Singlish Dictionary | Singlish Words And Their Meaning


Singlish vocabulary

Singlish, short for Singapore English, is an English-based creole spoken in Singapore. It is a unique linguistic blend that reflects the diverse multicultural makeup of the country. Singlish incorporates words and phrases from various languages, including Malay, Mandarin, and Tamil, resulting in a rich and vibrant vocabulary.

What sets Singlish apart is its inclusion in the prestigious Oxford English Dictionary. This recognition signifies the significance and influence of Singlish in the daily lives of Singaporeans. Some Singlish terms have even become official Singlish verbs, such as “lepak” (meaning to relax or hang out) and “sabo” (meaning to deliberately cause trouble for someone).

Singlish vocabulary offers a true reflection of Singaporean identity and culture. It embraces the use of direct and literal translations, such as “tissue packets” (small packs of tissue handed out by salespeople) and “white horse” (referring to a wealthy person with connections). Singlish also boasts unique expressions and phrases, like the nautical term “buay sai” (unable to swim) and the popular local drink “teh tarik” (literally meaning “pulled tea”).

Singlish vocabulary represents a fascinating linguistic fusion that blends various languages and cultural influences. Its inclusion in the Oxford English Dictionary serves as a testament to its significance, and its usage captures the essence of Singaporean colloquial English.


Word origins

Singlish vocabulary, with its unique blend of words and expressions, has its origins deeply rooted in the multicultural nature of Singapore. The term “Singlish” itself is a combination of Singapore and English, highlighting the distinct linguistic identity of the city-state.

In terms of word origins, Singlish borrows heavily from British English due to Singapore’s historical ties with British colonial rule. This influence is evident in the spelling and abbreviations used in Singlish, which closely follow British English conventions. However, it’s important to note that Singlish is more than just a direct translation of British English. It has distinctively evolved to include words and phrases influenced by Chinese dialects, Malay terms, and various other languages spoken by the diverse communities in Singapore. British conventions, with the American influence increasingly prevailing.

Singlish naming conventions also reflect this diversity. While they were traditionally influenced by British naming conventions, recent years have seen a rise in American naming influences. This can be attributed to the global influence of American culture and the prevalence of American media in Singapore.

Singlish vocabulary showcases a fascinating blend of influences from British English, Chinese dialects, Malay terms, and more. Its word origins and naming conventions have evolved to reflect Singapore’s multicultural identity, while incorporating elements from both British and American English.

Singlish dictionaries and word lists

Embark on a vibrant journey through the eclectic world of Singlish, where the colourful tapestry of Singaporean culture and English language intertwine, crafting a unique dialect that resonates with the spirit and heritage of the Lion City in our comprehensive Singlish dictionary… 


Act blur

Act blur is a quintessential Singlish phrase that captures the essence of playing innocent or acting ignorant. The term “blur” is pivotal in this expression and can be found in other delightful Singlish idioms, such as “blur like sotong,” painting a vivid picture of someone being utterly clueless. For instance, if someone asks, “Is water wet?” and another person feigns confusion, they’re essentially “acting blur.”

Agak agak

Agak agak, a Malay phrase seamlessly woven into the Singlish vocabulary, embodies the concept of making a rough estimate or guesstimate. This term is often sprinkled into conversations in Singapore, especially in scenarios that do not require precise measurements or exact figures. For instance, when asked about the amount of sugar to add while brewing a pot of tea, a Singaporean might respond, “Agak agak lah, maybe two spoons?” Here, “agak agak” beautifully illustrates a casual, intuitive approach towards measurement, embracing a certain laid-back charm that is quintessentially Singaporean.


Aiyoh, a melodious Singlish expression, encapsulates feelings of surprise and annoyance, often echoing through conversations among Singaporeans as a spontaneous reaction to unexpected events or mishaps. This term is versatile, finding its place in various scenarios, whether it’s witnessing someone’s mistake or expressing disappointment towards unanticipated actions. For instance, if a friend accidentally spills a drink, an immediate “Aiyoh!” might escape your lips, reflecting a blend of surprise at the sudden mishap and annoyance at the ensuing mess. Seamlessly interwoven into the daily dialogues of Singaporeans, “Aiyoh” stands as a testament to the expressive and emotive nature of Singlish in everyday conversation.


Alamak, a vibrant Singlish term, punctuates conversations with a burst of emotion, encapsulating expressions of surprise or frustration in the lively dialogues among Singaporeans. This exclamation is often utilised to convey a sudden realisation or to articulate dismay towards an unexpected situation. For example, upon forgetting to bring an important document to a meeting, a Singaporean might exclaim, “Alamak! I left it on the dining table!” This term effortlessly melds into various scenarios, reflecting the dynamic and expressive nature of Singlish in articulating a spectrum of emotions and responses in daily interactions.


Arrow, a term that quivers with a certain sarcastic undertone in the Singlish lexicon, refers to the act of being unwillingly chosen or targeted to undertake a task. Often used in informal settings, “arrow” is typically deployed when someone is dumped with a task or responsibility without their voluntary agreement. For instance, if a team leader arbitrarily assigns a project to a member without their consent, the member might say, “Wah, kena arrow again!” Here, “arrow” is used to express the sentiment of being unfairly, and often sarcastically, singled out to shoulder a burden or task, encapsulating a unique blend of humour and resignation found in everyday Singlish conversations.



Atas, a term that sparkles with a high-class sheen in the Singlish vocabulary, is employed to describe something or someone as posh or of an elevated status. This word is often sprinkled into conversations to denote an air of sophistication or to highlight the luxurious nature of objects, places, or even behaviours. For instance, a Singaporean might say, “Wah, this restaurant so atas, even the water also expensive!” The term “atas” finds its place in various contexts, such as describing high-end restaurants, upscale malls, or even a person who exhibits a penchant for the finer things in life. Whether it’s strolling through the opulent halls of Marina Bay Sands or savouring gourmet cuisine, “atas” encapsulates the essence of the high-class and luxurious experiences that punctuate the Singaporean lifestyle.

Bo chap

Bo chap, a phrase that resonates with a nonchalant vibe in Singlish, translates to “don’t care” in Hokkien and is often used to describe someone who exudes an air of indifference or nonchalance. This term is seamlessly integrated into everyday conversations among Singaporeans, encapsulating a laid-back, unconcerned attitude towards a situation or person. For instance, if a student is not paying attention in class and disregarding instructions, a peer might observe, “Eh, why you so bo chap today, not listening ah?” The term “bo chap” is not only a reflection of an individual’s indifferent demeanour but also a linguistic testament to the rich, cultural tapestry of languages and dialects that Singlish weaves into the communicative fabric of Singapore.

Bo jio

Bo jio, a playful lament found in the Singlish vocabulary, encapsulates the feeling of not being invited to a social activity. This Singlish expression is often uttered in a half-jesting, half-serious manner among friends and acquaintances when they express their faux or genuine disappointment at being left out of plans or gatherings. For example, if friends share pictures of a recent outing that you weren’t invited to, you might respond with, “Wah, go fun place bo jio!” Here, “bo jio” reflects a light-hearted way of calling out friends for not extending an invitation, and it has become a common, friendly banter that adds a dash of humour and camaraderie to the vibrant conversations among Singaporeans. 

Bo liao

Bo liao, a term that echoes with a sense of idleness in the Singlish vernacular, encapsulates the feeling of being bored or having nothing better to do. This expression is not only a reflection of a state of ennui but can also be wielded to express annoyance or frustration towards someone who is perceived to be wasting time or engaging in frivolous activities. For instance, if a friend is incessantly tapping a pen against a table while you’re trying to concentrate, you might exclaim, “Stop being so bo liao lah!” Alternatively, it can be used in a self-deprecating manner, such as, “I so bo liao, spent the whole afternoon watching random videos.” Through various phrases and contexts, “bo liao” seamlessly integrates into Singlish, providing a colourful way to express boredom, idleness, or frustration in everyday conversations in Singapore.


