Ken Lyen's Home
About
Ken's Links
Hakkas
London Revisited 2000
Letter from London 2006
Singapore Musical Theatre
Making the Grade
Exodus
Other
Writing Musicals
Musicals from Movies
Fred Ebb
The Story of Chess
Mama Mia
Bad Vibrations
Chestnuts 2003
Chestnuts 2004
Chestnuts 2005
Incubating New Musicals
List of Musicals on Film
Is Musical Theatre Dead?
Is Classical Music Dead?
Is Poetry Dead?
Why Read Poetry?
Etymology
New Words
Cull
Nothing's Wrong
Hippie Dictionary
Singlish Dictionary
Blog Dictionary
Best of the Best
English Spoke
Bilingualism
Reading in Decline
Too Many Books
Magic of Reading
Pablo Neruda
Graphic Novels
Writers Bar
Lost For Words
Encyclopedia Wars
Library in Cyberspace
The Bridge
Growing A Film Industry
Critics
Great Levellers
Rote Rites and Rongs
Beautiful Minds
Intelligence
Creativity
Create Talented Individuals?
Rise of the Creative Class
Perchance to Dream
Children's EQ
Gifted Education
Gifted Children
Mozart Effect
Confucius and Multiple Intelligences
Predicting Your Future
Mistyping Personality
Messy Homes
Does Age Matter?
Too Young for Philosophy?
Philosopher for Hire
Deconstructing Derrida
University Quotas
Ranking Universities
University Ranking Continued
The Future of Universities
If Thine Eye Offends Thee
If It Ain't Broke
New Exams for Old!
Too Many Test
The Sincerest Form of Flattery
Childhood Memories
Voluntarism
Signs of Success
Follow Your Dreams
First Impressions
Handphone Etiquette
Handphones Silenced
Nanotechnology
Apple Of My i
Sex and the Media
The Greeks
Geographic Clangers
Domino Theory
Hello Kitty
Heels on Wheels
What a Racket!
Potty Training
Skip to the Loo
Corporal Punishment
Is Modern Art Rubbish?
Mona Lisa Grins
Vermeer
Sunday in the Park
Vision and Art
Fake
Gmail
Spam Glorious Spam!
Humble Pie
Sour Grapes?
Murphy's Law Calculator
Perfect Search
False Logic
Noah's Ark
Who Discovered America?
Palaces of Dictators
Queues
Backup
Joys of Stress
Games Academics Play
Virtual Reality Treatmemt
Autism
Autistic Underconnectivity
Asperger Syndrome
Pay Attention!
Attention Deficit
Dyslexia
Speech Delay
Almost Normal
Prozac Nation
Gilles de la Tourette
Singapore Medicine
Ignorance
Virtual Dissection
War Against Malaria
Into the Frying Pan
Back to Methuselah
Poetic Medicine
Cigarettes
Far Eastern Economic Review
History of the Singapore Musical
My Research
Singapore Idle
Best Countries
Brain Drain
Greatest Happiness
Remaking Singapore
Singapore Nobel Prize
Singapore MRT Map
National Day
Caste System
Doctors' Fees
Leadership and Teambuilding
Doctor Do-Much
Interview
Play it Again, Doc
A Dose of Music
Prescription for the Heart
Multiple Personality
Sayang
Fly By Night
Muggle
Rape of Nanking
Iris Chang
Anne Frank
Angela's Ashes
The Notebook
Hollywood Insider
Fahrenheit 9/11 Pirates
The Front
The Barbarian Invasions
Les Choristes
The Return
Road Home
Shower
2046
Farewell My Concubine
So You Want to be a Nurse
Roulette
Fences
School House Rockz
Makan Place
e-mail me

Singlish Dictionary


 

The Coxford Singlish Dictionary

by Kenneth Lyen

The Coxford Singlish Dictionary may not be as big or as well-known as The Oxford English Dictionary, but to Singaporeans, it is probably the most authoritative dictionary of Singapore English (Singlish). Like the Oxford English Dictionary, it depends on the tireless contributions of myriads of volunteers who comb through Singapore in search of this peculiar deviation, or as some unkind person once remarked, pollution of the Queen’s English. Singlish is actually an amalgamation of English and a local dialect (Hokkien, Cantonese, Malay or Indian).

