Here is a packed “freestyle” daily Singlish dictionary I got sometime ago. This list contains some harsh language. Enjoy.
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.
Local 4 digit lottery game run by Singapore Pools
The 5 C’s of Singapore, namely Cash, Car, Credit card, Condominium, (Country) Club
Bad pronunciation of “About it”. “Aiyah! Exam sure fine one lah! Don worry abourit!”
Cantonese. Pretend to be ignorant, feign ignorance.
Cantonese. A phrase which describes behaving in an exaggeratedly cute or adorable fashion. Can be used as both verb and adjective. Usually performed by females who seem as if they cannot escape their childhood. “Wah lau eh! Linda always try to act cute one! She think she good meh?”
Expression used like “Lah”, but in questions, rhetorics, and in questions where opinions and affirmations are being sought. “This dress looks good on me ah? / Eat what ah? / You going home first ah? / He was there first ah?”
Ah Beng (male) / Ah Lian (female)
Hokkien. Hill billy, toughie, redneck. The expressions came about because they are common Chinese names.
Ah Pek (male) / Ah Mm (female)
Old man / Old woman
Ah Chek (male) / Ah Soh (female)
Used to address middle aged men/women
Hokkien lit grandfather Sometimes used to refer to the government in a sarcastic tone, usually involving financial issues. eg. Ah Kong got so much money, why still so kiam?
Indian man “Ee! How come here got so many apu neh-neh hah?”
Aiyah! / aiyoh!
Malay. Oh, no!
Portuguese origin. An expression of surprise / shock. Lit. “oh my mother!” Possibly carried over from Singapore’s neighbour Malaysia, which was previously a Dutch colony.
Used to describe those of Caucasian descent.
Arboden / Aburden (ah-buh-den)
Thrown in response to remarks stating the obvious. Equivalent to “Isn’t it obvious?” or “Duh?”. Sometimes shortened to “Aboh?”. Derived from “and then…?” as if to say “need I say more?”.
To pinpoint or pick on; To assign someone to an unwanted duty. “Why he arrow me to do this?” (derives from National Service/military practice of placing arrows on a name list to denote those responsible for a task)
Used as a generic title for females who are middle-aged or older, especially those who are not well acquainted. Can be slightly offensive when used on younger women. Young children are usually taught to call female adults “auntie” as a sign of respect. “Hello Auntie! How are you?” Also used to describe a younger person who dresses / behaves in an uncool / unfashionable manner, like older people. “Eh, today you dress very Auntie leh…”
Malay. To make a bowel movement.
Mandarin From (变态／變態）. Means perverted.
English. Clueless. In a daze. Unaware of what is going on.
Boh lang ai
Hokkien. Nothing better to do. Mandarin: “wu liao” “He do lidat, so boh liao!”
Malay. Can, possible.
Hokkien. Literally means cannot. Buay tahan = Cannot stand it
Malay. Lit. “crocodile”. A womanizer, flirt.
Hokkien. When talking about scent/smell, it means it’s smelly. Also can be used when someone plays dirty (jiak chao) in a game.“That guy play basketball very chao leh!”
Hokkien. Pretending to be sick or injured. Sometimes shortened to just keng.
Peranakan. A crude term used to describe a Chinese national, a ‘foreign talent’ with implied attributes of portunism, rudeness and boorishness. Usually used to label Chinese emigrants who arrive in Singapore to seek fortune.
Singlish. Not to be confused by the American singer Cher. This term is a short way of addressing ‘teacher’.
Chin chye lah!
In answer to a query: “I have no preference; it’s up to you, don’t bother me!”
Hokkien. Good-looking female. Similar to use of “hot chick” in America.
Hokkien. Gung ho. Lit. “to charge up a hill”. In National Service/ military context the literal meaning may be used.
from Malay cap, which is from Hindi छाप ćhāp (stamp) “Make sure your passport got chop ar!”
Do it Fast, don’t waste time… For Example, “chop chop finish the work lah.. don’t waste time lah.”
Reserve. Derived from chop; to leave a mark. Singaporeans have a habit of leaving objects on seats/ tables to reserve places. “Don’t take this seat, I choped it already.”
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 paperwork will be approved)
A: “You sure next week sargent giving us leave?” (Are you sure our sergeant is granting the platoon a day off next week?) B: “Confirm plus guarantee got chop.” (The sergeant would have to get approval to grant the entire platoon a day off)
Confirm and reconfirm. Used to emphasis the confirmation.
Refers to someone who sits back and watches others do the work. The comic book character “Cyclops” of the X-Men is sometimes used to describe someone who uses eye-power all the time. “Whao, we do all the work, you sit there do nothing, your eye-power very good hor?”