Boleh, a Malay word that has comfortably nestled itself into the Singlish lexicon, translates to “can” or “possible,” and is ubiquitously used across various contexts in Singapore to seek permission or confirm the feasibility of a request. This term is often employed in casual conversations, where it serves to affirm abilities or possibilities in a succinct and straightforward manner. For instance, if someone asks, “Can help me carry this?” a typical Singlish response might be, “Boleh, no problem!” Whether it’s assuring someone that a task can be accomplished or signalling the green light for a favour, “boleh” stands as a versatile and affirmative response in the vibrant tapestry of Singlish communication.


Buay than

Buay tahan, a potent expression in the Singlish vocabulary, melds Hokkien and Malay languages, crafting a phrase that vividly conveys one’s inability to tolerate or withstand something any longer. “Buay” originates from Hokkien, meaning “cannot,” while “tahan” is derived from Malay, translating to “endure” or “withstand.” Together, “buay tahan” is often used in sentences to express a sense of exasperation or unbearable discomfort. For instance, in the sweltering heat of Singapore, one might exclaim, “Wah, the weather so hot, I buay tahan!” Alternatively, it can be used to describe a situation where someone is trying to resist indulging in a delicious treat: “The cake looks so good, really buay tahan!” This expression, rich with cultural and linguistic layers, encapsulates a uniquely Singaporean way of conveying resistance and intolerance in various contexts.

Can or not?

Can or not? is a quintessential Singlish phrase, embodying the straightforward and pragmatic nature of conversations in Singapore. This expression is a succinct inquiry into the possibility or achievability of an action or request. In the realm of Singlish, “can” serves as a crisp affirmation, while “not” introduces a query into its negativity. Thus, “Can or not?” becomes a direct, unembellished way of asking, “Is this possible?” or “Is this achievable?” For instance, if a friend is attempting to lift a heavy object, a bystander might ask, “Can or not?” to check if assistance is needed. This phrase, in its simplicity and directness, encapsulates the efficient and straightforward communication style that is characteristic of Singlish, making it a widely used and recognised term in everyday conversations across Singapore.

Catch no ball

Catch no ball, a whimsical yet expressive phrase in Singlish, is a direct translation from the Hokkien phrase “liak bo kiu,” and it vividly conveys a lack of understanding or comprehension in a conversation. This phrase is not about the literal catching of a ball but is metaphorically used to express that the speaker does not grasp what is being said or explained. For instance, if a conversation is unfolding with complex jargon or in a language not fully understood, a Singaporean might say, “He talk until like that, I catch no ball leh,” indicating a state of confusion or misunderstanding. “Catch no ball” is a colorful, metaphorical expression that encapsulates the perplexity and bemusement of not comprehending a discussion, showcasing the rich, cultural, and linguistic tapestry that Singlish weaves into the everyday communication of Singaporeans.


Cheem, a term that resonates in the Singlish lexicon, is employed to describe something that is difficult to understand or confusing. This expression is often utilised to convey a sense of perplexity or to articulate that something is too complex or profound to easily comprehend. For instance, if a lecture or presentation is filled with intricate jargon and convoluted concepts, a student might remark, “Wah, that lecture was so cheem, I didn’t understand anything!” The term “cheem” effortlessly melds into various scenarios, reflecting the dynamic and expressive nature of Singlish in articulating a spectrum of emotions and responses in daily interactions, especially when faced with perplexing or challenging situations.


Chiong, a dynamic Singlish term, encapsulates the essence of rushing or hurrying with a fervent energy to accomplish a task. It conveys a sense of urgency and a spirited commitment to giving your all to complete something, often within a tight timeframe. For example, if a team is lagging behind on a project that is due imminently, a member might exclaim, “You better chiong finish this project before the deadline tomorrow.” This term is not merely about hastening but also enveloping a sense of determined focus and an all-out effort to achieve a goal. Whether it’s sprinting towards a physical destination or burning the midnight oil to wrap up an assignment, “chiong” vividly illustrates the zealous energy and determination that is often injected into pursuits and endeavours in the vibrant conversations of Singaporeans.

Chop chop

Chop chop, a lively phrase in Singlish, is wielded to instil a sense of urgency and to hurry people along with their tasks, infusing conversations with a spirited call to action. This expression is often used to encourage someone to move faster or to expedite a process. Interestingly, the related term “chope,” also found in the Singlish vocabulary, refers to the uniquely Singaporean practice of reserving seats in eateries, often by placing tissue packets or other non-valuable items on tables. While “chop chop” nudges for quickness and immediacy in completing tasks, “chope” (see below) symbolizes a claim or a reservation in a casual, unspoken agreement among diners. Both terms, though used in different contexts, enrich Singlish with their distinct meanings and uses, reflecting the pragmatic and communal nuances of daily interactions in Singapore.


Chope, a term deeply embedded in the Singlish vocabulary, signifies the act of reserving a place or calling dibs on something, particularly prevalent in the best hawker centres of Singapore. Locals ingeniously use tissue packets, or sometimes other personal items, to “chope” a table, signalling that the spot has been claimed while they queue for their food. This practice is widely recognised and respected among Singaporeans as an unspoken rule of reserving a seat. For instance, in conversations, you might hear someone say, “Eh, help me chope a seat first, I go order food,” or “Cannot sit here, this table got chope already.” The term “chope” transcends mere reservation; it reflects a cultural understanding and mutual respect among locals in navigating the shared public spaces, embodying a unique aspect of the Singaporean dining experience.


CMI, an abbreviation that punctuates Singlish conversations with a dash of candidness, stands for “cannot make it” and is typically used to describe the inferior attributes or inadequacies of someone or something. This term is often deployed in casual dialogues to express disappointment or to highlight that something does not meet expected standards or criteria. For instance, if a student performs poorly on a test, a peer might say, “His results CMI, better ask him to get a tutor.” Similarly, it can be used in various contexts, such as evaluating the quality of goods, “This shirt CMI, after one wash then spoil already.” The term “CMI” encapsulates a straightforward, no-frills approach to assessment and commentary, reflecting the pragmatic and direct nature of Singlish in everyday communication in Singapore.

Come, I clap for you

Come, I clap for you, a phrase that dances with a mocking tone in Singlish, is utilised to offer sarcastic praise, often employed to humorously acknowledge someone’s minimal or belated effort. This expression is laced with a playful yet sardonic undertone, providing a light-hearted, albeit cheeky, recognition of an action or accomplishment that is perceived to be less than impressive or tardy. For instance, if a friend finally completes a simple task after numerous reminders, one might say with a smirk, “Come, I clap for you,” signalling a jesting applause for the belated accomplishment. This phrase, while playful, encapsulates a distinctively Singaporean way of teasing and social interaction, where light ribbing and sarcasm intertwine to create camaraderie and keep conversations spirited and lively.


Dabao is a popular Singlish term that is often used during lunchtime conversations in Singapore. It is the equivalent of the English word “takeaway” and is commonly used when deciding whether to eat out or dabao.

In Singlish, dabao refers to the act of taking food away, especially from a hawker centre. It is a convenient option for busy individuals who prefer to enjoy their meal at home or in the office.

The term dabao has become ingrained in the local culture and is widely understood and used by Singaporeans. It reflects the practical and efficient mindset of Singaporeans, who embrace the convenience of taking away food.

Next time you’re in Singapore and overhear someone discussing whether to eat out or dabao, you’ll know they are referring to the option of taking their meal away. So, the next time you find yourself hungry during lunchtime, you can join in the conversation and confidently use the Singlish term “dabao.”


Diam is a unique word used to strongly convey the message of “shut up” or “be quiet” in an angry manner.

Derived from Malay and subsequently adopted into Singlish, “Diam” is commonly employed when someone wants to express their frustration or annoyance at someone else’s constant chatter or disruptive behaviour. It serves as a direct and no-nonsense way of telling someone to keep silent.

For instance, one might say, “Hey, Diam lah! Can’t you see I’m busy?” This example sentence reflects the typical usage of “Diam” in Singlish, demonstrating its function as a forceful command to be quiet.

