Singlish is the English-based creole or patois spoken colloquially in Singapore. 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. It is used in causal contexts between Singaporeans, but is avoided in formal events when certain Singlish phrases may be considered unedifying.
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 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. It is also taken from Indian words such as "dai" meaning "hey", "goondu" meaning 'idiot" etc. 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 borrow your calculator?" / "Hey, can you lend me your calculator?"
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, most for entertainment. Two early humorous works were Sylvia Toh Paik Choo's Eh, Goondu! (1982) and Lagi Goondu! (1986). In 1997 the second edition of the Times-Chambers Essential English Dictionary 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, a light-hearted lexicon which was developed from material posted on the website Talkingcock.com. 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.
Refers to the 5 C's of Singapore (cash, car, credit card, condominium, country club membership). Commonly associated with materialistic success in modern Singapore.
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.
A hillbilly, someone with little dress sense. Also used to refer to a gangster The expressions came about because Ah Beng is a common Chinese male name. A transliteration of the Chinese name "阿明" (a-bêng).
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).
A hillbilly, someone with little dress sense. Also used to refer to a gangster 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,
A transliteration of the Chinese name "阿窿", which is a shortened form of "大耳窿". Slang term for "loanshark".
Ah pu neh neh/Ah neh
A crude term for Indian nationals.
A transliteration of the Hokkien term "阿中" (a-tiong), usually used simply as 'Tiong'. A crude term for Chinese nationals.
Transliteration of the Hokkien term "爱死" (ài-sí, Mandarin 要死). Used to describe someone on thin ice.
Ai See Buay See
Transliteration of the Hokkien term "爱死袂死" (ài-sí buē-sí, Mandarin 要死不死). Used to describe someone on thin ice.
Ai Swee Mai M'niah
Literally "love beauty until death", used on a person who acts cute till he or she becomes obsolete
Literally means "Love beauty". Refers to a person who is beauty conscious. (Usually used on females).
Used in a reassuring manner to calm people down. From Hokkien term "愛在 ài tsāi"- must be firm, calm and solid)
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!.
Means "coming soon", as seen in movie trailers. Used to reassure an impatient person.
Phonetically close to the Chinese term "Oh, my mother!". It expresses shock or surprise.
A contraction of the Malay word "Apa macam", which is used as a greeting, similar to "What's up?".
Hokkien equivalent of "What's up?." Transliteration of the Hokkien term "按怎" (án-chuáⁿ).
Ang Moh Pai
Literally translated from Singlish as the "Red Hair Faction", developed from the Hokkien term "红毛派" (hóng máo phài). A term used for Chinese Singaporeans who speak poor Chinese.
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 "红包" (hong bao).
Literally means "red hair 红毛" (âng-moo). A term for people of Caucasian descent.
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."
Cantonese and Mandarin
Used within questions and rhetoric where opinions and affirmations are being sought. Originated from the Chinese term "啊".
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).
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.
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.
A generic address for middle aged or elderly woman. It may also refer to a young woman who dresses very unfashionably.
Literally means "chicken". Used to describe someone who is easily intimidated.
Pack up things and go home. Also spelt "balek kampung".
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".
To give someone a treat.
Clueless. In a daze, unaware of what is going on. Also commonly used in the phrase "act blur", which refers to the act of intentionally playing innocent.
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.
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.
Someone who mugs a lot because he is kiasu.
Girl/Woman. From Hokkien or Teochew 查某 (cha-bó).
Means vagina but used mainly as a swear word. See Jibai.
Chee Ko Pek
Hokkien or Teochew slang for "pervert" or "dirty old man". sometimes used by children on riding an object.
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). Also originated from the Malay spelling "Cina".
Corruption & abbreviation of "teacher".
English and Cantonese
Direct translation of the Cantonese slang "做雞", which means to prostitute oneself ("chicken" is the slang term for a prostitute).
Hokkien or Teochew pronunciation of "深", which means "deep". Used to describe something or a situation that is extremely hard to understand or comprehend. Variants include nouns such as chim-inology, chim-ness.
A crude term to call immigrants or foreign workers from the PRC.
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.
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 geniunely describe/compliment a pretty girl/woman.
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.
Refers to stamp or seal. From Malay cap, which is from Hindi छाप ćhāp (stamp).