Used to express extreme frustration. Originates from the Army, where a “spider” was dirt in the barrel of one’s rifle. If during inspection, you found a “spider” in your rifle, you’d have to strip it and clean it all over again. Hence, the term would be a rather common expletive uttered amongst recruits forced to clean their rifles over and over again.
Very confused or very disorganized.
Deliberate mispronunciation of the word “government”. Used as a substitute for the actual word especially when criticising the government in written form to prevent possible sanctions against the author.
Malay. Gung-ho. Lit. “fierce”
English. Presumed to originate from the term “I’m a goner.” To mean that your doom has been confirmed. Wah lau, the exam so difficult, I gone-case liao ar
Pidgin English. Go backwards / Reverse. This actually originates from the nautical phrase “go astern”.
Adapated from arcade games, where during the end of a sparring game, the words ‘GGXX’, meaning ‘good game’ and ‘game over’, will be displayed prominently on the screen. It is frequently used in its short form ‘GG’, both forms of which means that you are doomed (i.e. game over). If you continue like this and don’t study, your exam sure ggxx liao.
Hokkien. To boast
Hokkien. Lucky, fortunate.
Hokkien. Very good! Excellent! Mostly used in a sarcastic manner: You never study still want to do exam? Hosei liao!
Hokkien. How are you doing? (Greeting)
Hokkien. A low tone means to play dirty, lit. “to eat dirt”; a high tone means refers to a skiver, or the act of skiving, lit. “to eat grass”.
Hokkien. Refers to a skiver, or the act of skiving. Lit. “to eat snake”.
Hokkien. Oh dear! Lit. “sapping strength”. Used to describe a terrible situation. “Ah! You broke your leg!? Jia lat ah! How you play soccer later?”
Deliberate mispronunciation of the number “zero”.
Used to refer to a group of idling individuals. Eh, I want the whole jing gang to fall in in the parade square in 2 minutes’ time.
Kan ni na bu (chao chee bye)
Hokkien. Vulgar. Lit. “Fuck your mother”, this is the archetypal Singlish insult, but it is often used just as an intensifier akin to English “fucking”, and commonly abbreviated as “KNN” in written form. The long form “KNNBCCB”, meaning “fuck your mother’s smelly cunt”, is extremely rude.
excellent - army term referring to someone who shines his boots well. See also “solid”
Refer to a person that is nosey parker or busybody. Eg ‘Eh, Don’t be so kaypoh leh!’. Sometimes abbreviated as “KPO”.
(literally “Up the Car”) Used to describe something very bad. Eg ‘My exam ki chia liao.’ Possibly derived from the action of an injured person being lifted into an ambulance. Another term used is “Up Lorry”.
Kiah su / kiasu
(literally “scared to lose/of loss”) somebody who fears losing out (from Hokkien 惊输) See also: kiasi
Kiah si / kiasi
(literally “scared to die/of death”) somebody who fears losing out (from Hokkien 惊死) See also: kiasy
Hokkien lit “salty” Stingy.
Kena / kana
to be afflicted with, to suffer (from) (Malay passive auxiliary)
(copy) to take without permission “eh, don’t kope my homework leh”
Most basic and famous of Singlish expressions. Tagged as an exclamation usually (but not in questions). “Good lah!” / “Go home lah!” / “Ok lah!” / “Eat lah!” / “Cannot do it like this lah!”
Hokkien. Used when demonstrating authority, usually in a sneering manner. Lit. “your father”.
An offshoot from the term Lim peh, used perhaps as a demonstration of feminist power, as opposed to patriachy in the term ‘lim peh’. Lit. “your mother”
Hokkien. To bark up the wrong tree; to cast a wide net hoping to catch something. Lit. “randomly hit”.
Most basic and famous of Singlish expressions. Similar to Lah, depend on the situation to use. Usually it trying to put across the meaning “Don’t make thing difficult or Don’t you understand?!?!?!” What it’s trying to emphasize is determine by the tone. Ex: “Dun be angry leh / I didn’t do it on purpose de leh”. or “I told you I dunno how to do it liao leh”
Most basic and famous of Singlish expressions. Means “already”. From Chinese “了”. Ex: “Lai liao, Lai liao!!” Lai is “Come” in Chinese, so “Lai liao” means “Come already”/ “I am coming”/ “(someone) has come”. Liao can also be used with Leh or Lah. “I told you he came liao leh!/I told you he came liao lah!”
Mah / Ma
*Most basic and famous of Singlish expressions. Tagged as a question. From Chinese “吗”. “Can he do it mah/ma? / He come liao ma/mah?”
As if; to resemble something in a certain way.