Simon Winchester, in his book about the making of The Oxford English Dictionary, The Meaning of Everything, remarked that the difference between this dictionary and other European dictionaries of the same era, is that it is not prescriptive but rather descriptive. The Oxford English Dictionary is not a rulebook to restrict English to be used "correctly". Rather, it is like a photograph of the English words as they have been used throughout the ages. Hence it does not ossify the English language and allow it to be buried in the geological sediments of fossilised languages. Instead it allows English to live, to breathe, and to fatten itself by consuming words from other countries and from new technologies.

Sadly, Singlish has been sounded the death knell by the Singapore Government. It has been outlawed from all official publications and broadcasting. Writers, filmmakers and teachers are discouraged from using it. Hence given time and a poisoned attitude, it will die an unnatural death.

But before it goes into its terminal convulsions, let me tell about some unique Singlish words, which I find hard to translate into any other language. They include:

CHEEM: Hokkien term meaning something is profound or deep or intellectual.
"You study philosophy? Wah lao, damn cheem, man!"  [Actually the term "cheem" is used with an admiring yet simultaneously condescending attitude.]

CHEEMINOLOGY: A hybrid English-Hokkien word meaning that something is written in an intellectual or bombastic fashion, such that it is completely incomprehensible.
"Eh, when you write essay that time, can cut down on the cheeminology or not?"

KENA: A Malay term which denotes that something has happened. Closest English approximation is "to get".
1. "He kena scolded by the teacher." (He was scolded by the teacher.)
2. "He kena whack by Ah Beng." (He got hit by Ah Beng.)

KENA SAI: A happy marriage of Malay and Chinese meaning to get into trouble. Literally, "got hit by shit.""He didn't do his homework, so kena sai from the teacher."   [I love this phrase! I can smell and feel the shit!]

KIASU (kee-ah-soo): Hokkien adjective literally meaning, "afraid of losing". A highly pejorative description beloved of Singaporeans. Possibly our defining national characteristic. The nearest English equivalent is "dog in a manger", though even that is pretty mild.
"You went to get a handicapped sticker just to chope a parking space? How kiasu can you get?" [This word is now incorporated into one of the prestigious English dictionaries... I can’t remember which one, but obviously one that I would automatically rate as superior].

SAYANG
Malay for "love", it is used in most Singlish contexts in the same way as "what a pity".
"I see them throw away so much food, I always feel damn sayang like that."  [Actually this word is used more frequently referring to the love of an adult for a young child, or as an indication of regret.]

SHIOK
Originally a Malay exclamation, but now a universal Singaporean expression denoting extreme pleasure or the highest quality.
1. "This char kway teow is damn shiok, man!"
2. "I ate the char kway teow until damn shiok."  [I like this word because it is usually spoken by someone who is pretending to be a connoisseur trying to praise something but in so doing betrays the humble origins of that person.]

SIAN (see-en)
A wonderfully concise Hokkien adjective which conveys boredom, weariness, frustration and emptiness. The English equivalent would be "ennui".
1. "My job is damn sian, man."
2. "Wah lau eh, I do A-maths, do until sian oreddy."  [It is slightly more than "ennui" in that there is a bit more of an irritation embedded in the word. It is like when you have absolutely nothing to do, but annoyed that you are trapped in such a situation.]

These are examples of a few of the many wonderful words in Singlish that cannot be captured by any other language. If language is a tool for communication, and Singlish can enhance that communication, as well as enriching the thoughts of Singaporeans, then it should be preserved rather than destroyed by our bureaucrats.

Please visit the Talking Cock website and support our endangered Singlish by purchasing a copy of the Coxford Singlish Dictionary:

http://www.talkingcock.com/