As part of the rich tapestry of Singaporean identity, Singlish terms like “Diam” are a true reflection of the local culture and language. They provide a distinctive alternative to standard English expressions while allowing like-minded people to connect through shared experiences.

While Singlish may not be officially recognised in the Oxford English Dictionary or online versions as a separate language, it remains an integral part of Singapore’s colloquial English. So, the next time you find yourself in Singapore, immerse yourself in this unique linguistic experience and don’t forget to pick up a Singlish dictionary to expand your understanding of this rich and colourful language.

Die die must try

Die die must try is a colourful expression of recommendation, often used to convey that something is so good or worthwhile that it simply must be experienced, no matter the circumstances or obstacles. It reflects the characteristic enthusiasm and passion of Singaporeans towards the things they appreciate.

Example sentence: “You haven’t been to Singapore until you’ve tried our legendary chilli crab at Jumbo Seafood. Die die must try!”

In Singlish, this phrase captures the deep conviction and sense of urgency when recommending something to others. It reflects the intense desire to share exceptional experiences, whether it’s a delicious dish, an exciting activity, or a unique cultural event. The use of “die die” emphasises the strong emphasis and conviction behind the recommendation.

It is important to note that when translated directly to standard English, the phrase may seem dramatic or exaggerated. However, used within the context of Singlish, it provides a genuine expression of enthusiasm and reflects the passion Singaporeans have for sharing their favourite experiences with others.


Eh“: A Singlish Expression That Gets Your Attention

In Singlish, the unique colloquial English spoken in Singapore, “Eh” serves as a distinctive way to address people or capture their attention. It is widely used in everyday conversations, creating a sense of familiarity and camaraderie among Singaporeans.

Often, “Eh” is used at the beginning of a sentence to express surprise, disbelief, or excitement. For instance, one might exclaim, “Eh, did you see that new hawker centre? The food there is amazing!”

With its directness and casual tone, “Eh” encapsulates the vibrancy and informality of Singlish. Its usage highlights the cultural identity and linguistic nuances of Singaporeans.

As a key element in Singlish, “Eh” exemplifies the way language evolves and adapts to local contexts. It adds a distinct flavour to everyday conversations, forging connections between individuals and fostering a shared sense of community.

So, next time you find yourself in Singapore and hear someone starting a sentence with “Eh,” don’t be alarmed. Embrace the uniqueness of Singlish and join in the linguistic adventure. Eh, Singapore’s vibrant linguistic landscape awaits you!

Eye power

Eye power is a term used to describe someone who chooses not to participate or contribute in a particular situation, but instead prefers to watch from the sidelines. This phrase perfectly captures the concept of being a mere spectator rather than an active participant.

For example, imagine a group of friends planning a surprise party. One person, who frequently avoids taking part in such activities, decides to adopt the “Eye power” approach. They simply observe and watch as others do all the work, rather than actively contributing ideas or offering to help.

The term “Eye power” has gained popularity in Singaporean culture, depicting a person’s choice to remain on the sidelines and not get involved. Health Minister Ong Ye Kung recently used this phrase when referring to individuals who choose not to get vaccinated and instead rely on others to achieve herd immunity.

With its roots in Singlish vocabulary, “Eye power” reflects the unique blend of cultures and languages in Singapore. This phrase, like many other Singlish terms, showcases the influence of various Chinese dialects and Malay terms, highlighting Singaporean identity. As with many Singlish expressions, “Eye power” may not have a direct translation or be found in the standard English or Oxford English Dictionary, but its meaning is unmistakable to the locals who have embraced this Singaporean version of the language.

Geh kiang

Geh kiang is a popular Singlish term that is commonly used in Singapore. It refers to someone who acts rashly and without thought, often making impulsive decisions or taking actions without considering the consequences. The term is derived from the Hokkien dialect word “geh” which means “to act” or “to do” and “kiang” which means “crazy” or “foolish”.

An example sentence using geh kiang could be: “Don’t be so geh kiang and jump into this business venture without doing proper research.” This sentence highlights the negative connotation of the term, cautioning against acting impulsively without taking the time to think things through.

Geh kiang is just one of many Singlish words and phrases that highlight the unique nature of Singaporean identity. Singlish is a blend of English with influences from the various Chinese dialects, Malay terms, and even Tamil expressions. It often involves a mix of direct translations, literal translations, and colloquial phrases unique to the Singaporean context.

While Singlish may not conform to standard English as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, it is a language in its own right, representing the linguistic fusion of Singaporean culture. An online version of the Singlish dictionary is available, offering a comprehensive collection of Singlish phrases and expressions for both locals and tourists to familiarise themselves with the distinct Singaporean slang. So, the next time you encounter the term geh kiang, you’ll know exactly what it means!


Huat is derived from the Hokkien dialect and is used to convey the idea of prosperity or abundance. It is often used in a celebratory or optimistic context, expressing the wish for things to go well or for financial success.

For example, someone might exclaim “Huat ah!” when going to a casino, hoping to have a lucky streak and win big. This term is commonly used during the Chinese New Year festivities, where it is believed to bring good luck and prosperity for the year ahead.

Similar to “Huat,” there are other Singlish terms that carry a similar meaning. For instance, “Heng” is another Hokkien term used to describe good luck or fortune. “Jin ho jiak” is a Hokkien term that directly translates to “very good to eat” and is used to convey something being exceptionally enjoyable or delicious.

Singlish terms such as “huat,” “heng,” and “jin ho jiak” reflect the influence of Hokkien, one of the Chinese dialects spoken widely in Singapore. These terms add a local flair to the Singaporean identity and are not commonly found in the standard English or Oxford English dictionaries.

In conclusion, “Huat” is a Singlish term derived from the Hokkien dialect that means “to prosper.” It is often used in a celebratory or optimistic manner, expressing the wish for good luck or financial success. Other Singlish terms with similar meanings include “Heng” and “Jin ho jiak.” These terms represent the unique Singaporean version of the English language and are not commonly found in other English dictionaries.


Jialat is a commonly used Singlish term that is used to express when things are not going well or when a situation becomes difficult. Derived from the Hokkien dialect, it has been widely adopted in Singaporean English and is understood by locals as a way to convey turmoil or frustration.

For example, if someone asks how their day has been and they reply, “Jialat lah!”, it indicates that their day has not been going well and they are facing various challenges or difficulties. It can be used to describe personal situations, such as when someone is feeling overwhelmed with work or experiencing a series of unfortunate events.

In addition to expressing negative circumstances, Jialat can also be used to exaggerate the severity of a situation, adding a touch of humour or emphasis. Its versatility allows it to be applied in various contexts, whether to describe a difficult exam, a problematic relationship, or a frustrating encounter.

Despite its negative connotation, Jialat is a popular Singlish term that captures the resilience and adaptability of Singaporeans in navigating through life’s adversities. Its presence in the Singlish lexicon further exemplifies the rich cultural fusion and linguistic diversity in Singapore.


Kaypoh, a term derived from the Hokkien dialect, is a quintessential Singlish expression that encapsulates the Singaporean penchant for being a busybody and constantly prying into others’ business. This colloquial term holds a significant place in Singlish vocabulary, as it reflects the talkative and curious nature of the Singaporean people.

In everyday conversations, kaypoh is often used to describe someone who is overly interested in the affairs of others and tends to indulge in office gossip. For instance, imagine a scenario where colleagues are gathered in the pantry, discussing the latest office news. One might overhear a colleague say, “Eh, don’t be so kaypoh lah! Mind your own business!”

This term resonates with Singaporeans due to their strong sense of community and the close-knit nature of the society. While kaypoh is often used in a lighthearted manner, it can also carry a condescending tone, implying that the person’s curiosity is unwarranted or intrusive.

It’s interesting to note how Singlish, with its mix of Chinese dialect terms, Malay influences, and English expressions, has become a symbol of Singaporean identity. While some may dismiss it as mere “Singaporean slang,” it is a true reflection of the country’s multicultural society and linguistic diversity. So, next time you come across a kaypoh individual, just remember, it’s all part of the unique charm of Singlish.

