11 Singaporean Slang Words You Must Know & What They Mean

Jehanne Teo
By Jehanne Teo May 27, 2016

Oh, Singlish is a real head scratcher. Whether you’re in Singapore for a holiday or you’ve just moved here for a job, this seemingly mumble jumble of sounds they call a language is going to confuse you. Our Malaysian friends may be able to relate to some, though.

If you’re still clueless at this point, Singlish is the local lingo in Singapore. It’s a fabulous concoction of English, Mandarin, Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese, Malay and Tamil, and a true reflection of Singapore’s multicultural society.

You might hate it or love it, but you’re going to have to understand it when you’re in Singapore. We’ve gathered some of the most commonly used Singlish words and phrases, followed by how to use them:

 

1. Lah/Leh/Mah

Orchard Road in Singapore (Credit: Shutterstock)

Translation:

Singaporeans like to add these words as a suffix to their sentence as a way to add emphasis. They can be used interchangeably, and really do not translate to English (we’ve thought hard about this!).

How to use it in a situation:

Vanessa: Hi, excuse me, how do I get to Orchard Road?

Nick: Just turn left here and walk straight. Not that difficult lah, just follow the signs.

 

2. Wah lau/Wah piang

Wah lau! (Credit: Shutterstock)

Translation: Oh my gosh!

While it doesn’t literally translate to “Oh my gosh!”, it’s used more of an expression of shock. You can use either expression as they both have the same meaning.

How to use it in a situation:

Shane: I had to rush to the airport, so I booked an Uber even though it had a surge pricing of 2.0x. It came up to S$70 when I finally reached my destination.

Rachel: Wah lau! So expensive!

 

3. Siao

Credit: Andrey Armyagov / Shutterstock.com

Credit: Andrey Armyagov / Shutterstock.com

Translation: Crazy/Insane

This is usually used as a sarcastic reply when someone proclaims they’re going to attempt an impossible task or does something stupid.

How to use it in a situation:

Michelle: Last night, I was so hungry that I ate three bowls of rice and a McDonald’s meal.

Ryan: You siao ah?

 

4. Chope

Credit: Shutterstock

Credit: Shutterstock

Translation: Reserve

Commonly used in a setting such as an eatery, chope is also the action of placing tissue packets on tables in hawker centers as an informal reservation.

How to use it in a situation:

Lisa: Have you got a table in Maxwell Food Center?

Tom: I’ve choped (past tense) the table with my tissue packet, so we can order our food now.

(Yes, slangs incorporate tenses too!)

 

5. Makan

Friends always makan together. (Credit: Shutterstock)

Friends always makan together. (Credit: Shutterstock)

Translation: Eat

This Malay word, which means eat, is also used very commonly in Singlish.

How to use it in a situation:

Sarah: Have you makan yet?

Adam: No, I was waiting for you so we can have lunch together.

 

6. Kena

Credit: Shutterstock

Translation: Affected by, got hit by

This word has a negative connotation, and is usually used when one is complaining about something that happened to them.

How to use it in a situation:

Cheryl: How was your trip?

Dennis: I didn’t see much. On my first day there, I kena the flu.

 

7. Kiasu

Credit: Shutterstock

Credit: Shutterstock

Translation: Afraid to lose

This word is not used exclusively in competition-type settings, but in every context imaginable, whether it’s queueing to enter the train (the MRT) or getting to a destination on time. Singaporeans do consider themselves (and others think we are, too) to be a kiasu bunch.

 

How to use it in a situation:

Lydia: Our coach departs at 9:00 a.m,, so I suggest that we should leave the house at 6:00 a.m.

Paul: 6:00 a.m.! The coach is 15 minutes away! Don’t be so kiasu lah!

 

8. Blur

Blur face (Credit: Shutterstock)

Blur face (Credit: Shutterstock)

Translation: Characteristic of a person who is confused or slow to catch on

Blur is one of the Singlish words that have more than one meaning. It can also be used in phrases, such as “act blur” and “blur like sotong”.

How to use it in a situation:

Christabel: Is Marina Bay Sands a hotel or a casino?

Tiffany: Wah lau, why you so blur? It’s a hotel and casino! Everyone also knows lah.

 

9. Shiok

Yummy! (Credit: Shutterstock)

Yummy! (Credit: Shutterstock)

Translation: Delightful

Used typically to describe dishes, this Malay slang word can also be used to describe one’s feelings of excitement, or of anything that pleases them.

How to use it in a situation:

Peter: Have you tried Katong laksa?

Mandy: Yeah, it was so shiok!

 

10. Sian

Credit: Shutterstock

Translation: Bored, or fed up

Here’s another word that has two meanings, and really comes in handy for situations where you’re really bored and fed up—like when you’re waiting for your flight that has been delayed.

How to use it in a situation:

Danny: The queue for the taxi is so long! So sian!

Diana: Why don’t we take the bus?

Danny: Yes, please!

 

11. Angmoh

Credit: Shutterstock

Credit: Shutterstock

Translation: Describing Westerners, who typically have fairer complexion

While there are many ethnicities in the Western word, angmoh generally covers any fairer skinned individuals, and is generally not meant to be offensive.

How to use it in a situation:

Lilian: Oh my gosh, did you see that angmoh? He’s so handsome!

John: Which one?

 

More Tips and Advice:

  • Don’t be surprised when a sentence seems muddled up. Sometimes Singlish sentences are a literal translation from another language. A good example is, “You eat already?” This actually means, “Have you eaten?”
  • Singlish is also about cutting down on sentences by using short-form. Here’s a conversation where this can happen:

           Jacky: The movie that day good ah? (Translation: Did you like the movie we watched the other day?)

           Anna: Yeah, good hor? (Translation: I know right? I loved it!)

  • Some English words sound very different when used in Singlish context. For example, the word “already” is pronounced “oh-ready”.