Singapore: Mugging Capital of the World


Singlish Phrase

“Last night I mug so much, so sian already”. (to mug is to cram for an examination. sian is an adjective for “bored/tired”.)

Singapore has both a culture of “mugging” and a history of British colonialism. Students are very hard working in Singapore, and the phrase that is used for this diligent cramming of knowledge? Well, it’s to mug!

Singapore has incorporated some British slang from the colonial era into their everyday speech and as such the definition of the word ‘mug’ has remained the same ever since the British left. However, most of the British slang used in Britain from the 40s and 50s would have been replaced, hence the misunderstanding across cultures and borders. Nowadays mugging is associated with being robbed.

Vintage British Slang

Usually a word stops being used when another “more fashionable” word takes its place, or that the word becomes irrelevant or loses its social context.

Note: Two slang phrases that are still being used in both Singapore and Britain would be “Oi” and “chop-chop”.

English words used in Singapore but not commonly used in the UK


  • Alight (to come down from something (as in a vehicle))
  • Bespectacled (wearing glasses)
  • Foolscap (lined, legal-size paper)
  • Mugging (learn or revise a subject as far as possible in a short time)
  • Spectacles (glasses)

Oxford Dictionary Definition of Mug



1. large cup, typically cylindrical with a handle and used without a saucer:
she picked up her coffee mug

2. INFORMAL A person’s face:
I don’t want to see Barry’s ugly mug when I get home

VERB (mugs, mugging, mugged)

3. [WITH OBJECT] Attack and rob (someone) in a public place:
he was mugged by three men who stole his bike

VERB (mugs, mugging, mugged)

4. [WITH OBJECT] (mug something up) British INFORMAL
Learn or revise a subject as far as possible in a short time:
I’m constantly having to mug up things ahead of teaching them
[NO OBJECT]: we had mugged up on all things Venetian before the start of the course


As you can see mugging (mug up), in the sense of learning and revising, is a legitimate English informal definition. However, this usage is not in common use in the UK.

So if you decide to announce you are “mugging” in England or the USA please explain yourself before someone calls the police.


English words that survived in the United States and not in the United Kingdom


Interestingly this changing and evolving of words happens all the time. A number of words and meanings that originated in England, and are not used any more, are still used in the United States. These include:

  • Fall (autumn)
  • Faucet (tap)
  • Diaper (nappy)
  • Candy (sweets)
  • Skillet (frying pan)
  • Eyeglasses (glasses)

1 Comment

  1. Wo Shi Xiong Mao28/06/2014

    …… i thought the crime rate shot up


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