Used to tell someone to do something fast.
Slang for reserving a seat. Derived from chop; to leave a mark. Singaporeans have a habit of leaving objects on seats/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.
Similar meaning to "cock fella". Extreme term for useless or stupid.
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 action and whatever subsequent paperwork, if any, will be approved). Basically "officially sanctioned."
Shortened corruption/amalgation of the words "Correct" and "Right". To confirm that something is correct and right.
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?"
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".
Confirm and reconfirm. Used to emphasize the confirmation. Also to emphasize the seriousness of the topic, 'Triple Confirm' is also used.
Literally means "Mister" in Malay. When used in military context, it is used to address warrant officers in the Singapore Armed Forces. Also spelled as "encek".
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.
Used to describe confusion or disorganisation.
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.
Literally means "fierce". Used to describe someone as courageous or enthusiastic.
Means faking. Usually used to describe those who are hypocritical.
Literally means "fake smart". Making decisions quickly and rashly. Normally ends up bringing trouble.
Hokkien or Teochew pronunciation of the Chinese term "吃" (chia̍h), which means to eat.
Literally means to eat grass. From Hokkien or Teochew "吃草" (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).
Literally means to eat snake. Used on a person who slacks from his duty.
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.
Literally means 'eat snake'. Formed by Hokkien term "Jiak" (eat), "Zua" (snake). It basically means 'slacking'.
Literally means "sapping strength". Used to describe being in trouble or a terrible situation.
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).
Corruption of "zebra".
Corruption of "zero". Also pronounced "zilo" or "jiro".
Literally "fake red hair". Used on someone who trys to act like a Westerner.
Kah Kenna Chiu, Chiu Kenna Kah
Used to describe a clumsy person.
Means "village". Sometimes spelt as "kampong".
Buttocks. From Hokkien or Teochew "尻川" (kha-chhng).
Parking Lot (Car Park).
Hokkien transliteration of the Chinese slang term "雞婆" (ke-pô), which refers to a busybody. Sometimes abbreviated to "kpo".
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")
To go mad. Usually, this phrase is used in the context of scolding people.
Means to be afflicted with or to suffer from something. Also pronounced as "kana" or spelled as "gena/genna/kenna".
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".
Short form of Kena.
Transliteration of the Chinese term "咸" (kiâm) which literally means "salty". Also used to describe a stingy person.
Tagged at the end of a sentence as an exclamation but pronounced differently in questions. Used mainly at the end of both phrases and sentences. Most speakers prefer "ah" at the end of questions.
Chinese transliteration of 卵鳥 (lān-chiáu). Means guy's private part (crude).
See "Xia Lan".
Lao Pei Huet
To have a nosebleed. Typically used as a reaction upon seeing a pretty girl.
Chinese transliteration of 拉屎. Means diarrhoea.
Means to "stir shit" i.e. create trouble.
Means to want more of something
Written 叻. Tagged at the end of a sentence in a similar manner as "lah". Used to emphasize the sentence.
Has the same meaning as relaxing, for example "Let's go lepak one corner."
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 idiom which means "catch no ball". Used when one is unable to comprehend what others are saying.
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".
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.
Embarrassing; Usually used when one makes a fool of him/herself.
Tight/firm. Usually referring to a woman's posterior or clothing.
Child's play. "Masak" by itself refers to cooking.
Literally means to die. "Die" in the Singapore context means to be doomed.
Literally means "eye". Used as a reference to the police.
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 咩me1.
Mong Cha Cha
To behave in a "blur" manner and be unaware of what is going on around. From Cantonese 矇查查mung4 caa4 caa4.
To cram (for academic tests). Used interchangeably with/instead of the word "study".
"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.
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.
Unknown (Possibly Hokkien or Malay)
Used to describe someone or something that is desperately out of fashion. Other variations include "orbit".
May be used as a single term or combined to form "orbi kwek" or "orbi good", which means "serves you right".
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."
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.
Shortened from okay, meaning yes, understood.
Used when someone has done something wrong, and will now be in trouble.
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.
Means to be embarrassed. Usually used as an apology after making an embarrassing mistake. From Hokkien 歹勢 (pháiⁿ-sè).
