Top 15 Singlish Phrases to Know Before Visiting Singapore

Top 15 Singlish Phrases to Know Before Visiting Singapore

Want to fit in with the natives? Learn these phrases and wow your way into the hearts of the locals!

Singlish has been a point of interest for many when it comes to learning about Singapore. The culmination of various languages and dialects into a local slang is perhaps something unique only to Singapore, and this might make Singlish seem more challenging than it really is. After all, how many foreigners have been stumped by our ability to draw on multiple languages for a single sentence?

Despite appearing to be complicated, Singlish isn’t as tough as it sounds! Here’s a breakdown of the top 15 Singlish phrases you should know if you do decide to visit Singapore.

1. Shiok

What it means: An expression of pleasure and satisfaction

This is probably a very common slang in Singlish dictionary, and one used quite often. Originally a Malay expression, shiok is often used in a feel-good situation, to express the sense of pleasure or satisfaction over something. As a foreigner, you can use this expression after a particularly satisfying meal.

Example: The chicken rice was super shiok!

2. Kiasu

What it means: Afraid to lose

Hokkien is one of the most prevalent Chinese dialects in Singapore, and this is evidenced by the amount of Hokkien phrases that have snuck its way into the local dictionary. Kiasu is one such example, often used to refer to someone who is being unnecessarily competitive and ambitious. As such, there is a slight negative connotation to this slang. In recent years, it has even been argued that kiasu is a defining characteristic of Singaporeans.

Example: She’s so kiasu that she sends her kids to tuition everyday.

3. Paiseh

What it means: An expression denoting embarrassment

Find yourself in an awkward or embarrassing situation? You are most probably feeling paiseh. The slang, however, goes beyond simply being embarrassed. It can also be used for circumstances in which you’re feeling shy or a little bit shameful. In some occasions, it is even used as a substitute for “excuse me”.

Example: Paiseh, I was late cause got traffic jam.

4. Chope

What it means: To reserve (a seat)

Most noticeably used in hawker centres and food courts, the action of ‘chope-ing’ is often done by leaving a tissue packet, a water bottle, or any other item on the table or seats. So if you see a tissue packet on the table in a hawker centre, you know that those seats are taken. Find another unoccupied table instead!

Example: Help me chope this table, can?

5. Bojio

What it means: To not include someone in a social situation

This is another Hokkien phrase that has found its way into Singlish lexicon. Bo means ‘no’, and jio means ‘invite’, so bojio literally means to not invite someone, whether intentionally or otherwise. This phrase is generally used by the person who wasn’t invited to an event or activity.

Example: Why you bojio me to eat buffet?

6. Buay tahan

What it means: When you cannot tolerate something

A mix of Hokkien and Malay, buay tahan means being unable to withstand or tolerate something. This phrase is a beautiful example to show how the various languages and dialects in Singapore come together to form Singlish as we know today. The word buay comes from Hokkien meaning ‘cannot’, and tahan comes from Malay meaning ‘withstand’, so if someone uses this phrase, you know they are at their limits.

Example: The weather is so hot, I buay tahan.

7. Kena

What it means: To have something unpleasant happen (to someone)

A Malay word denoting that something has happened to someone, kena is often used in unpleasant situations due to the negative connotations that it carries. Any attempt at using it in positive situations would be met with confusion.

Example: I kena detention today because I was late for school.

8. Catch no ball

What it means: To not understand (something)

This interesting slang is a direct English translation from a Hokkien phrase, ‘liak bo kiu’. You can use this phrase whenever someone is saying something you don’t understand.

Example: Just now the lecture, I catch no ball eh.

9. Machiam

What it means: Like; similar to

Yet another slang taken from the Malay language, machiam is the Singlish version of the word ‘macam’. It can be used when comparing two similar things, events or ideas. Although it may seem redundant when in use, it can actually add emphasis to the sentence being spoken.

Example: The cake machiam taste like shit.

10. Confirm plus chop

What it means: To be absolutely sure of something

It isn’t enough to have just a confirmation in Singlish, you need the chop that comes with it too — a reference to the ink stamps and seals companies use on official contracts. Another Singlish phrase with a similar meaning is double confirm.

Example: She didn’t study for the test at all, confirm plus chop going to fail.

11. Atas

What it means: Fancy; high-class

Taking its roots from the Malay word for ‘up’ or ‘upstairs’, atas is usually used to refer to someone or something being high-class and fancy. It can be used to refer to someone snobby, although that may not always the case.

Example: I don’t have the budget to eat at an atas restaurant.

12. Shag

What it means: Tired or exhausted

Not at all what you think it means, shag in Singlish is just another word to express fatigue. Since the same word has a sexual connotation in British colloquialism, this is a handy Singaporean slang to learn to avoid finding yourself in some awkward situations.

Example: I barely slept at all this week, so shag.

13. Kaypoh

What it means: Busybody

You know how those relatives that love to act all interested in your life despite the fact that you only see them and talk to them once a year? Expect questions like “Do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend?” “When are you going to graduate?” “When are you going to get married?” during these family gatherings. There’s a word in Singlish to describe them — kaypoh. Literally Hokkien for ‘old lady’, kaypoh is used to refer to busybodies who love to poke their nose into everything.

Example: He keep asking so many questions, so kaypoh!

14. Blur (like) sotong

What it means: Someone who is dense or ignorant

This is a phrase with an interesting origin story. Combining the English word blur with the Malay word for squid, blur like sotong is used to refer to someone who is rather dense or has trouble catching on to the situation at hand. This phrase is related to the way a squid’s ink would blur its predator’s vision, thus causing confusion. If someone is said to act blur, it means that they are feigning ignorance.

Example: He is really a blur sotong, such a simple thing also cannot do!

15. Sabo

What it means: Sabotage

An abbreviated form of the word ‘sabotage’, sabo in Singapore means to target someone or put them at a disadvantage, often for personal gains. However, unlike ‘sabotage’, sabo can be used in broader situations as well, like when a friend plays a prank on you. Someone who likes to sabotage others often can be referred to as the sabo king.

Example: My sister sabo me to wash the dishes for this week

And there you have it, 15 handy Singlish phrases that you can use to impress the locals. Now that you’re more familiar with the local slang, you’re ready to take on Singapore! Go ahead, have as much fun as you want with your new knowledge!

About Author

Jean Wong
Jean Wong

For someone who's a homebody, Jean sure loves stepping out of her house to travel. When she's not busy exploring quaint towns, she can be found with her nose in a book, sipping on her daily dose of bubble tea.

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