If you already know what “Singlish also can?” means, well done!
No? It basically translates to, “Do you also speak Singlish?”
Whether you’re fluent in the local lingo or totally lost, these 4 factoids about Singapore’s other official language are good to know.
Back in 2016, Singapore made headlines when nearly 20 Singlish words were included in the legendary Oxford English Dictionary (OED). Mind you, the phrases weren’t the first to be added to the OED – in 2000, “lah” and “sinseh” graced its online pages, and “kiasu” made it in 2007. The Straits Times quoted Singaporean poet Gwee Li Sui at the time: “The list is quite choobi (cute). I don’t think any Singlish speaker would have made the same selection, but then the heart of the list is meant to be ang moh lah.”
Check out The Finder’s own online crash course in Singlish here!
Sometimes spelled “ang mo”, the term means “red hair” in Hokkien. It refers to “a light-skinned person, especially of Western origin or descent; a Caucasian”, per the OED. For expats who fit this description, don’t automatically assume the phrase is a racial slur. Today, it’s usually considered a neutral term. How to use it: “Will I be the only ang moh there?”
“Lah can be used for cursing or assurances,” explained The Finder’s former intern and current world traveller Joshua Tan in a 2017 story. “If you use it at the end of every sentence, you show no mastery of Singlish. So, pick your moments.” Correct usage: “Get lost, lah!” or “Come on, lah, join us for drinks.”
Lor is similar to lah, he continued, but has a more resigned tone. (See some examples of how to use it in the following slides.) Last, using leh at the end of a sentence is an effective way of getting agreement to your requests. Try this: “Let me go first, leh.”
Why does knowing the difference between Singlish and Standard English matter? The British Council can help you figure that out with its fun one-day “Singlish to English” workshops ($668.75). Check the site for upcoming dates. Or, brush up in private with the cheesy-but-instructive Yahoo TV show “Singlish with Uncle Gwee”.
Try these Singlish terms some of our team members love to say!
Can “It’s so definitive. Why waste time saying ‘can-do’?” – Tara Barker, Group Editor
Aiyo, bojio?! “It shows annoyance, because ‘why no invitation to’… usually something fun.” – Patricia Ong, Marketing Head
Shiok! “Great satisfaction simply oozes from the word. Think ‘Shake Shack burgers are super shiok!’” – Eileen Chia, Publisher
Okay lor “It’s irreverent. I use it in my messages for expressing agreement with a sense of resistance.” – Christopher Ong Ujine, Contributing Sub-Editor
Just nice “I like how Singaporeans say it – with such satisfaction – when something fits or works out perfectly.” – Sara Lyle Bow, Editor-in-Chief
Anything lor “It’s handy to use for days when I’m tired of making choices.” – Loy Sze Jin, Senior Designer
Paiseh “It’s a Hokkien way of saying ‘sorry’. ‘Sorry lor. Very paiseh, okay?’ means I am unable to or cannot do so, and am really apologetic.” – Jasmine Kok, Advertising Manager
Wah lau! “It is one of the most adaptable and expressive local phrases that can convey: agony to ecstasy; jealousy to disbelief; surprise to disgust.” – Geoff Tan, Managing Director
By Sara Lyle Bow, The Finder Issue 300
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