squid, fish cake and cabbage as the main ingredients and cubes of pork fat fried until crispy.
Hokkien hae mee (Hokkien/Fujian prawn noodles; 福建蝦麵) Refers to either the Penang prawn noodle or Singapore prawn noodle. Soup-based (Penang) and stir-fried (Singapore). Egg noodles and rice noodles with no dark soya sauce used. Prawn is the main ingredient with slices of chicken or pork, squid and fish cake. Kang Kong (water spinach) is common in the Penang version
Ice Kacang (Malay) Crushed ice with flavoured syrup 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
Roti-Kaya (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 consisting of two halves of French loaves fried with egg and minced beef/mutton. Colonial origins.
Tze Char (Hokkien; 煮炒, POJ chí-chhá) 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 pork, claypot tofu etc.


Types of tea[edit]
Term Origin Definition
Teh (Hokkien/Malay) Tea (from Hokkien word "茶 tê“)
Teh-O (Hokkien) Tea without milk but instead with sugar. From Hokkien 茶烏 (tê-o) (literally means "black tea")
Teh-O-ice-limau (Hokkien-English-Malay) Home brewed iced lemon tea
Teh-C (Hokkien/Hainanese) Tea with evaporated milk. The C refers to the evaporated milk, derived from Hainanese "See"/"Xi" which sounds like alphabet "C", in hainanese "See Gu-Nin" refers to Evaporated or Fresh ("See/C") Milk ("Gu-Nin") e.g. King of Kings or Carnation as many Coffeeshops and related businesses are operated by Hainanese people in earlier days and even today.
Teh-cino (Hokkien/Roman alphabet) Milk layered with tea on top (similar to latte macchiato), though its name hints towards a tea version of cappuccino.
Teh-Peng (Hokkien) Iced milk tea sweetened with condensed milk. From Hokkien 茶冰 (tê-peng).
Teh-Poh (Hokkien) Weak or thin tea. From Hokkien 茶薄 (tê-po̍h).
Teh-kosong (Hokkien/Malay) Plain Tea.
Teh-kah-dai Hokkien/Foochow Milk tea sweetened with condensed milk, with more sugar.
Teh-siu-dai Hokkien/Foochow Milk tea sweetened with condensed milk, with less sugar.
Teh-pua seo Hokkien Luke-Warmed tea. From Hokkien 茶半燒 (tê puànn-sio)
Teh-O-kah-dai Hokkien/Foochow Tea with more sugar.
Teh-O-siu-dai Hokkien/Foochow Tea with less sugar
Teh-C-kah-dai Hokkien/Hainanese/Foochow Milk tea with more sugar.
Teh-C-siu-dai Hokkien/Hainanese/Foochow Milk tea with less sugar.
Teh-packet or Teh-pao Hokkien Tea to go. From Hokkien 茶包 (tê pau)
Teh-Tarik Malay 'Pulled' tea with milk, a Malay specialty.
Teh-Halia Malay Tea with ginger extract.
Teh-Halia Tarik Malay Pulled tea with milk (teh tarik) and Ginger
Types of coffee[edit]
Term Origin Definition
Kopi Malay/Hokkien (Hokkien/Malay) Coffee. Originated from Hokkien word 咖啡 (ka-pi)
Kopi-O Malay/Hokkien Coffee without milk. From Hokkien 咖啡烏 (ka-pi-o) [literally "black coffee"]
Kopi-C Malay/Hainanese Coffee with evaporated milk. The C refers to the evaporated milk, derived from Hainanese "See"/"Xi" which sounds like alphabet "C", in hainanese "See Gu-Nin" refers to Evaporated or Fresh ("See/C") Milk ("Gu-Nin") e.g. King of Kings or Carnation as many Coffeeshops and related businesses are operated by Hainanese people in earlier days and even today.
Kopi-Peng Malay/Hokkien Coffee with ice. From Hokkien 咖啡冰 (ka-pi-peng).
Kopi-packet or Kopi-pao Malay/Hokkien Coffee to go. From Hokkien 咖啡包 (ka-pi-pau)
Kopi-pua seo Malay/Hokkien Luke-Warmed coffee. From Hokkien 咖啡半燒 (ka-pi-pua-sio)
Kopi-gao Malay/Hokkien Thick coffee. From Hokkien 咖啡厚(ka-pi kāu)
Kopi-poh Malay/Hokkien Weak or thin coffee. From Hokkien 咖啡薄 (ka-pi-poh)
Kopi-kosong Malay/Hokkien Plain coffee.
Kopi-kah-dai Malay/Foochow Coffee with more sugar.
Kopi-siu-dai Malay/Foochow Coffee with less sugar.
Other beverages[edit]
Term Origin Definition
Bandung (drink) (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 (English) Iced Horlicks with extra scoop of Horlicks powder on top
Horlick-sio (Hokkien-English) Hot Horlicks
Horlick-peng (Hokkien-English) Iced Horlicks
Milo-sio (Hokkien-English) Hot Milo.
Milo dinosaur (English) Iced Milo with extra scoop of undissolved Milo powder on top
Milo-Peng (Hokkien-English) 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 (Hokkien) Iced Milo
Tiau Hir (Hokkien; literally means fishing) Tea with the tea bag. Reference to dipping of tea bag. From Hokkien 釣魚 (tiò-hî).

