With English being one of Singapore’s official languages, it is a popular first destination in Asia for people who want to ease themselves into this part of the world. However, local Singaporeans often pepper their conversations with Singlish – a patois influenced by a combination of Singapore’s four official languages and other languages widely spoken across the island.
A Hokkien word that literally translates into ‘kia’, meaning ‘afraid’, and ‘su’, which is ‘lose’. The term in Singlish refers to someone who is scared of losing out on something and can manifest itself as a FOMO-type syndrome, where losing out means not having the same experience as someone else. However, it can also be used for when people think they need to do the same as others; for example, parents signing their kids up for tuition just because their friends are doing the same.
A Hokkien phrase that translates into ‘never invite’; it is a phrase that you’ll often hear, especially among young Singaporeans. For example, imagine in this day of social media when one friend posts something cool they are doing on Facebook; the friends who did not get invited will ask, Bo Jio?
This word is one of those great expressions that has a huge range of meanings based on the tone used. It comes from Tamil and generally means ‘wow!’ Depending on the speaker’s tone, however, it can be used to express surprise, either positive or negative, or irritation.
When you go out to a hawker centre, a Singaporean may ask you to chope a table, and no, they are not looking for you to practise your karate moves. To chope something means to reserve or claim it; in the hawker centres, you can do this by placing a packet of tissues on the table.
This Chinese phrase is used in Malaysia and Taiwan as well as Singapore to refer to a Caucasian or Western foreigner. Once considered to be offensive, it is now used very casually – often in the same way you can refer to someone as being Chinese or Indian.
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Have you eaten oredy?
Seems simple enough, but this phrase is used in much the same way as ‘Hi, how are you?’ It’s very confusing to have people constantly asking if you’ve eaten, but it’s just a polite way to greet someone. ‘Oredy’ is the Singlish pronunciation of ‘already’.
If there’s one thing Singaporeans love, it is being able to do things as quickly as possible, and nowhere is that truer than with Singlish. Just like ‘oredy‘ is the shortened version of already, ‘liddat’, pronounced lie-dat, is the shortened version of ‘like that’.
It is a bit jarring to hear your friends refer to complete strangers as ‘Uncle’ or ‘Auntie’, but this is the respectful way to speak to older people. It is especially useful in a taxi as it alerts the uncle that you’re speaking to him and not just with your friends.