I often think that it would be hard to express myself without a single word of Singlish. When I try to speak ‘proper English’ and replace those words, somehow, the precise meaning is lost. Also the whole situation becomes more formal and not as fun. Singlish is often used among very close family or friends and especially when we are joking around with each other. We often code switch between Standard English and Singlish depending on whom we’re speaking to and the situation.
Here are 10 expressions that I realize I use alot and my attempt at explanations. I have given very specific descriptions based mostly on how I use them though:
1. Atas: Can be used to diss people or establishments like posh restaurants
Singlish: You only like going to atas places like P S Cafe.
English: You only like going to expensive + posh + snooty places
2. Swakoo: To diss someone or yourself
Singlish: I’m very swakoo la. I didn’t know that Duxton Hill had such a cool bookstore.
English: I’ve been holed up at home for far too long. I have lost touch with what is hip or trendy. I didn’t know that place existed.
3. Kancheong: To express your annoyance
Singlish: Don’t be so kancheong la. We only need to be there at 6.30 pm.
English: Don’t be so annoyingly jittery and anxious. You’re getting me all stressed up in the process.
4. Kiasu – usually used to diss myself or others for exhibiting nerdy, want to be first, don’t wanna lose out behaviour
Singlish: Aiyo. So kiasu. These tuition centres only want to make money
English: Aiyo. So embarrassingly and unncessarily hot housing children which I think will backfire as it only promotes memorization and exam skills.
5. Paiseh: can be used in many situtations. Usually said in situations where you don’t want to trouble the other person out of courtesy.
Singlish: You ask. I don’t want to ask. Paiseh la.
English: It’s so embarrassing and not too nice to impose on them and ask.
6. Malu (Very similar meaning to Paiseh but the root word is Malay and not Hokkien)
Singlish: So Malu. I had my zipper open the whole time and I didn’t know.
English: So embarrassing that I won’t be able to face those people.
7. Kiam Chye – it’s actually a preserved vegetable. The word is used to express distaste or to scold.
Singlish: You treat your books like Kiam Chye.
English: You treat your books like garbage. They are in a terrible state.
8. Ketok – Used to laugh at someone’s misfortune when they paid more than they should and didn’t bargain very well.
Singlish: You paid S$50 for one durian? You Kena Ketok. It’s not even real Mao Shan Wang.
English: You paid S$5o for the durian? You just got hoodwinked and cheated. It’s not even the top grade durian.
9. Sian – used to express how lousy you feel
Singlish: Not another crowded mall? I feel so sian.
English: Uggh. I loathe them. They make me feel worst than bored. It’s such a drag.
10. Kaypoh – To scold someone in order to discourage that behaviour
Singlish: Aiyo. Don’t stare la. Don’t be so kaypoh.
English: Oh dear. Will you stop staring. It’s so obvious that you’re being nosy.
And I always say ya instead of yes.
Just my rojak (jumbled up and disorganized) attempt at explaining some Singlish to my expat friends who may have picked it up already and not even know it. Especially if you’ve been here for more than a year.
The Happeepill video above explains paiseh so well. You must go check out the rest of the videos of this talented artist.