When I arrived in Singapore six years ago, I noted Singaporeans would speak in a language that seems like English but not quite. Singaporean apparently speak in a uniquely Singapore Singlish language. Singlish is an English-Creole language with words originating from English, Malay, Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese, Tamil and some elements of American and Australian slang. It took some time for me to understand it. And unconsciously, I have woven some words into my daily sentences when I converse with my lovely Singaporean friends and colleagues.
So for this 53rd National Day of Singapore, here are 10 Singlish I often use in my conversations:
- Makan – “Have you makan already?
Makan means ‘eat’ or “food’ or meal.’ Food is a great part of Singapore as well as Filipinos. So this word is often used a lot especially when it is time for lunch. Makan Time!
2. Ta pau – ” One nasi lemak, Auntie, ta pau.”
Along the lines of foods still, when I go to hawker centre, when I want my food “take-out” or “to-go”, I will say “ta pau” and it is understood that the hawker seller will wrap my food or put in a container. I learned this really early on.
3. Jalan Jalan – “We are going jalan jalan“
If you go around Singapore, you would note street name with the word Jalan, like Jalan Balantong, Jalan Pisang, etc. Jalan-Jalan means to walk around or strolling. It means going for a day of leisure walking probably to explore or shop.
4. Tahan – “Wow, I can’t believe you can tahan that”
Tahan means to endure something. Sometimes when stress do come along, we tend to tahan a lot of things and strive on. Or when lunchtime seems like a few more hours, we tahan our hunger until lunch time finally comes. I love using this word because apparently I am a master in “Tahan”. Hahaha!
5. Kay poh – “Why so kay poh? It is none of your business.”
“Kay poh” means being nosy and meddling or prying on someone else. So if you know someone who ask too many questions about your personal life or giving too much unsolicited advice, yes, she is being kay poh.
6. Kia su – “I need to bring raincoats for my kids even if it doesn’t look it is going to rain. I am a bit kia su lah”
Kia su is often described as being overcautious or doing extra steps or action to ensure you won’t get into trouble. Some describe it as a negative way like it is a fear of losing out to someone else. It also means playing it safe. It is a typical Singaporean trait which I do not think is bad at all. Being kia su can make your life more safe and prepared, I believe.
7. Kan cheong – “I am not really hypertensive. I am just so kan cheong”
I learned this word early on while working as a doctor in Singapore. Kan cheong means nervous or anxious and this often the words used by patients to explain their high blood pressure when they come to see the doctor. But it can apply to being nervous or anxious about other things like the future, your presentations, results of the exams, etc.
8. Shiok – “This Har Cheong Kai Burger is so damn shiok!“
Shiok is often use to describe a yummy food. It means delicious. But it could describe other things too. It also mean superb or wonderful. It is a superlative used to express delight and awesomeness.
9. Paiseh – “I want to ask him a favour but I am so paiseh“
Paiseh denotes a feeling of shame or being shy or bashful. I do have a shy temperament and I would often use this a lot to express how I feel.
10. Atas – “Waaa, this cafe look so atas“.
Atas is a Malay word that means above. But it is often used to describe a sophisticated person, thing or place or something that is expensive in quality. It can swing to a negative description by insinuating that a person can be arrogant. In Filipino Taglish, it is similar to the word “sosy” or “social”.
There are several Singlish words that I learned and used too but let us stop at 10 for now. And I am learning more and more each day. Just yesterday I learned the word ‘manga” which means “pampered”. You can throw in an occasional “lah’, “leh” or “meh” in a sentence. It is just nice to learn the beautiful Singlish language to better communicate with our Singaporean friends and colleagues .
Happy 53rd Birthday, Singapore!