Literally means "needle injection". Used to describe something faulty or not usable.
From the Cantonese term "拍拖", which means to go on a date. Colloquially refers to general physical intimacy.
To give chance.
To shit. Chinese transliteration of "放屎" (pàng-sái).
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'.
Meaning to "pee" or "pass urine"
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.
To work hard at something, or to rush something (such as homework). From Hokkien word "拼 piànn“
To have sexual intercourse.
Refers to a person's place of residence (e.g. "You want to come to my place (house) and sleep over tonight?")
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.
Short form of "ponteng". To play truant (e.g. "Want pon school today?").
Usually means to praise someone or something.
Refers to a Chinese national (abbreviation of "People's Republic of China"). Often used disparagingly.
Short form of the English word "Sabotage" with a related meaning of "getting someone else in trouble"
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'.
Used for traffic summons. Derived from the English word summons. (Lit. "to fine/summon")
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.
Cantonese and Hokkien/Teochew
Or Sam Seng Kia (三牲囝, saⁿ-seng-kiáⁿ) - gangster. From Chinese term 三牲 (Hokkien/Teochew saⁿ-seng).
Corruption of "sergeant".
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".
Lest, what if. Pronounced SCAR-ly.
To bring someone somewhere "I will send you to the airport".
Childish slang meaning of "very disgraceful" or "embarrassing".
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!"
An event held by an estate agency that spans several weeks to promote a housing project, usually condominiums.
"Get out of the way!" Considered rude but effective. From Hokkien term 闪 (siám).
Bored, tired, or sick of something. From Hokkien (siān).
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.
Similar to "very". Originated from Teochew word 死爸 (si2-bê6) (literally a curse vulgar word meaning "dead father"). Interchangeably used in Singaporean Hokkien and Singlish.
"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
A much more derogatory term of "What's up?" Literally means "What's up dickhead?"
Si Mi Tai Dzi
"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?"
Used to express a machine, person, or object that has gone mental or haywire. Localization of the word "short" from English term "short circuit".
Used to express pleasure. Lit. "refreshing". From Hokkien/Cantonese 爽 (sóng). Same meaning as Shiok.
Forgetful or not knowing what is going on. Lit. "squid". Spineless or without principles, like the cuttlefish.
Live (reside) "I stay in Ang Mo Kio". Direct translation from the Malay tinggal.
Acting as if (person) "Eh, Don't step Ah Beng".
To steal. See: Cope. Can be used as part of "Gostan". See: Gostan
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
directly means 'wait long long' Hokkien phrase meaning "Forget it, it won't happen".
Take away (used only when cooked food is concerned). From the Cantonese word 打包 (da bao).
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.
Tea. Refer to "Kopi/Coffee" for more information about the different types of orders for tea and coffee common in Singapore.
Bully/Torture/Put under pressure. Military slang for punishments.
Opposite/Upside-Down/Inside-Out. Also pronounced "dom-ba-lek".
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."
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".
Used to describe a rural or remote area or country bumpkin. Commonly found in road names around Singapore as well (e.g. Ulu Pandan).
Abbreviation for understand, was once used widely in Hong Kong.
Corruption of understood.
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.  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.
Exclamation of shock. From the Hokkien phrase 哇塞 ("wah seh").
Crude derivative of "Wah Lau". Literally "Oh, my penis"
Literal for puppetry, theatrical. Means "acting" or "for show".
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.
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:
Char Kway Teow
Fried flat rice noodles with bean sprouts, Chinese sausages, eggs and cockles, in black sweet sauce, with or without chilli.
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; 福建炒麺)
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; 福建蝦麺)
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
Crushed ice with flavoured liquids poured into them. Beans and jelly are usually added as well.
Local jam mixture made of coconut, sugar and egg of Straits Chinese origins
Toasted bread with Kaya
Malay fried noodles
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
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.
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).
Indian version of western hamburger consisting of two halves of French loaves fried with egg and minced beef/mutton. Colonial origins.
(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.
Tea without milk but instead with sugar. From Hokkien 茶烏 (tê-o) (literally means "black tea")
Home brewed iced lemon tea
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.
Milk layered with tea on top (similar to latte macchiato), though its name hints towards a tea version of cappuccino.
