17 Singlish words that offer so much more than their English equivalents

Singlish may just be Singaporeans' proudest invention

By Jonathan Lim | June 23, 2014

Singlish is awesome. It’s efficient in two ways. First, it cuts down on unnecessary words and platitudes. Second, one Singlish word can have multiple meanings and it takes a full sentence in English to express the same thing.

Here are 17 Singlish terms that we love to use either because of its versatility or its richness in meaning:


1. Shiok

Ecstasy? Delicious? Pleasurable? How about just Shiok.


2. Cheem

Difficult? Confounding? Confusing? Complex? Perplexing? Bewildering? Cheem or cheemanology can replace all of those. You know what’s cheem? Our CPF is cheem.


3. Jialat


Deep shit? Tiring? Arduous? In trouble? Something’s very bad? Life is hard? All very jialat. Like the weather, it’s quite jialat nowadays.


4. Abuthen

Ask stupid questions and you get stupid answers. Sometimes you just get an ‘abuthen?’


5. Agaration

 How much salt to put into your cooking? Agar agar. Nothing is more inaccurate yet precise than agaration.


6. Hoot

Hoot can mean beat, buy or bet.

“Don’t piss me off! If not I will hoot you then you know”

“Did you go to the shopping centre? What did you hoot?”

“Tonights match between Holland and Chile, which team will you hoot?”


7. Basket

The British use it as a euphemism for ‘bastard’. We use it as a substitute for ‘bastard’, ‘shit’ and ‘crap’.


8. Cannot make it

cannot make it

Not up to the task, utterly useless, not bound for success, unable to attend. All cannot make it.


9. Corright

Righter than right. Corright or corwrong?


10. I don’t know you / How I know you

Instead of “How should I know why you 1) choose to be such an idiot; 2) did not listen to me  in the first place; 3)took a wrong turn”, you can just use “I don’t know you” or “How I know you” which is quicker, less confrontational, and can be used for limitless scenarios to push blame.


11. Earlier never say / Never say earlier

The perfect come back line for people who like to give 20/20 hindsight comments or horse-behind-cannon remarks.


12. Yaya Papaya

When conceited, proud, arrogant just does not quite adequately describe that person, you can always call them yaya papaya and people will understand.


13. Talk cock

Some smart alec will say ‘There is a perfect equivalent in English! It’s ‘bullshit’. It’s shorter too.” Can you use ‘bullshit’ the same way when you say “Going out to talk cock and sing song with my army buddies”? You don’t talk cock la you.


14. Steady

It could just mean yes, or it could be awesome. It could even mean asking someone to be your girlfriend/boyfriend.


15. Ponteng

Skip school? That’s playing truant. Skip work? That’s called skiving. Skip ICT? That’s called AWOL. Or for Singaporeans it’s just ponteng school, ponteng work, ponteng reservist.


16. Your head

I have no idea how to explain this. Just…. your head ah!


17. Han nah / Yah lah

When someone nags you too much, this is the best response to get them off your back. The more Han Nahs / Yah Lahs the more irritated you are.


Bonus articles:

12 classic lines your parents used to scream at you
11 words usually mangled by Singaporeans
14 things we used to say to our parents as spoilt kids


Good stuff cannot bluff:

15 things you will miss once you are done with polytechnic, university

10 things we loved as kids but are now too old to enjoy

10 things you do which you thought were weird/disgusting, but you’re not alone


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About Jonathan Lim

Jonathan Lim wrote about friskiness in his Yahoo! News column, mishandles the 3rd most overrated website in Singapore and can pronounce “tchotchke”.

Don’t follow him. He’s not Jesus.

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