Kena arrowed

Kena arrowed is a commonly used Singlish phrase with a sarcastic tone that refers to being unwillingly chosen or targeted to complete a task. This phrase carries a negative connotation as it implies being assigned a responsibility or duty that one did not volunteer for.

For example, imagine a group of friends planning a surprise party for another friend. One person in the group might say, “Eh, you always disappear during planning sessions, so you kena arrowed to buy the decorations lah!” In this context, the phrase “kena arrowed” suggests that the person has been unwillingly chosen to handle the task of buying decorations because they have been absent or uninvolved in the planning process.

The phrase “kena arrowed” is often used in a lighthearted manner among friends, but it still carries a sense of annoyance or inconvenience. It reflects the Singaporean culture of teasing and joking with others, while also expressing a sense of reluctance or being imposed upon.


Kiasu is a prominent term in Singaporean slang, better known as Singlish. It reflects the insecurities and fear of losing that are deeply ingrained in the local culture. Derived from the Chinese dialect Hokkien, kiasu can be loosely translated as “afraid to lose.”

In Singlish, kiasu is commonly used to depict behaviour that is selfish or driven by a desire to come out on top. It is often employed to call out individuals who prioritise their own interests at the expense of others. For instance, someone who rushes to grab the last piece of cake without considering others is often labelled as kiasu.

Here are a few examples of how kiasu can be used in sentences:

1. “Don’t be so kiasu lah! Leave some for others too.”

2. “She always volunteers for everything just to make herself look good – so kiasu.”

3. “He’s the type who buys multiple copies of the latest gadget just to show off his kiasu nature.”

Kiasu is a Singlish expression that accurately captures the notion of being overly competitive and self-centred. It serves as a humorous and often critical way for Singaporeans to comment on such behaviour within their society.


In Singlish, the word ‘Lah‘ is a unique suffix that is used to add emphasis to a sentence or word. It doesn’t have a direct translation in English but adds flavour and colloquialism to conversations.

‘Lah’ is often used to express conviction, assertion, or to reinforce a statement. It can also be used to convey a sense of urgency or enthusiasm. This suffix is commonly used in Singaporean English and has become an iconic part of the local culture and identity.

Here are some examples of how ‘Lah’ is used in conversations:

1. “Don’t be late, lah!” – This sentence expresses a sense of urgency and emphasises the importance of punctuality.

2. “I don’t want to go lah, it’s too far.” – In this example, ‘Lah’ is used to emphasise the speaker’s lack of enthusiasm or willingness to go somewhere.

3. “Just give it a try, lah!” – ‘Lah’ in this sentence adds an encouraging and persuasive tone, urging someone to give something a chance.

Overall, ‘Lah’ is a versatile and expressive word in Singlish that adds a touch of cultural flavour to conversations. Its usage enhances the communication style and reinforces the unique identity of Singaporean English.

Leh and Lor

Leh and Lor are commonly used suffixes in Singlish, the colloquial form of English spoken in Singapore. These words add emphasis and convey different tones and meanings in sentences.

The word “leh” is often used to express uncertainty or doubt. It can be added at the end of a sentence to soften a request or seek agreement. For example, “Let’s go for dinner, leh?” implies a sense of uncertainty and invites a response.

On the other hand, “lor” conveys resignation and finality. It is used to accept a situation or express indifference. For instance, “I can’t make it today, lor” indicates a sense of resignation and accepting the fact that they cannot attend.

Both “leh” and “lor” are versatile and can be added to various sentence structures and contexts. They are often used to emphasise the intended meaning or tone of a sentence. Singlish speakers add these suffixes to create a unique and distinct expression of their Singaporean identity.

In conclusion, “leh” and “lor” are integral parts of Singlish vocabulary. “Leh” is used to express uncertainty or doubt, while “lor” conveys resignation and finality. These suffixes add emphasis and character to Singaporean English, reflecting the linguistic richness and cultural diversity of the nation.


Lepak is a popular term in Singaporean slang that refers to the act of chilling without a care or loitering aimlessly. It encapsulates a laid-back and relaxed state of being, reflecting the Singaporean identity of enjoying leisure time and taking things easy.

In everyday conversations, Lepak is commonly used to describe a state of relaxation or a lack of plans. For example, one might say, “I have no plans this weekend, just gonna lepak at home.” This implies a desire to simply unwind and enjoy a peaceful time at home without any specific activities or obligations.

Lepak is an integral part of Singlish, which combines elements of various languages and dialects, including Chinese dialects, Malay terms, and even English expressions. While it may not be found in standard English or the Oxford English Dictionary, the Singlish version of Lepak has become widely recognised among Singaporeans as a true reflection of their culture and language.

So, the next time you find yourself in Singapore and hear someone saying they’re just going to lepak, remember that they’re simply referring to their plan of chilling out and enjoying some laid-back time.


Lobang, derived from Malay and Hokkien dialects, is a quintessential Singlish term that encapsulates the idea of tips, clues, opportunities, or deals. It is commonly used in conversations to seek or share information about advantageous circumstances.

For instance, imagine someone saying, “I’m looking for new kitchen appliances. You got lobang?” In this context, lobang implies that the person is seeking recommendations or insider tips from others regarding the best deals or promotions for kitchen appliances. It conveys the sense of seeking useful information that may not be readily available or known to everyone.

The term lobang reflects the resourceful and pragmatic Singaporean identity. It highlights the importance placed on being well-informed and making the most of available opportunities. Whether it’s discovering the latest discounts at a retail store or uncovering exclusive travel packages, lobang is the go-to phrase to connect with like-minded people and stay ahead of the game.

In conclusion, lobang refers to tips, clues, opportunities, or deals, and serves as a powerful linguistic tool in Singlish conversations. It epitomises the Singaporean spirit of seeking advantageous information to make informed decisions and maximise benefits. So, the next time you’re in need of some handy tips or seeking unbeatable deals, don’t hesitate to ask, “Got lobang?”


Makan, a term deeply ingrained in Singapore’s linguistic landscape, holds immense cultural and culinary significance. Derived from the Malay language, it straightforwardly translates to “eat.” However, its usage extends far beyond its literal meaning, as it has become a ubiquitous word in Singlish, the colloquial English spoken in Singapore.

Makan’s popularity in Singlish stems from Singaporeans’ deep-rooted love for food. Due to the nation’s diverse cultural makeup, where various races and ethnicities flourish harmoniously, Makan has effortlessly transcended linguistic and cultural boundaries. It is a word embraced by all Singaporeans, regardless of their racial background.

This term is employed not only to express the act of eating but also as a way to convey one’s enthusiasm and excitement for a meal. It encapsulates the joy and satisfaction derived from consuming delicious food, making it a vital part of Singapore’s food-centric culture.

From hawker centres to high-end restaurants, Makan has become synonymous with the vibrant culinary scene of Singapore. It is a unity point, transcending language barriers and acting as a unifying force among Singaporeans. Makan truly reflects the shared passion for food that bonds the diverse people of Singapore.

In conclusion, Makan, a Malay word meaning “eat,” has become an integral part of Singlish due to Singaporeans’ love for food. It serves as a common language uniting people from various races and ethnicities in their shared culinary enthusiasm. The term embodies the essence of Singapore’s vibrant food culture, making it an indispensable aspect of the nation’s linguistic fabric.


Nia is derived from the Hokkien phrase “niah” meaning “only.” It is commonly used in Singapore as a slang term to express a sense of incredulity or emphasis.

“Nia” is often used as a substitute for the word “only” in Singlish conversation. It is commonly used to downplay or belittle someone or something, implying a lack of significance or importance. For example, if someone proclaims that they are a great singer, another person might respond with “You can sing ah? Sing what? Birthday song nia!” This implies that the person is only capable of singing a basic and simple song, thus implying a lack of talent or skill.

The usage of “nia” in this context carries a condescending tone and is often accompanied by a sarcastic attitude towards the subject being criticised. It is an expression commonly used among friends or in a casual conversation to mock or tease each other lightheartedly.