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 and ice) which is a popular drink considering Singapore's warm weather.

English words with different meanings in Singlish[edit]

Word Meaning Example/comment
follow - to come along/accompany or to understand' [43] "Can follow anot?"
having here to eat in at a restaurant The antonym is "take away" or "tah-bao". Used by fast-food restaurant counter staff as in, "Having here or take away?" (Are you eating in here or do you want to have it for take-away?)
Ice cream not up to par or expectation "Wah a simple task you also fail, you damn ice-cream sia"'
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[44] "I last time want to go Africa, but now don't know 'ready."[45]
lightbulb an unwelcome companion in a couple; a third wheel Originates from colloquial Cantonese term 電燈膽 (lit: electric light bulb). "You two go ahead lah, I don't want to be lightbulb."
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...'
smug to study (SMU students) The term smugging or smugger refers to mugging by SMU students. Derived from SMU and mugger.
marketing going to the market or shops to buy food "My dad may help in the marketing side, by going to the market to get some things."[46]
never did not "you never tell me"
next time in the future "Next time when you get married, you'll know how to cook."[45]
on, off to switch on/off "I on the TV"
on ah It's settled then?
open to turn on something "I open the light."[47] (Derived from Chinese, which uses the verb "to open" in this manner. Use of "open" to mean "turn on" is limited to electric appliances.)
pass up to hand in "Pass up your homework". 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."[48]
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.[49] - "Because he sabo me, now boss mad at me!"
stay to live (in a place).[50] From Malay "tinggal". - "My grandmother, my aunt and uncle also stay next door."[46]
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 ah? Steady!"
stone to space out; to do nothing - BAKED
take to eat; to have a meal[51] "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!"
earpiece Earphones/headphones In standard English it is used by handphone/mobile phone manufacturers to refer to the little speaker above your phone screen that you use to listen to a caller, but in Singlish it refers to a pair of earphones or headphones. Can be used as in, "Ah boy, don't wear your earpiece while crossing the road!" (Boy, don't use your earphones/headphones while crossing the road.)


