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 chicken rice) 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: Common 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: Malay for getting a rough estimate.
Example: “How much salt to use for this dish? Just agak agak!”
What it means: An expression of surprise, and/or annoyance.
Example: “Aiyoh, why is the bus taking so long to arrive?”
What it means: Singlish equivalent of “oh my gosh” or “oh man”.
Example: “Alamak! Tickets for the concert are all sold out!”
What it means: To dump a task on someone else, rather than complete it yourself.
Example: “Hey, guess what? I just got arrowed to do this task 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: Translates to ‘don’t care’ in Hokkien, referring to someone who’s indifferent.
Example: “She’s so bo chap at work – only does the bare minimum.”
8. Bo jio
What it means: Hokkien for not getting an invitation.
Example: “How could you go clubbing and bo jio me!”
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, just now I catch no ball.”
What it means: Something that has you dumbfounded, perplexed, bewildered or confused.
Example: “This exam question is so cheem.”
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 for me?”
What it means: The abbreviation for ‘cannot make it’ in reference 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.”
18. 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 not coming home for dinner tonight.”
20. Eye power
What it means: Someone who doesn’t extend help. Instead, they stand around and stare as if their eyes can offer assistance.
Example: “Don’t eye power leh, come help us move the furniture.”
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!”
26. 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 life happens 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?”
29. Own time own target
What it means: To do things at your own pace.
Example: “For this project, do it own time own target.”
What it means: A Hokkien term for being embarrassed or shy.
Example: “Paiseh, can you lend me some cash?”
31. 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 work 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 is passing so slowly. Sian.”
What it means: Hokkien for crazy.
Example: “Siao, how did you manage to eat five burgers in one go?”
What it means: A compliment to describe something as beautiful or perfect.
Example: “Just saw your presentation. So swee!”
39. 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.”
What it means: The Singlish equivalent of takeaway.
Example: “I’m going to tapao lunch from the hawker centre.”
Which Singlish word do you use most often?