Each month, we bring you ‘Words on the street’ to help you figure out that ah beng speak from the ang moh talk. Now, Alexis Ong breaks down some classic Singlish, so we can all just get along
First published on 17 Mar 2008. Updated on 17 May 2012.
A bit the Add a dash of local sarcasm by using this Singlish staple to emphasise something, as in ‘You a bit the messy, hor?’
Bang balls Derived from a Hokkien phrase that essentially means ‘the testicles ricocheting off the penis’. An elegant way to describe the victim of a plan that backfired.
Cannot make it An expression for inept service or individual, eg: ‘He went out drinking all night before today’s exam? Cannot make it, man.’
Don’ play-play (or pray-pray) A warning against foolish behaviour, for instance: ‘You stole your dad’s car keys? Don’ pray-pray!’
Extra A way to describe something (or someone) as useless or superfluous, such as: ‘Why you want me to come along on your date? I feel damn extra!’
F*** spider A popular expletive that originated in National Service to describe the excess gunk that accumulates in one’s rifle barrel. To be used in situations of frustration and annoyance.
Gahmen (aka ‘government’) You won’t get far without encountering this word – just take a taxi and you’ll hear it.
Havoc The best way to describe the crazy events surrounding a hyperactive or party-loving individual, as in: ‘You’re going to Ibiza for New Year’s Eve? Wah, sure havoc, man!’
Is it? (or issit?) Interchangeable with the generic English expression ‘Really?’ or ‘Is that so?’
Jangan (jung-GAHN) tension Borrowed from the Malay – ‘jangan’ means ‘don’t’ – another way to tell someone to just relax.
Kena sai (cana sai) A Malay/Chinese mix that basically means to cop sh*t, often when one experiences bad luck or embarrassment, as in: ‘He parked my car in a handicapped spot…kena sai, man.’
Leceh (lay chay) A Malay expression to describe something particularly tedious, eg ‘My boss wants me to sort through 800 pages of paperwork… damn leceh!’
Macam (mah cham) Malay for ‘like’, as a co-worker formerly told me: ‘Your fingers are so short, macam Mogwai from Gremlins.’
Ne’mine The lazy man’s contraction for ‘never mind’.
Oso can A slurred pronunciation of ‘also can’, which is the local way of saying, ‘That is also possible’ or ‘Not a problem’.
Pecah lobang (PER-chah lowbahng) In Malay, it literally means to ‘break a hole’ or let something slip.
Queue The source of much annoyance to many Singaporeans. Americanvisitors might feel bewildered at having to queue instead of lining up.
Relak (ree-LAK) Affectionate bastardisation of ‘relax’, often used in conjunction with ‘jangan tension’ (see J).
Sabo (sah-boe) Abbreviation of sabotage, reserved for conniving friends, co-workers and the like, eg: ‘You didn’t tell the teacher I was sick? You trying to sabo me, is it?!’
Tsao k’ng (chao-keng) Casually used when someone’s underwear is visible over the waistband, especially women.
Ulu (ooh-loo) Singlish staple that comes from Malay bahasa for ‘deserted’, often used to describe a remote location, or someone very backward.
Vomit blood Yet another graphic way to denote extreme frustration and annoyance. ‘My flight was delayed for five hours. I waited until vomit blood’.
Wake up your idea An original Singlish phrase to jolt someone’s head out of the clouds, as in: ‘Ha, you think you can be president? Wake up your idea!’
Xiao Another way to say ‘crazy’: ‘Your boss is in town and you dare to take MC? Xiao ah!’ It can also be used to refer to a close friend: ‘Xiao eh!’
Ya ya Not to be confused with the nonsensical literary sisterhood, in Singlish it means something or someone arrogant or obnoxious.
Zai It’s not a swear word, it just sounds like one. Another way of saying ‘steady’ in Hokkien.