Iced milk tea sweetened with condensed milk. From Hokkien 茶冰 (tê-peng).
Weak or thin tea. From Hokkien 茶薄 （tê-po̍h）.
Milk tea sweetened with condensed milk, with more sugar.
Milk tea sweetened with condensed milk, with less sugar.
(Hokkien/Malay) Coffee. Originated from Hokkien word 咖啡 (ka-pi）
Coffee without milk. From Hokkien 咖啡烏 (ka-pi-o) [literally "black coffee"]
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.
Coffee with ice. From Hokkien 咖啡冰 (ka-pi-peng).
Kopi-packet or Kopi-pao
Coffee to go. From Hokkien 咖啡包 (ka-pi-pau)
Luke-Warmed coffee. From Hokkien 咖啡半燒 (ka-pi-pua-sio)
Iced Milo with extra scoop of undissolved Milo powder on top
literally means football or soccer) Milo; Nestlé Milo often uses soccer and other sports as the theme of its advertisement.
(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
Probably from the English "cock and bull story". Talking senselessly/rubbish; "Don't tok kok lah!"
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.)
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
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.
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. Literally 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.
"It's on!"; expression used to voice enthusiastic agreement or confirmation (of an arranged meeting, event etc.)
(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..." when a higher ranking abuses someone of a lower rank, which is a norm in the nation's army.
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)
^Brown, Adam (1999) Singapore English in a Nutshell, Singapore: Federal, p. 3.
^ abBrown, Adam (1999) Singapore English in a Nutshell, Singapore: Federal, p. 5.
^Wong, Jock (2006) 'Contextualizing aunty in Singaporean English', World Englishes, 25 (3/4), 451-466.
^ abBrown, Adam (1999) Singapore English in a Nutshell, Singapore: Federal, p. 33.
^Brown, Adam (1999) Singapore English in a Nutshell, Singapore: Federal, p. 35.
^Brown, Adam (1999) Singapore English in a Nutshell, Singapore: Federal, pp. 37-38.
^Tongue, R. K. (1979) The English of Singapore and Malaysia, Singapore: Eastern Universities Press, p. 69.
^ abBrown, Adam (1999) Singapore English in a Nutshell, Singapore: Federal, p. 50.
^Brown, Adam (1999) Singapore English in a Nutshell, Singapore: Federal, p. 92.
^Brown, Adam (1999) Singapore English in a Nutshell, Singapore: Federal, p. 95.
^ abWee, 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.
^Deterding, David (2007) Singapore English, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, p. 75.
^Brown, Adam (1999) Singapore English in a Nutshell, Singapore: Federal, p. 121.
^ abBrown, Adam (1999) Singapore English in a Nutshell, Singapore: Federal, p. 123.
^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.
^Brown, Adam (1999) Singapore English in a Nutshell, Singapore: Federal, p. 135.
^Brown, Adam (1999) Singapore English in a Nutshell, Singapore: Federal, p. 147.
^Brown, Adam (1999) Singapore English in a Nutshell, Singapore: Federal, p. 158.
^Deterding, David (2007) Singapore English, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, p. 76.
^Brown, Adam (1999) Singapore English in a Nutshell, Singapore: Federal, p. 195
^Brown, Adam (1999) Singapore English in a Nutshell, Singapore: Federal, p. 215.
^Brown, Adam (1999) Singapore English in a Nutshell, Singapore: Federal, p. 229.
^Tongue, R. K. (1979) The Engish of Singapore and Malaysia, Singapore: Eastern Universities Press, p. 68.
^Brown, Adam (1999) Singapore English in a Nutshell, Singapore: Federal, pp. 85-6
^Brown, Adam (1999) Singapore English in a Nutshell, Singapore: Federal, p. 128.
^ abDeterding, David (2007) Singapore English, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, p. 80.
^ abDeterding, David (2007) Singapore English, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, p. 81.
^Brown, Adam (1999) Singapore English in a Nutshell, Singapore: Federal, p. 154.
^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.
^Brown, Adam (1999) Singapore English in a Nutshell, Singapore: Federal, pp. 187
^Brown, Adam (1999) Singapore English in a Nutshell, Singapore: Federal, p. 211.
^Brown, Adam (1999) Singapore English in a Nutshell, Singapore: Federal, p. 217