When Singapore became independent 50 years ago, English was chosen as the official language of the city-state. That didn’t stop the various ethnic groups from creating their own dialect or Singlish, as it is called. Its grammar and vocabulary is borrowed from Malay, Cantonese, Hokkien, Tamil, Mandarin and other Chinese languages.
Studying in a new country is no fun if you don’t immerse yourself into the local culture, so knowing some common Singlish phrases can help you begin.
- Lah: Native Singaporeans love adding this word to the end of sentences. There are many ways to use it. For example, Ok lah translates to Okie dokie. No lah! means No, and you are clearly wrong to suggest that. Basically, lah is used to change the tone of a sentence and doesn’t really have a definition itself. Don’t confuse it with OK lor, which means Alright then and is said with a tone of resignation.
- Leh: Leh can be used interchangeably with lah. For example, you could say, She did not tell me about that leh. Or somebody could tell you, No leh. He isn’t like that.
- Why you so like that: This Singlish phrase means Why are you behaving this way? It is used to show frustration at somebody who is annoying you. Think of your friend making you wait for her for thirty minutes. Then you would ask her this. A Singapore group Kopi Kat Klan has a song called ‘Why you so like dat’. Check it out.
- Talk cock: This term means joking around. If you had a relaxed evening laughing and talking with your friends, you could say, Today nothing to do. We all just talk cock all day long.
- Wah lao!/Wah piang: These terms are interchangeable. Singaporeans express shock using them. For example, if you find out that the currency exchange rate with your home currency has increased a lot, you could say, Wah lao! So expensive!
- Stylo Milo: This fun phrase can come to use when you are describing a classmate or somebody else. It describes someone as trying too hard to be stylish. Someone could point at a guy and say, Eh that guy so stylo milo.
- Alamak!: This term translates to Oh my gosh! When a person is shocked or surprised, they may use this word.
- Blur like sotong: These words describe a person who has no idea of what he or she is doing. For instance, it could be said to describe a fellow student who struggles to solve a problem. Or it could talk about a person who always seems to get lost. You could say, he is so old and still gets lost all the time, really blur like sotong!
- Pai-seh: This term comes from the Hokkien dialect and means embarrassed or shy. You could employ it to express your discomfort about a mistake you made by saying, I forgot his book again. So pai seh. It is pronounced pie-say.
- Ya ya papaya: This funny sounding term is used to describe a person as boastful or arrogant. If somebody in class always seems too full of herself and keeps on talking about her accomplishments, you could say, She’s so ya ya.
- Eat already anot?: This phrase means Have you already eaten/Have you eaten yet? Anot is a common Singlish word that translates to or not.
- Corright: This Singlish word combines the English words correct and right. It can be defined as righter than right. Imagine having a light-hearted argument with your classmate when he thinks what is right is obvious; then he could say Corright to emphasise how very correct he is.
- Ah bu then?: This Singlish phrase can be used in instances where you’d say duh or of course in normal English. So if somebody sees you sleeping with your head on the desk and asks you if you are sleepy, this would be the answer.
- Dun anyhow touch here touch there leh: If your roommate says this to you, you are in trouble. It means, Please don’t mess with my things.
- Oi! Wake up your idea!: A person you are discussing a project with may say, Oi! Wake up your idea! The phrase translates to Can you start thinking straight! The speaker is asking you to wake up from your sleepy state and is being sarcastic.
- Siao: This word is very common. It literally means crazy. If somebody asks you something absurd or does something stupid like burn his clothes with the iron, you could say: You siao ah? It’s sarcastic.
- Shiong: Shiong is defined as very tired or tiring. Wah today damn shiong, the lecturer asked us to write so many articles, is one example of its usage. In other words, somebody is exhausted and is complaining about his workload.
- I don’t know you / How I know you: When a friend does something stupid and realises it, you could utter the words: How I know you? No reply is expected. It is a sarcastic comment.
- Han nah / Yah lah: This one comes in handy if you are being nagged. Say somebody keeps on asking you if you have finished reading the book that you borrowed yesterday; you can say han nah han nah han nah (as many times as you want to). Some people like to say Yah lah yah lah instead. If anybody uses this one on you, it means you are annoying him or her a lot.
- Catch No Ball: When a local person says this to you, he is telling you that he didn’t understand you. You could picture a ball in his court, which he cannot grasp to remember what it means, “Eh, what talking you? I catch no ball!”
What are your favourite words and phrases? Don’t forget to share in the comments below.