Mai siao lah!
Hokkien. Don’t be crazy!
A corruption of “Bengali”. A crude way to refer to ethnic Indians.
Malay. Police. Sometimes used as a quick warning that the police are here. Lit. “eye”.
Malay. Die, be doomed.
(verb) To vomit, especially after drinking. Also used in the Navy to describe sailors vomiting due to seasickness.
The incorrect, but frequently used expression of the word “better”
Mong xing xing
“Cantonese” (verb) Blur, Unalert, Don’t know what happen.
- You always mong xing xing, later za boa take away all your money then you know.
- He always Mong xing xing since his girl friend left him last year.
To study excessively
Hokkien. Someone who is overly meticulous, nit-picky or tries to find fault. Lit. “cat”.
Orbi / Orbi quek
‘Another term for “Serves you right.”’
Orbit / Obiang
‘Someone or something that is gaudy or overly flamboyant in taste.’
ORD (Operationally Ready Date) is the date on which a National Serviceman completes his 2-year military service. A favourite exultation of those nearing their ORD. Sometimes, ORD is also used as a verb. “I am going to ORD soon!”
Sloppy pronunciation of “already”. “You finish homework orredy or not hah?”
‘own time/ own target. Meaning “to act on your own initiative.” or in the context of training in sports etc, “to do it at your own pace and abilities”’ Of army origins, during shooting practice, before shots are fired at the range, the commander will usually give the order “Firers, own time own target, carry on”. Evolved to the bastardised Singlish version “Own time, own target, carry on!”
bad luck, being superstitious, superstitions, (Malay)
photocopy (reference to old photostat)
to rush or charge “I need to pia for my exam sia” or “I want to pia taxi home”
Qia zha bo
Qia means fierce and arrogant, zha bo means a lady. Thus, the complete term ‘Qia Zha Bo’ refers to a fierce and arrogant lady who wants everything done her way.
To give back. Direct translation from the Chinese phrase.
Malay. 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’.
Malay. Pronounced SCAR-ly. Lest, what if. “Skali no way to go out, then how?”
Punjabi. Great! An expression of satisfaction. Originally “shauk” in Punjabi.
An exclamation “Wah! He pro sia!”
Hokkien. Get out of the way! Considered rude but effective.
Hokkien. Bored, tired, or sick of something. “I am so sian! Nothing to do, man!”
Siao / Xiao
Hokkien. Refers to either “crazy” in response to: “You wan to go the haunted hospital tonight anot?” “Siao ah you?” or an offensive term used to address a friend: “Xiao eh! wan to go clubbing tonight anot?” (Not considered offensive if used between close friends.)
Malay. Forgetful or not knowing what is going on. Lit. “squid”.
Hokkien. Not well informed or backward; a country bumpkin. Lit. “mountain tortoise”.
Sup sup sui
Cantonese. Something that is insignificant or easy to do. Lit. “a little drop of water”.
Talk cock / tok kok
Talking nonsense / senselessly. Probably originated from the English expression “cock and bull story”. “Don’t tok kok lah! Where got like that one?”
Cantonese Take away (when buying food).
Hokkien. A very rude way of saying “shut up!” “Oi! Thiam lah! I’m trying to study!”
Stupid / silly. “He wear like that look very toot hor?”
Opposite / Upside-down / Inside-out. “Did you see that? He wear his shirt tombalek leh!”
Hokkien. A big shot; someone of a high status. “You think you got money damn tua pai is it?”
Tu Tu Train
Means train. Boy ah, u go onto the tu tu train, mummy take nice picture of you, you must smile sui sui ok?’’
Malay. Used to describe a rural or remote area. Commonly found in road names around Singapore as well.
Used as a generic title for males who are middle-aged or older, especially those who are not well acquainted. “Uncle! One teh-C and one milo-peng!” Similarly to auntie, used by young children to denote respect for a male adult. Also used to describe a younger person who behaves/dresses in an uncool/unfashionable manner. (See Auntie)
Same meaning as just saying “very” but is usually used with a clearly sarcastic tone. “Wah! You like that also cannot do? You very the good leh!”
Wah lao! / Wah piang! / Wah seh!
Hokkien. Exclamation of shock. “Wah piang! Why he so bad one!”
Bad pronunciation of “vomit” “Ee! He going to womit already liao!”
There are currently no entries in X because in Singlish, ‘X’ can always be replaced by ‘S’.
Ya ya papaya
An arrogant person.
Mild curse used to disabuse someone of his or her erroneous assumption. “He get first in class? Your head lah!”
A handsome male, see Chio Bu (female version)
(cantonese) means “good” or “great”. you are so “zheng ah”. you are so good or great.