Thanks for all your messages and suggestions in response to part 1. Here are 10 more English words that have a slightly different meaning in Singapore. These words should be used with caution when travelling to English speaking countries.
For part 1 please click here.
A verb meaning to boast or show off. It can also mean arrogant and haughty. The word is wrongly used due to confusion of the Malay word “berlagak”, which can either mean “show off” or “to act”.
“He always likes to action in front of the ladies”
(“He always likes to show off in front of the ladies”)
“That fellow always like to action, walking around with his Rolex over his shirt sleeves.”
“You don’t talk so much, action only!”
Among the many noun definitions of action it is also a verb, and is defined as ‘to take action on or deal with’. e.g. “Your request will be actioned”. Or in other words your request will be dealt with.
So ironically the phrase “That fellow always likes to action” is actually a compliment, he gets things done!
Bird / Bird-bird / birdie / cuckoo bird. It’s a direct Singlish translation of the Malay and Chinese dialect slang words for penis.
Chinese: Ku Ku Jiao. Male genitalia (crude). Also “ku ku bird”.
Malay: Burung – literally ‘bird’; euphemism for ‘penis’.
A warm-blooded egg-laying vertebrate animal distinguished by the possession of feathers, wings, a beak, and typically by being able to fly.
In British slang it means a young woman, however some people find this word offensive. Examples:
“Is that Dave’s new bird?”
“Oi Pete, izzat your bird?”
Be very careful if you use ‘bird’ in the UK.
Used to describe someone as rather inept, feeling dazed or in a world of his own. A common usage is “Blur like sotong”. Other examples:
“Such a simple thing also cannot do. You damn blur!”
“Wah lao, I do maths, do until blur, man.”
A smear or stain that obscures: “The words were a blur”. Something moving or occurring too quickly to be clearly seen. Something remembered or perceived indistinctly, typically because it happened very fast: “The day before was a blur”.
If you accuse someone of being ‘blur’, they may just suggest that you buy glasses.
Refers to a stamp or seal, and to stamp a document. The word ‘chop’ was originally from the Malay word cap, which is from the Hindi word छाप ćhāp (stamp).
To cut something into pieces with repeated sharp blows of an axe or knife. It can also be a thick slice of meat, especially pork or lamb.
The use of the word ‘chop’ to mean ‘stamp’ is unique to this part of the world, so please be careful, business people in the West will be quite confused.
In Singapore Christians and Catholics are referred to as two different groups. This difference probably arises because the Mandarin phrase for Protestant is 基督教 (ji-du-jiao), which actually means Christian. Here is an example of this Singapore usage:
“The missionary school consisted mostly of Roman Catholics and Christians.”
There are two types of Christian: Protestants and Catholics. In other words, Christian is a cover term for the two branches of the church.
If you ask someone whether they are Christian and they answer ‘no’, it would be then redundant to ask if they are Catholic. In Western countries, a Catholic is a Christian.
Talk cock – to talk nonsense. Also a way to describe something as being nonsensical or sub-standard. It may have been derived from a combination of the English slang “cock and bull” and the Hokkien “kong lan-chiau oe”.
The use of ‘cock’ is actually fairly benign, even though it has obscene connotations. It’s like saying “rubbish” or “junk” in standard English.
“Don’t listen to him, he’s only talking cock.”
“Wah lau, you go and buy this cock thing for what?”
“Why you so cock, go and invest in that dot-com?”
The adult male of the domestic chicken, and other male birds.
Also a vulgar slang for penis.
British Tabloid Article “Don’t Talk Cock!’
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds have banned the use of the word “cock” as applied to the male species, in case it causes offence. Read more
“Last night I mug so much, so sian already”. (to mug is to cram for an examination. sian is an adjective for “bored/tired”.) A mugger is thus a hardworking student who memorises notes and regurgitates them during exams.
“He everytime go library until it close. Damn mugger, siah!”
Attack and rob (someone) in a public place: “he was mugged by three men who stole his bike”
So if you decide to announce you are “mugging” in England or the USA please explain yourself before someone calls the police.
8. Open (the light)
To turn on a light – “I open the light.” (Derived from Chinese, which uses the verb “to open” in this manner. Use of “open” to mean “turn on” is limited specifically to lamps or lights.)
Move (a door or window) so as to leave a space allowing access and vision.
“She opened the door and went in”
To be extremely tired. To be honest it should be spelt ‘shack’, however it is often misspelled and mispronounced as ‘shag’ in Singapore. This is due to the voiced ‘g’ sound and voiceless ‘k’ sound not being distinctly articulated.
“Damm shag lah”
British vulgar colloquialism meaning: to have sexual intercourse with.
If you said “I’ve got severe sleep deprivation because of this shag week”, a British person would congratulate you 🙂
A term derived from the Army, where smoke is used to conceal tactical operations. Means to bluff, cause a diversion, or confuse someone. It’s used commonly during examinations, when someone has no idea how to answer the question and has to bullshit all the way.
“I know you and Ah Huay are going pak tor. Don’t try and smoke me”
“Wah lao, the essay question so cheem, donno what to write. So I just anyhow write anything, lor. Aiyah, just smoke all the way can oreddy, lah.”
A visible suspension of carbon or other particles in air, typically one emitted from a burning substance. An act of smoking tobacco.
“I’m dying for a smoke”
Bonus. Off day
A day when people do not go to work. “Tomorrow is my off day”
A day in which you are not at your normal level of performance. “I’m really having an off day, everything is going wrong”
“Tomorrow is my off day” sounds like you predict your bad days into the future.
The use of Madam (Mdm) in Singapore has been generally used by married women who wish to use their maiden surname.
There is no such tradition in other English-speaking countries. ‘Ms’ is used when marital status is unknown. (However, in Singapore ‘Ms’ is the abbreviation of ‘Miss’)
- a polite term of address for a woman, esp one considered to be of relatively high social status
- a woman who runs a brothel
- Brit informal a precocious or pompous little girl