In conclusion, the Singlish term “nia” is a versatile word used to belittle or downplay someone or something, suggesting a lack of significance or importance. It reflects the humorous and playful nature of Singlish conversations among like-minded individuals.

Own time own target (OTOT)

Own time own target (OTOT) is a popular acronym used in Singlish to express the idea of doing things at your own pace. The phrase “own time own target” translates to the concept of having the freedom to complete tasks or activities on your own terms, without feeling rushed or pressured.

For instance, imagine you have a friend who always takes their time to finish assignments or projects. Instead of feeling frustrated by their tardiness, you might use OTOT to describe their way of working. You could say, “Don’t worry about them, they’re OTOT kind. They’ll finish it eventually.”

The essence of OTOT is that it promotes a sense of relaxed productivity that allows individuals to work in a manner that suits them best. It reflects the laid-back nature of Singaporeans in tackling tasks, with a penchant for not conforming to strict timelines or external expectations.

In Singlish, OTOT has become a commonly used expression to describe the act of taking one’s time and doing things in a leisurely manner. It highlights the value placed on personal autonomy and freedom to choose how one manages their time.

So, the next time someone tells you to hurry up, you can simply respond with a smile and say, “Relax, I’m on OTOT mode.” After all, with OTOT, you can do things at your own pace and enjoy the process along the way.


Paiseh: The Singlish Term for Feeling Embarrassed or Shy

In the colourful world of Singlish vocabulary, the term “paiseh” holds a special place. Derived from the Hokkien dialect, this word is commonly used in Singapore to convey a sense of embarrassment or shyness. It is used in various social situations to apologise or express sheepishness.

When someone says “paiseh,” they could mean that they are sorry for something they did or that they feel ashamed of a particular action or situation. For example, if someone forgets to bring their wallet, they might say, “Paiseh, I forgot to bring my wallet,” to apologise for the inconvenience caused.

Additionally, “paiseh” can also be used to describe a feeling of timidity or hesitation. When someone is too shy or embarrassed to ask for something, they might say, “I was too paiseh to ask for an extra portion lah.”

As with many Singlish terms, “paiseh” is a reflection of the linguistic diversity in Singapore, incorporating Hokkien influences into the local English lexicon. It adds a touch of cultural richness and authenticity to the Singaporean identity.

So the next time you find yourself feeling a bit bashful or reticent, remember that in Singlish, you can use the term “paiseh” to express your embarrassment or shyness, and be more than understood by like-minded individuals.

Pang gang

Pang gang is a Singlish term that signifies the end of the day and the completion of tasks, often in a celebratory tone. This colloquial expression is loosely derived from the Hokkien phrase “芭根”, which translates to “finish work” or “end work” in English.

In Singapore, “pang gang” is commonly used among friends, colleagues, or family to convey a sense of relief and accomplishment after a long day of work or completing a demanding task. It is a light-hearted way of acknowledging the effort made and signalling the winding down of activities.

For example, someone might say, “Finally, pang gang! Let’s go and grab a drink to celebrate our hard work!” or “Just finished my last assignment for the day, pang gang already!”

The use of “pang gang” in Singlish showcases the uniqueness of Singaporean identity and the incorporation of Chinese dialect terms into the local English vocabulary. It adds colour and charm to conversations while reflecting the diversity and multiculturalism of the nation.

So, the next time you hear someone enthusiastically exclaim “pang gang!” around the office or among friends, you’ll know it signifies the end of the day and a well-deserved celebration of completed tasks.

Pang she

Pang seh, a term that resonates with a sense of disappointment in Singlish, refers to the act of standing someone up or copping out of a previously agreed-upon plan. This phrase is often used in contexts where an individual fails to show up for an appointment, meeting, or social gathering, leaving others in the lurch. For instance, it’s particularly poignant in the realm of social outings and dates. If someone agrees to meet for dinner but doesn’t appear, the person waiting might say, “Wah, pang seh me leh!” expressing their disappointment and frustration at being stood up. “Pang seh” is not merely a term; it reflects a cultural understanding of commitment and reliability in social interactions, and using it highlights a breech in this unspoken social contract among peers in Singaporean society.


Ponteng, derived from Malay and seamlessly integrated into Singlish, signifies “playing truant” and extends to indicate skipping or giving something a miss in various contexts. This term is commonly used among students and in casual conversations to describe an act of intentionally avoiding an obligation or commitment, such as school or work. For example, if a student decides to skip a class to hang out with friends, they might say, “Today I don’t feel like going to class, let’s ponteng.” Similarly, it can be used in a work context, like “He ponteng work to go watch the soccer match.” “Ponteng” encapsulates a rebellious, carefree spirit, providing a colloquial, light-hearted way to describe the act of deliberately missing an appointment or commitment in the vibrant, everyday conversations of Singaporeans.


Sabo, a term that buzzes with mischief in Singlish, is an abbreviation of the English word “sabotage,” and it’s commonly used to refer to the act of playing practical jokes on others or causing deliberate inconvenience. This word is often employed in a variety of contexts, from light-hearted pranks among friends to more serious instances where someone intentionally creates a hurdle or sets up another person to take the blame for their mistakes. For example, if a colleague forgets to complete their part of a project and blames it on another team member, they might be accused of trying to “sabo” them. Alternatively, in a friendlier context, if someone plays a harmless prank, they might say, “Just sabo you only, don’t angry lah!” “Sabo” encapsulates a range of actions, from playful jests to more malicious intents, adding a layer of complexity and nuance to interactions and conversations within the Singlish-speaking community.

Saikang warrior

A “Saikang warrior” in the colourful context of Singlish refers to an individual who, either willingly or reluctantly, takes on menial or undesirable tasks at work, often tasks that others might avoid. The term “saikang” is derived from two words, “sai,” which colloquially means ‘shit’ in Hokkien, and “kang,” which means work, essentially translating to “shit work” or menial tasks. A Saikang warrior, therefore, is someone who often ends up doing these less-than-desirable jobs, either out of a sense of duty, goodwill, or due to workplace dynamics. For instance, in a team setting where everyone avoids a particular tedious task, the saikang warrior might step up and say, “Aiya, I do lah, you all always like that,” thereby taking on the task to benefit others or to keep the peace. The concept of a saikang warrior reflects a blend of self-sacrifice and frustration, embodying a unique workplace phenomenon in Singapore where individuals often take on tasks beyond their job scope for the collective good or smooth functioning of the team.


Shag, a term in Singlish that diverges significantly from its British colloquial counterpart, refers to a state of physical tiredness or exhaustion, devoid of any sexual connotation. In the Singaporean context, it’s crucial to understand the meaning of “shag” to navigate conversations smoothly and avoid awkward situations, especially in a workplace setting where misinterpretations could lead to uncomfortable moments. For instance, after a long day of work, a Singaporean might say, “Today’s work was so tough, I’m very shag,” expressing a sheer state of fatigue and having no relation to any inappropriate or intimate undertones. Understanding such nuances in Singlish ensures clear communication and helps in fostering a comfortable and respectful environment among colleagues and peers in Singapore.


Shiok, a term that sizzles with delight in Singlish, is ubiquitously used to express great satisfaction, especially in the context of savouring delicious food, but its usage splendidly spills over to describe any favourable or gratifying situations. This expression is a burst of joy and contentment, encapsulating a moment of sheer pleasure in a single word. For instance, upon taking a bite of a scrumptious dish, one might exclaim, “Wah, this laksa is so shiok!” Alternatively, it can also be used in non-culinary contexts to describe a refreshing experience, such as “After a long day, the cold shower was really shiok!” The term “shiok” is not merely a descriptor; it is an exclamation that vividly captures and communicates the pinnacle of pleasure and satisfaction in various contexts within the lively conversations of Singaporeans.