Term Definition
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!"
Catch no ball unable to understand something that someone says.
Don't fly my kite/aeroplane Originated from the Mandarin phrase 放鸽子 (release the pigeon) and then the slang, 放飞机. People used to send letter by pigeons long ago to communicate. When one arranges to meet (via pigeon mail) and fails to turn up, it is said that the person has failed to keep the appointment. Rare expression. A Singlish expression which means 'Do not go back on your word' or '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 ah? 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? Abbreviated form of "is it?" used as a standard tag question. E.g.: You going home now issit? E.g.: You not going home issit? E.g.: 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. Means 'My English is not good'.
no fish prawn oso can accepting a lesser alternative (From the Hokkien idiom "bo hir hay mah hoh." literally translates as "no fish, prawns also ok" -)
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 - 無馬走, POJ bô bé cháu) 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. 'Relak one corner' means to skive, or to literally go chill out in one corner.
..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 thought, he think, who confirm? army expression used during organisational foul ups. Generally used as a response to "I thought..." when something goes wrong.
You think, I thought, who confirm? army expression used in uncertainty during questioning. Generally used as a response to "I think...".
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.
You play where one? Used to challenge someone to state his gang affiliations (if any)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Leimgruber, Jakob R. E. (2011). "Singapore English". Language and Linguistics Compass. 5 (1): 47–62. doi:10.1111/j.1749-818x.2010.00262.x. ISSN 1749-818X.
  2. ^ Harbeck, James. "The language the government tried to suppress". Retrieved 2018-11-05.
  3. ^ Leimgruber, Jakob R. E. (2011). "Singapore English". Language and Linguistics Compass. 5 (1): 47–62. doi:10.1111/j.1749-818x.2010.00262.x. ISSN 1749-818X.
  4. ^ New Singapore English words - OED Archived 2016-09-18 at the Wayback Machine, March 2016
  5. ^ Singapore terms join Oxford English Dictionary - BBC, 12 May 2016
  6. ^ Toh, Paik Choo (1982). Eh, Goondu!. Singapore: Eastern Universities Press. ISBN 978-9971-71-168-9.
  7. ^ Toh, Paik Choo (1986). Lagi Goondu!. Singapore: Times Books International. ISBN 978-9971-65-224-1.
  8. ^ Times-Chambers Essential English Dictionary (2nd ed.). Singapore: Federal Publications. 1997. ISBN 978-981-01-3727-4.
  9. ^ The Coxford Singlish Dictionary. Singapore: Angsana Books. 2002. ISBN 978-981-3056-50-3.
  10. ^ Leimgruber, Jakob R. E. (2011). "Singapore English". Language and Linguistics Compass. 5 (1): 47–62. doi:10.1111/j.1749-818x.2010.00262.x. ISSN 1749-818X.
  11. ^ Deterding, David (2007-08-01). Singapore English. Edinburgh University Press. doi:10.3366/edinburgh/9780748625444.001.0001. ISBN 9780748625444.
  12. ^ Brown, Adam (1999) Singapore English in a Nutshell, Singapore: Federal, p. 3.
  13. ^ a b Brown, Adam (1999) Singapore English in a Nutshell, Singapore: Federal, p. 5.
  14. ^ Wong, Jock (2006) 'Contextualizing aunty in Singaporean English', World Englishes, 25 (3/4), 451-466.
  15. ^ a b Brown, Adam (1999) Singapore English in a Nutshell, Singapore: Federal, p. 33.
  16. ^ Brown, Adam (1999) Singapore English in a Nutshell, Singapore: Federal, p. 35.
  17. ^ Brown, Adam (1999) Singapore English in a Nutshell, Singapore: Federal, pp. 37-38.
  18. ^ "Singlish Guide: 125 Phrases/Words That Define SG (Singaporean English)". 2017-08-13. Retrieved 2018-09-10.
  19. ^ a b Ghil'ad Zuckermann (2003). Language Contact and Lexical Enrichment in Israeli Hebrew, Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, (Palgrave Studies in Language History and Language Change, Series editor: Charles Jones). ISBN 1-4039-1723-X. 2003, pp. 52-53.
  20. ^ Tongue, R. K. (1979) The English of Singapore and Malaysia, Singapore: Eastern Universities Press, p. 69.
  21. ^ a b Brown, Adam (1999) Singapore English in a Nutshell, Singapore: Federal, p. 50.
  22. ^ Brown, Adam (1999) Singapore English in a Nutshell, Singapore: Federal, p. 92.
  23. ^ Brown, Adam (1999) Singapore English in a Nutshell, Singapore: Federal, p. 95.
  24. ^ "Best of Singlish Words and Phrases". Remember Singapore. 2011-08-21. Retrieved 2017-01-17.
  25. ^ a b Wee, Lionel (1998) 'The lexicon of Singapore English'. In J. A. Foley et al. (eds.) English in New Cultural Contexts: Reflections from Singapore, Singapore: Singapore Institute of Management/Oxford University Press, pp. 175-200.
  26. ^ Deterding, David (2007) Singapore English, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, p. 75.
  27. ^ Brown, Adam (1999) Singapore English in a Nutshell, Singapore: Federal, p. 121.
  28. ^ a b Brown, Adam (1999) Singapore English in a Nutshell, Singapore: Federal, p. 123.
  29. ^ Zienchuk, Judi (13 Jun 2013). "An Introduction to Singaporean Kopi Culture". Epicure & Culture. Retrieved 25 Jan 2016.
  30. ^ 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.
  31. ^ 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.
  32. ^ Wee, Lionel (2004) 'Redupliation and discourse particles'. In Lisa Lim (ed.) Singapore English: A Grammatical Description, Amsterdam: John Benjamins, pp. 105-126.
  33. ^ "Singlish Guide: 125 Phrases/Words That Define SG (Singaporean English)". 2017-08-13. Retrieved 2018-09-10.
  34. ^ Brown, Adam (1999) Singapore English in a Nutshell, Singapore: Federal, p. 135.
  35. ^ Brown, Adam (1999) Singapore English in a Nutshell, Singapore: Federal, p. 147.
  36. ^ Brown, Adam (1999) Singapore English in a Nutshell, Singapore: Federal, p. 158.
  37. ^ Deterding, David (2007) Singapore English, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, p. 76.
  38. ^ Brown, Adam (1999) Singapore English in a Nutshell, Singapore: Federal, p. 195
  39. ^ Hanji character[permanent dead link]
  40. ^ Brown, Adam (1999) Singapore English in a Nutshell, Singapore: Federal, p. 215.
  41. ^ Brown, Adam (1999) Singapore English in a Nutshell, Singapore: Federal, p. 229.
  42. ^ Tongue, R. K. (1979) The English of Singapore and Malaysia, Singapore: Eastern Universities Press, p. 68.
  43. ^ Brown, Adam (1999) Singapore English in a Nutshell, Singapore: Federal, pp. 85-6
  44. ^ Brown, Adam (1999) Singapore English in a Nutshell, Singapore: Federal, p. 128.
  45. ^ a b Deterding, David (2007) Singapore English, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, p. 80.
  46. ^ a b Deterding, David (2007) Singapore English, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, p. 81.
  47. ^ Brown, Adam (1999) Singapore English in a Nutshell, Singapore: Federal, p. 154.
  48. ^ 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.
  49. ^ Brown, Adam (1999) Singapore English in a Nutshell, Singapore: Federal, pp. 187
  50. ^ Brown, Adam (1999) Singapore English in a Nutshell, Singapore: Federal, p. 211.
  51. ^ Brown, Adam (1999) Singapore English in a Nutshell, Singapore: Federal, p. 217

Further reading[edit]

  • 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[edit]