Singlish, as it is known worldwide, is a language influenced by English, Malay and Chinese dialects such as Hokkien, Teochew and Cantonese. It might be hard to catch it at first but once you get the hang of it, it will roll off your tongue naturally!
Kiam: (ki-yam) Hokkien for “salt”. Usually used to refer to a stingy person.
Example: “My boss is so kiam; he said he won’t increase our salaries this year.”
Gostan: (go-stun) A Malay twist on the nautical phrase “go astern”, which means to reverse or move backwards. Often used as a verb.
Example: “If you gostan your car any further, you’re going to hit the lamppost.”
Paiseh: (Pah-ee say) Derived from Hokkien, meaning shy, embarrassing or “to have a sense of shame”.
Example: “I think it’s really paiseh for a guy to be seen driving around in a pink car covered with Hello Kitty stickers.”
Chim: (Cheem) Origins unclear but probably Hokkien. Means intellectual or profound, sometimes also used with a condescending tone.
Example: “What is this professor talking about? He’s too chim, I don’t understand him at all.”
Goondu: (Goon-doo) Derived from a mix of Malay and Tamil for “nut” and “fat”, means idiotic in local context. Indirectly used to suggest a person is stupid.
Example: “Please don’t trust him with that project, he’s a goondu and will probably screw it up.”
Chiong: (Che-ong) Slight variation of the Hokkien word for “hurry up”. Means charge or attack in local context.
Example: “There’s so much work to do done, I’m going to have to burn the midnight oil and chiong all the way!”
Kiasu: (Kia-soo) Literal translation from Hokkien to mean “afraid of losing out”. Usually implies negative qualities and rude behaviour.
Example: “Look at that kiasu man running for the Friday drinks trolley.”
Alamak: (Ah-laaa-mak) Possibly derived from Malay. Used as an exclamation to express dismay, shock or surprise.
Example: “Alamak! I totally forgot to the boss was in town this week!”
Agak-agak: (ah-gah ah-gah) Malay term. Means “an estimate” or “just about there”
Example: “There are no hard and fast rules to this friendly match, it’s all just agak-agak.’
Buay tahan: (beh tah-han) Derived from Hokkien and Malay to mean “can’t stand” or “can’t endure”. Often used in dire situations or as an exaggeration.
Example: “I buay tahan the boss’s jokes anymore.”
Atas: (Ah-tas) Derived from the Malay word for “upstairs”, often used to describe someone with high standards and class.
Example: “Ben will never want to eat at that hawker centre, he is too atas for that place!”
Siao: (Si-ow) Hokkien for “crazy” or “insane”, used most frequently as an exclamation whenever a situation has gone wrong.
Example: “Oh my god, I just saw that man jump straight into Singapore River, so siao!’
Still puzzled? Check out app Hosay! which has some seriously funny Singlish phrases (it does swear words out loud and everything).