Sian, a term that resonates with a blend of emotions in Singaporean English, adeptly conveys feelings of boredom, lack of enthusiasm, annoyance, and exasperation across various situations. This multifaceted word is commonly wielded in daily conversations to express a spectrum of emotions, from being tired and fed up to feeling unenthusiastic or simply being in a state of languor. For instance, if a planned outing gets cancelled, one might say, “Sian, our plans got cancelled again.” Alternatively, it can express a sense of weariness, as in “Work until so late, very sian leh,” or a general lack of enthusiasm, “Do this project also sian, always the same thing.” The term “sian” encapsulates a myriad of emotions, providing a succinct and expressive way to communicate varying degrees of discontent, weariness, and frustration in the vibrant and expressive world of Singlish.


Siao, a term that springs from the Hokkien dialect and has found its home in Singlish, translates to “crazy” or “insane” and is often utilised in a myriad of conversational contexts. This word is commonly employed as a sarcastic reply to someone attempting an impossible task or engaging in something perceived as foolish or overly ambitious. For instance, if a friend decides to take on a hefty challenge or task, a typical response might be, “You siao ah, doing all these things alone!” Alternatively, it can be used to express disbelief in an exaggerated claim, such as “Siao! You think I will believe you ah?” The term “siao,” while encapsulating a sense of madness or incredulity, also reflects the vibrant and expressive nature of Singlish, where words are wielded in playful and multifaceted ways to convey emotions and responses in the rich tapestry of daily communication in Singapore.

Spoil market

Spoil market, a Singlish term that echoes in various competitive contexts, refers to the act of overachieving or setting high standards that inadvertently raise the bar, making it challenging for others to compete or keep up. This phrase is often used to describe individuals or entities that go above and beyond the expected norms or benchmarks, thereby “spoiling” the metaphorical market for others by recalibrating expectations to a higher level. For instance, if a colleague consistently works late hours and delivers exceptional results, another might say, “Wah, he always stay back so late to work, spoil market for us leh!” Here, “spoil market” reflects a mix of admiration and mild frustration towards the overachiever, embodying the Singaporean spirit of competitiveness and camaraderie in various aspects of life, from the workplace to social interactions.


Swee, a delightful Singlish term, serves as a compliment, often used to describe something or someone as beautiful or perfect in Singaporean English. This word is sprinkled across various contexts, from acknowledging a job well done to complimenting someone’s appearance or even appreciating a favourable outcome. For instance, if a plan comes together without a hitch, a Singaporean might say, “Wah, everything went according to plan, so swee!” Alternatively, it can be used to compliment someone’s look, “Your new hairstyle very swee leh!” The term “swee” is not just a compliment; it’s an expressive affirmation of approval and appreciation, reflecting the positive and vibrant spirit of Singlish in celebrating beauty, perfection, and success in everyday interactions in Singapore.

Tak boleh tahan / Buay than

Tak boleh tahan / Buay tahan, phrases that meld the Malay and Hokkien languages, are vibrant components of the Singlish vocabulary, expressing one’s inability to tolerate or withstand something. “Tak boleh tahan” is Malay, where “tak” means no, “boleh” means can, and “tahan” means withstand, translating to “cannot withstand.” On the other hand, “Buay tahan” employs “buay,” which means “cannot” in Hokkien, paired with the Malay word “tahan” again. Both phrases are interchangeably used in Singlish to convey a sense of reaching one’s limit or being unable to endure a particular situation or thing. For example, in the face of spicy food that tests one’s limits, a Singaporean might exclaim, “Wah, this curry buay tahan, too spicy!” Or when encountering an unbearable situation, “I tak boleh tahan the noise from the construction site!” These phrases, while expressing a struggle or discomfort, also reflect the rich linguistic tapestry of Singapore, where languages intertwine, creating expressions that are uniquely and quintessentially Singaporean.

Tapao / Dabao

Tapao / Dabao, terms that simmer with familiarity in Singaporean lunchtime conversations, are the Singlish equivalents for taking away food from eateries. Originating from the Singaporean-Mandarin term “打包” (dǎ bāo), which literally translates to “hit pack,” these words have been colloquially adopted into the Singlish lexicon and are widely used across various dialect groups in Singapore. In the context of deciding whether to eat out or take away food, you might hear a dialogue like, “Eh, you want to eat here or tapao?” or “Too crowded lah, let’s dabao and go back office eat.” The terms “tapao” and “dabao” are not merely instructions for packing food; they are emblematic of the Singaporean dining culture, reflecting the bustling, on-the-go lifestyle where convenience often takes precedence, especially during hectic workdays. These words, while simple, encapsulate a slice of the Singaporean way of life, where diverse languages blend seamlessly to create a rich, unified linguistic tapestry.


Tolong, a Singlish term that echoes with a sense of urgency and plea, is often used as a cry for help, particularly in desperate or pressing situations. Originating from the Malay language, where it directly translates to “help,” “tolong” has permeated into Singlish and is utilised to express a request for assistance or to signal distress across various contexts. For instance, if someone is struggling to carry a heavy load, they might exclaim, “Can tolong me carry this or not, so heavy!” Or in a situation where immediate help is needed, a simple “Tolong!” can serve as a potent call to action. The term “tolong” is not merely a request; it is a word that encapsulates a sense of community and interdependence, reflecting the spirit of mutual aid and camaraderie that is woven into the social fabric of Singaporean society.


Ulu, a term that resonates with the notion of remoteness in Singlish, refers to locations that are secluded and relatively inaccessible. This word is often employed to describe places that are off the beaten path, perhaps where one might have to embark on a bit of a journey to reach. For instance, if a restaurant is located in a distant, hard-to-reach area, a Singaporean might say, “The food there nice but very ulu, need to drive all the way there.” The term is not limited to describing eateries but can be applied to any location perceived as out of the way or inconvenient to access, such as “The Kranji farms are quite ulu, but worth the trip for fresh produce.” Another example might be a secluded beach: “The ulu beach at the east side is peaceful and less crowded.” “Ulu” encapsulates a sense of adventure and inconvenience, often used in conversations to weigh the merits of travelling to a particular destination against the potential delights and discoveries waiting there, embodying the Singaporean spirit of exploration and foodie adventures.

Walao eh

Walao eh, a term that bubbles with emotion in Singaporean English, serves as an exclamation used to express a spectrum of feelings, from surprise and awe to frustration and disbelief. Originating from the Hokkien Chinese dialect, “walao eh” has woven itself into the vibrant tapestry of Singaporean colloquial speech, becoming a versatile expression that punctuates conversations with a burst of emotion. Similar to saying “whoa” or “wow” in English, “walao eh” can be used in various contexts to express a strong emotional response. For instance, upon hearing an unbelievable piece of gossip, a Singaporean might exclaim, “Walao eh, seriously ah?” Or, when faced with an unexpected obstacle, “Walao eh, why so difficult one!” The term “walao eh,” while simple, encapsulates the expressive and emotive nature of Singlish, providing a succinct yet potent means to convey surprise, frustration, and awe in everyday interactions in Singapore.


Wayang, a term that theatrically unfolds in Singlish slang, is utilised to describe someone who is putting on a facade or being fake, often acting in a manner that is not genuine or sincere. The term “wayang” is derived from the Malay word for traditional shadow puppet theatre, metaphorically alluding to a person who is putting on a show or acting in a deceptive manner. In Singlish, it is often used with a sarcastic tone to highlight the discrepancy between one’s actions and their true intentions or feelings. For instance, if a colleague is being exceptionally and unusually helpful just before an appraisal, a Singaporean might say, “Wah, appraisal coming, start to wayang already!” Here, “wayang” is not merely a descriptor; it is a critique of authenticity, highlighting the performative actions of individuals in various social contexts. The term “wayang,” while playful, also carries an undercurrent of social commentary, reflecting the Singaporean knack for observing and candidly calling out insincere behaviours and actions in everyday interactions.

