Singlish (Singaporean-English) is the local lingo of Singapore. It can be extremely confusing for foreigners since the lingo is made out of an amalgamation of the four languages of the ethnic groups of Singapore: Malay, Chinese/Hokkien, Tamil, and English. To help you navigate your way through the sea of Kopitiam Aunties and Taxi Uncles , here's our crash course of the most-used Singlish terms you definitely need to learn before going to Singapore for your long weekend!
Alamak is an expression to display dismay, shock or alarm as one would with “Oh, no!” or "OMG!".
Example: “Alamak! I forgot to bring umbrella!”
You might have heard a few times that one of the common characteristics of Singaporeans is 'kiasu'. Although this is not entirely true, the word 'kiasu' is very oftenly used anyway in everyday conversations among Singaporeans. Kiasu is a popular Hokkien term that means “afraid of losing out” / FOMO, describing someone as selfish and trying to get ahead of others in a negative manner.
Example: “Those kiasu aunties pushed through the crowd for the free goodies.”
When you order your food from a local hawker center or kopitiam, the Auntie (the lady serving the stall) might ask you 'Zhe Bien hai shi Ta Bao?' and more often than not you'd get confused. Don't worry, she's only asking if you want to eat the food in the establishment, or want to take it to go. To answer, simply say 'Zhe Bien', or–more oftenly–'Ta Bao', and all will be well.
Example: “Uncle, one chicken rice, tabao.”
In Singapore, you don't say 'delicious' or 'so good'. You say 'Shiok'. This can be used to describe either good food, tasty drinks, or even a great foot massage.
Example: “This burger is so juicy, so shiok!”
When you go to Singaporean kopitiams or hawker centers, you might find some tables without occupants but with a pack of tissues on top of it. If you do, do not approach that table, because the table has already been 'choped', or 'reserved' as the locals would say it. In Singapore a pack of tissues is the commonly-understood way to reserve a table while ordering your food from a food stall.
Example: “Let’s chope the table by leaving a pack of tissues there.”
When your friends or colleagues go for a dinner together without inviting you, you can make them paiseh (ashamed) by saying bojio. Basically bojio is used to describe disappointments that you are not invited.
Example: “You guys are having dinner together? Bo jio.” "Oh, sorry-sorry! Paiseh!"
Singaporeans love to say 'can', not just to describe that something is able / permitted to be done, but also to give a sense of certainty. Of course, they add the famous Singaporeans suffixes at the end of the word.
Example: “Can you do this for me?” “Can lah, no worries.” “Can meh?” “Sure can.”
These are all discourse particles that are mentioned at the end of sentences. Each one serves different purposes, and it all depends on tone, syntax and context. There isn't any scientific explanation to these popular suffixes, but once you've get used to them, they'd just flow out of your mouth at the end of your phrases and sentences like water. Just try it, lah...
Example: “Just do it like that, lah” (Here, “lah” has a sense of exasperation, but can also be used as a finality.) “I’ve got no choice, So I just did it, lor.” (Here, “lor” is used to express acceptance or resignation.) “I didn’t know you have to do it like that, leh.” (Here, “leh” is used to show uncertainty, a little more doubtful compared to “lah”.) “Really, meh? You have to do it like that?” (Here, “meh” is used with a rhetorical question to serve disbelief without actually being shocked or surprised.)
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