So you know your Singlish and can tell the difference between lah, leh and lor? Come, we clap for you.
A huge part of the Singaporean identity (besides our local food) is our language. We’re talking about Singlish! Bottom line: Singlish is a truly peculiar ‘language’. We use it when we order kopi at hawker centres and even at cafes when we mingle with our friends. Need a handy guide? We’ve decoded some of the essentials so you’ll know what it means when someone accuses you of being kaypoh…
Singlish dictionary: Essential words and phrases
1. Act blur
What it means: To play the innocent card or act ignorant.
Example: “Don’t act blur, I know you took my stuff.”
2. Agak agak
What it means: The Malay phrase means to have a rough estimate.
Example: “How much sugar do I use in this cake? Just agak agak!”
What it means: An expression of surprise, and/or annoyance.
Example: “Aiyoh, why did you buy the wrong thing again?”
What it means: Singlish equivalent of “oh my gosh” or “oh man”.
Example: “Alamak! I forgot to bring her gift!”
What it means: To dump a task on someone else, rather than complete it yourself.
Example: “Hey, guess what? My boss arrowed me to manage the new campaign again.”
What it means: To be posh or of high social status.
Example: “The meal we had at that fine dining restaurant was so atas.”
7. Bo chap
What it means: It translates to “don’t care” in Hokkien, referring to someone who’s indifferent.
Example: “She’s so bo chap at work, she only does the bare minimum.”
8. Bo jio
What it means: Hokkien for not getting an invitation.
Example: “You went clubbing last night? Bo jio!”
9. Bo liao
What it means: Feeling bored or idle like there’s nothing better to do.
Example: “You’re so bo liao, wasting your time doing things your boss didn’t even ask for!”
What it means: A Malay word for “can”, or “possible”.
Example: “You’ll check the movie timings and I’ll handle the bookings. Boleh?”
11. Can or not?
What it means: A way of asking if something is possible or can be achieved.
Example: “Dinner at 7pm? Can or not?”
12. Catch no ball
What it means: To be absolutely clueless.
Example: “Can you explain the concept again, I really catch no ball.”
What it means: Something that has you dumbfounded, perplexed, bewildered or confused.
Example: “My boss speaks in a way that’s so cheem, I really can’t understand.”
What it means: To rush, to hurry, or to give your all to complete something.
Example: “You better chiong finish this project before the deadline tomorrow.”
What it means: To reserve a place or call dibs on something.
Example: “Can you chope a seat at the hawker centre for me?”
What it means: The abbreviation for “cannot make it” refers to the inferior attributes of someone (or something).
Example: “This design really CMI, even my toddler can draw it.”
17. Come, I clap for you
What it means: A sarcastic way of praising someone.
Example: “You finally cleaned your room after an entire year. Come, I clap for you.”
What it means: It’s used to tell someone to shut up, typically in an angry way.
Example: “Eh diam la. The bride and groom are giving their speech.”
19. Die die must try
What it means: To express something that’s so good you must try it – no matter what.
Example: “I’m not kidding, this place has the best laksa. Die die must try.”
What it means: A way to address people or get their attention.
Example: “Eh, I’m going out later, wanna come?”
21. Eye power
What it means: Someone who doesn’t extend help. Instead, they just stand around and stare as if their eyes can offer assistance.
Example: “Don’t eye power leh, come help us move the furniture.”
22. Geh kiang
What it means: Someone who acts rashly and without thought.
Example: “If you don’t know what you’re doing, don’t geh kiang.”
What it means: Hokkien for “to prosper”.
Example: “Huat ah, I just won the lottery!”
What it means: Basically, nothing’s going your way.
Example: “Oh, it’s raining again today? The weather’s been so jialat recently.”
What it means: To be a busybody.
Example: “Dude, it’s my problem, no need for you to be kaypoh.”
What it means: A fiercely competitive spirit.
Example: “She queued for eight hours to get the latest iPhone – so kiasu!”
What it means: A suffix used to place emphasis on the sentence or word before.
Example: “Don’t worry about it lah!”
28. Leh and Lor
What it means: Use ‘leh’ when you’re unsure about something – it’s more like a question.
Example: “I don’t know what time the concert starts leh. Aren’t you the one who booked the tickets?”
What it means: It holds a sense of resignation and finality. Think c’est la vie with a sense of ennui.
Example: “Why are you so sad?” “Because I didn’t get the promotion lor.”
What it means: Chilling without a care in the world or loitering around aimlessly.
Example: “I have no plans this weekend, just gonna lepak at home.”
What it means: Tips, clues, opportunities or deals.
Example: “I’m looking for new kitchen appliances. You got lobang?”
What it means: The Malay word for eat.
Example: “I’m hungry. Wanna go makan?”
What it means: Used to substitute only, often used to belittle someone.
Example: “What do you mean far? It’s a 10-minute walk nia.”
33. Own time own target
What it means: To do things at your own pace.
Example: “For this project, you can do it own time own target.”
What it means: A Hokkien term for being embarrassed or shy.
Example: “Paiseh, I forgot to bring my wallet. Can you lend me some cash?”
35. Pang seh
What it means: To stand someone up or to cop out.
Example: “He pang seh us to go on a date with his girlfriend again.”
What it means: Malay for “playing truant”, but can be used if you want to give anything a miss.
Example: “Do you want to ponteng school tomorrow?”
What it means: A shortened version of the word sabotage, used when playing a practical joke on others or even causing deliberate harm.
Example: “You sabo your friend just to win the competition. You’re really the sabo king.”
What it means: To feel physically tired or exhausted. Not to be confused with the English use of the word (if you know what we mean).
Example: “I’m feeling so shag after that 10km run.”
What it means: Fantastic, or to convey feelings of satisfaction and pleasure.
Example: “This plate of chicken rice damn shiok.”
What it means: Experiencing boredom, a lack of enthusiasm or just being tired of life.
Example: “Time passes by so slowly at work. Sian.”
What it means: Hokkien for crazy.
Example: “Siao, how did you manage to eat five burgers in one go?”
42. Spoil market
What it means: A Singlish term for overachieving. This is someone who has raised the bar so high that no one can compete.
Example: “You gave your girlfriend a Chanel bag AND a trip to Paris for her birthday? You really spoil market!”
What it means: A compliment to describe something as beautiful or perfect.
Example: “Just saw your presentation. So swee!”
44. Tak boleh tahan / Buay tahan
What it means: When you can’t tolerate something.
Example: “Argh, he’s so annoying. I buay tahan his attitude.”
45. Tapao / Dabao
What it means: The Singlish equivalent of takeaway.
Example: “I’m going to tapao lunch from the hawker centre. Want anything?”
What it means: A cry for help.
Example: “Tolong la, please just let me borrow your phone.”
What it means: Somewhere secluded and inaccessible.
Example: “Huh, you want to go to the Kranji farms? So ulu!”
What it means: The Malay word for acting in a performance or a show. In Singlish terms, it’s used to describe someone who’s being fake.
Example: “He always wayang in front of the lecturers, can’t stand it.”
49. White horse
What it means: The child of an influential or powerful person (usually used among NS men).
Example: “He white horse one, the sergeants don’t dare to mess with him.”
50. Yaya papaya
What it means: To describe someone who is arrogant or loves to show off.
Example: “Can don’t yaya papaya show off your LV or not.”
What it means: To modify, embellish, or redecorate.
Example: “You zhng your car again? It looks so cool!”
So, which Singlish word do you use most often?