White horse

White horse, a term that gallops through conversations among National Service (NS) men in Singapore, refers to the child of an influential or powerful person and is often used to highlight individuals who might receive special treatment or exemptions due to their familial connections. The term is not merely a descriptor but is imbued with connotations of privilege and exemption, especially within the context of NS, where equality and uniformity are heavily emphasised. For instance, if an NS man is perceived to be getting preferential treatment or is exempted from certain duties, his peers might comment, “His father must be a white horse lah, see, always no guard duty one.” The term “white horse” serves not only as a colloquial identifier of privilege but also as a subtle critique of inequality and favouritism within structured systems, reflecting the Singaporean propensity for candidly discussing social hierarchies and disparities in everyday conversations.

Why you so liddat?

Why you so liddat?” a phrase that dances through Singaporean language with a blend of curiosity and dismay, translates to “why are you behaving like this?” in English. This popular Singlish expression is often utilised to express bewilderment or frustration towards someone’s actions or behaviour, encapsulating a myriad of emotions from annoyance to disbelief in a succinct query. The phrase has permeated Singaporean culture to such an extent that it has even been immortalised in a song, reflecting its widespread use and resonance among locals. For instance, if a friend is acting unusually or in a manner that is perplexing, one might ask, “Eh, why you so liddat?” Here, the phrase is not merely a question; it is an embodiment of the playful and expressive nature of Singlish, where emotions, questions, and observations are interwoven into a rich, colloquial tapestry that vividly illustrates the dynamism and vibrancy of everyday interactions in Singapore.

Yaya papaya

Yaya papaya, a flavorful Singlish term, is commonly used in Singapore to describe someone who is perceived as arrogant or who loves to show off. The phrase, while whimsical in its phonetics, carries a critical undertone, often used to call out individuals who flaunt their wealth, possessions, or accomplishments with a certain air of superiority. For instance, if someone consistently brags about their new purchases or achievements, a Singaporean might say, “Wah, always talk about your new things, so yaya papaya!” The term “yaya papaya” is not merely a descriptor; it’s a light-hearted, yet pointed critique of ostentatious behaviour, reflecting the Singaporean value of humility and the social norm of keeping one’s pride in check. While the term might sound playful, it serves as a reminder that in the diverse and interconnected society of Singapore, humility is cherished, and boastful behaviours are observed with a discerning eye.


Zai, a term that resonates with admiration and awe in Singlish, is often utilised to describe someone as being a pro at something, amazing, or a high achiever. The word “zai” is derived from the Hokkien dialect and has been seamlessly integrated into the colourful lexicon of Singlish, serving as a succinct yet potent compliment. For instance, if a colleague consistently delivers exceptional work, a Singaporean might comment, “Wah, every project also do so well, really zai!” Here, “zai” is not merely a descriptor; it’s an accolade, acknowledging and celebrating prowess, skill, and achievement in various contexts, from the workplace to casual gaming sessions among friends. The term “zai,” while simple, encapsulates a spirit of recognition and appreciation, reflecting the Singaporean culture of acknowledging and celebrating each other’s successes and accomplishments in daily interactions.


Zhng, a term that sparkles with creativity and transformation in Singlish, refers to the act of modifying, embellishing, or redecorating something to enhance its appearance or functionality. The word “zhng” is phonetically derived from the Hokkien dialect and has found its place in the vibrant linguistic landscape of Singapore, where it is used to describe the act of pimping up or customising objects, often vehicles or personal items, to give them an extra oomph or personal touch. For instance, if someone has added a variety of stickers and lights to their scooter, a Singaporean might say, “Wah, you really know how to zhng your scooter, now look so stylish!” The term “zhng” is not merely a verb; it’s a celebration of creativity and personalisation, reflecting the Singaporean flair for making things uniquely their own and expressing their identity through the artful and imaginative transformation of everyday items.

English words with different meanings in Singlish

Singlish, a unique form of English spoken in Singapore, has its own set of vocabulary that sets it apart from standard English. One intriguing aspect of Singlish is its ability to give English words a whole new meaning. In this section, we will explore some English words that have taken on different meanings in Singlish.

Singlish has its roots in the linguistic landscape of Singapore, which is home to a diverse population with a rich mix of Chinese, Malay, Indian, and British influences. Singlish has developed over decades, incorporating elements from various Chinese dialects, Malay terms, and English expressions. Many Singlish words have stemmed from a literal translation or a direct translation from the Chinese, Malay, or other regional languages.

For instance, the term “tissue” in Singlish does not merely refer to a disposable item. It has become synonymous with generosity and goodwill. In Singapore, it is common for individuals to offer tissue packets on tables at hawker centres to reserve seats for themselves or others.

To navigate the intricacies of Singlish, an unofficial Singlish dictionary has been compiled, providing explanations and definitions for commonly used Singlish terms. Although English words with different meanings in Singlish may cause confusion for those unfamiliar with the dialect, they reflect the unique cultural identity of Singaporeans.

Exploring Singlish words and their meanings offers a fascinating insight into the local culture and language. It enables like-minded people to connect and share the nuances of this colloquial language, which may not always have a direct equivalent in standard English. Whether it is a playful nautical phrase or a sarcastic expression, Singlish adds colour and flavour to the linguistic tapestry of Singapore.

21 Essential Singlish Phrases You’ll Need in Singapore

Singapore is a melting pot of cultures, and its unique language, Singlish, reflects this diversity. Singlish is a colourful fusion of different languages including English, Chinese dialects, Malay terms, and more. Visitors to Singapore may find themselves encountering phrases that may not be familiar to them. To help, here are 21 essential Singlish phrases that you’ll need to know in Singapore.

1. “Boh liao” – It means “boring” or “having nothing better to do.”

2. “Kiasu” – This phrase describes someone who is afraid to lose or miss out on something.

3. “Lah” – It is an expression that emphasises a point or adds emphasis to a sentence.

4. “Shiok” – It expresses pleasure or delight, like saying “awesome” or “great.”

5. “Chope” – It means to reserve or to reserve a seat.

6. “Walao” – This phrase shows frustration or disbelief.

7. “Jialat” – It means something is extremely bad or difficult.

8. “Makan” – It simply means “to eat.”

9. “Ong” – It refers to good fortune or luck.

10. “Sabo” – It means to sabotage or pull a prank on someone.

11. “Sian” – This phrase describes a feeling of boredom or weariness.

12. “Steady” – It means “awesome” or “cool.”

13. “Paiseh” – It is an expression of embarrassment or shame.

14. “Siao” – It means “crazy” or “mad.”

15. “Kope” – It means to steal, usually referring to ideas or actions.

16. “Lepak” – This phrase means to relax or chill out.

17. “Sotong” – It refers to someone who is forgetful or absent-minded.

18. “Blur” – It means to be confused or unaware.

19. “Jio” – It means to invite someone to join an activity or hang out.

20. “Kan cheong” – It describes a state of nervousness or anxiety.

21. “Cham” – It means something is in trouble or a bad situation.

Knowing these essential Singlish phrases will make your visit to Singapore more enjoyable and help you understand and connect with the locals. Singlish is a true reflection of the Singaporean identity, rooted in its multicultural heritage. So, don’t be afraid to use these colourful phrases and embrace the linguistic diversity that Singapore has to offer.

Singlish Words for Expats – A Quick Guide to Singaporean Slang

Singaporean English, also known as Singlish, is a unique form of English that has evolved from the diverse linguistic influences in Singapore. Singlish words and phrases often incorporate elements from various Chinese dialects, Malay terms, and even direct translations from other languages. Understanding Singlish is key to immersing oneself in Singaporean culture and fitting in with locals. In this quick guide, we will explore some common Singlish words and their meanings, offering expats a glimpse into the fascinating linguistic tapestry of Singapore. From nautical phrases to Singaporean expressions, we’ll uncover the true reflection of Singapore’s colloquial English and the distinctive slangs that form a part of the nation’s identity. 

You may also like: The Ultimate Guide to Moving to Singapore in 2023

Why is Singlish important?

Singlish, the colloquial language of Singapore, plays a significant role in the country’s cultural identity. It serves as a unique marker that helps Singaporeans identify each other and connect on a deeper level. Singlish is an amalgamation of various linguistic influences, primarily derived from Chinese and Malay dialects.

Singlish is more than just a language; it represents the rich diversity and multiculturalism of Singaporean society. By incorporating elements from different dialects, Singlish reflects the country’s history, traditions, and values. It showcases the inclusiveness and openness of Singaporeans, emphasising their shared experiences and camaraderie.

Learning Singlish is beneficial for non-locals as well. It signals a genuine interest in understanding and embracing Singaporean culture. By speaking Singlish, visitors and expats demonstrate a willingness to connect with locals on a deeper level, breaking down cultural barriers and fostering stronger relationships.

Furthermore, Singlish adds a colourful dimension to conversations, infusing a unique blend of expressions, idioms, and phrases. Learning Singlish not only allows individuals to understand local conversations better, but it also enables them to participate actively in the vibrant Singaporean society.

In conclusion, Singlish is essential as a cultural marker and a way for Singaporeans to identify each other. Its linguistic makeup, incorporating elements of Chinese and Malay dialects, contributes to the vibrancy and diversity of Singaporean culture. For non-locals, learning Singlish opens doors to deeper cultural understanding and helps create meaningful connections with like-minded people in Singapore.

How has Singlish changed over the years?

Singlish, the colloquial English dialect spoken in Singapore, has undergone significant changes over the years with the advent of the internet and the influence of digital communication. The rise of social media platforms and instant messaging has led to a proliferation of abbreviations, which are commonly used in Singlish conversations. This has resulted in a more concise and efficient way of expressing oneself.

Moreover, Singlish has expanded to include different registers that vary based on community, socio-economic class, and generation. Different communities, such as the Chinese, Malay, and Indian, have contributed their own vocabulary and idioms to Singlish, reflecting the multiculturalism of Singapore. Socio-economic class also plays a role in determining the choice of language and dialect variations used in Singlish. For instance, the wealthier upper class may incorporate more English expressions, while the working class may utilise Chinese dialect terms.

This evolution of Singlish reflects the changing demographics and culture of Singapore. The influence of the internet has accelerated these changes, causing Singlish to become even more adaptable and dynamic. Whether it is in the virtual realm or in everyday conversations, Singlish continues to evolve and adapt to the needs and preferences of its speakers, allowing for a unique expression of Singaporean identity.

How do we ensure we’re using Singlish in the right context?

Singlish, or Singapore Colloquial English, is a unique and vibrant language that reflects the multilingual and multicultural nature of Singapore. To ensure the proper usage of Singlish in various contexts, it is essential to develop strong code-switching skills acquired through exposure to diverse social groups.

Code-switching is the ability to switch between different languages or dialects, depending on the situation. It allows individuals to adapt and communicate effectively within a specific environment. In the case of Singlish, code-switching helps users understand when it is appropriate to use Singlish and when to switch to Standard English.

Proper usage of Singlish involves understanding the social context, audience, and setting. In formal settings, such as academic or business environments, it is generally more appropriate to use Standard English. However, in casual settings, among friends and family, Singlish can help create a sense of camaraderie and promote cultural identity.

Here are some tips for using Singlish appropriately:

1. Pay attention to the conversation: Observe how others are communicating and adapt your language accordingly.

2. Use Singlish sparingly in formal settings: Limit the usage of Singlish to avoid sounding unprofessional or disrespectful.

3. Be aware of the audience: Use Singlish with people who are familiar and comfortable with it, ensuring effective communication.

4. Respect cultural diversity: Code-switching skills allow you to connect with people from different backgrounds, fostering inclusivity and understanding.

By honing code-switching skills and using Singlish appropriately, individuals can navigate between the diverse social groups in Singapore and express their cultural identity while maintaining effective communication in the right context.

What are some tips for new expats trying to get acquainted with Singlish?

For new expats trying to get acquainted with Singlish, here are some helpful tips:

1. Be open-minded: Singlish is a unique blend of English, Chinese dialects, and Malay terms. Embrace the diverse linguistic landscape of Singapore and approach Singlish with an open mind.

2. Ask for clarification: Don’t be afraid to ask for explanations and clarifications. Singlish words and phrases may have direct translations or literal translations that differ from standard English. Asking for clarification will help you understand the true meaning behind the expressions.

3. Practice actively: Actively engage with locals and practice speaking Singlish regularly. The more you use it, the more comfortable you’ll become. Singlish is an essential part of Singaporean identity, so immersing yourself in the language will give you a deeper appreciation for the local culture.

To aid your learning journey, there are resources that can assist you in learning Singlish:

– Singlish dictionary: You can download our Singlish Dictionary and keep it with you or print it out for easy reference.

– Language exchange groups: Joining language exchange groups allow you to practice Singlish with native speakers and like-minded people who are also learning the language.

– Language courses: Some language schools offer Singlish courses tailored for expats. These courses provide structured learning and opportunities to practice conversational Singlish.

By following these tips and utilising available resources, new expats can quickly get acquainted with Singlish and enjoy the vibrant linguistic culture of Singapore.

19 ‘Singlish’ terms have been added to the Oxford English Dictionary

Singlish, also known as Singapore English, is a unique linguistic phenomenon that reflects the cultural diversity of Singapore. It is a fusion of various languages, including Chinese dialects, Malay, and English expressions. Singlish incorporates loanwords from different Chinese dialects such as Hokkien, Cantonese, and Teochew, as well as Malay and English.

Recently, the Oxford English Dictionary recognised Singlish by adding 19 Singlish terms to its online version. This acknowledgement is significant as it acknowledges Singlish as a legitimate variety of the English language with its distinct vocabulary and grammar.

The 19 Singlish terms that have been added to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) are:

  1. Ang moh: A light-skinned person, especially of Western origin or descent; a Caucasian.
  2. Blur: Slow in understanding; unaware, confused.
  3. Char siu: A type of barbecued pork in Cantonese cuisine.
  4. Chilli crab: A dish made from mud crabs stir-fried in a semi-thick, sweet and savoury tomato and chilli-based sauce.
  5. Chinese helicopter: A derogatory term for a Singaporean whose schooling was conducted in Mandarin Chinese and who has limited knowledge of English.
  6. Hawker Centre: A food market where vendors sell local dishes from small stalls, with a shared seating area for customers.
  7. HDB: Abbreviation of Housing Development Board, a public housing estate.
  8. Killer litter: Objects thrown or falling from high-rise buildings, posing a danger to people below.
  9. Lepak: To loiter aimlessly or idly; to loaf, relax, hang out.
  10. Shiok: Cool, great; delicious, superb.
  11. Sabo: To harm, inconvenience, or make trouble for; to trick, play a prank on.
  12. Sotong: Used to describe a person as being forgetful or absent-minded.
  13. Teh tarik: A type of milk tea, and in particular a method of preparing tea in which the tea is poured back and forth between two containers to mix it, aerate it, and create a frothy top.
  14. Wah: Used to express admiration, encouragement, delight, surprise, etc.
  15. Wet market: A market for the sale of fresh meat, fish, and produce.
  16. Lepaking: The action or activity of loitering aimlessly or idly; loafing, relaxing, hanging out.
  17. Sabo king: A person who habitually plays pranks on others or causes trouble for them.
  18. Lepak (verb): To spend one’s time aimlessly or idly; to loaf, relax, hang out.
  19. Sabo (verb): To harm, inconvenience, or make trouble for (a person); to trick, play a prank on.

The addition of these Singlish terms to the Oxford English Dictionary not only recognises the linguistic diversity of Singapore but also provides a rich resource for anyone interested in understanding and engaging with Singaporean slang and expressions. It is a testament to the integral role that Singlish plays in everyday communication among Singaporeans.

Sign Up For Our Newsletter

Get the Best Of Singapore delivered to your inbox.

annie bestof

Annie Goh

Annie Goh was born and raised in Singapore, and grew up on a steady diet of hawker food, fine dining, and everything in between thanks to her parent's passion for food and adventure. After spending the early part of her career travelling the world, Annie has now come home to share her love of Singapore with the world.

Leave a Comment

Table of Contents
    Add a header to begin generating the table of contents