Singapore is a melting pot. All Singaporeans are actually third or fourth generation descendants of immigrants from all over the world.
Hence, our language is a unique blend of Mandarin, Malay, Mandarin dialects, English and more.
This Singlish comes very naturally to all Singaporeans, so here are 17 Singlish slangs and how they are used.
1. “Shiok” (shee-ohk)
This is by far the most Singaporean Singlish slang you must know. It comes from Malay which means “pleasing”. It is now used in almost any situation that feels good to the senses, or when you welcome a piece of good news.
How to use “shiok”:
- “That masseuse hit all the right spots, it was so shiok!”
- “On a hot day, having a tub of ice-cream is the most shiok!”
- “Shiok! Tomorrow is a public holiday – I’m going to have a nice break.”
2. “Bojio” (boh jee-oh)
This means “did not invite” – and implies, “Why didn’t you invite me?” Note: The “me” can be omitted and it’s fine.
How to use “bojio”:
- “Your party you bojio, next time I will not jio you as well.”
3. “Jialat” (jee-ah lart)
This is a Hokkien slang meaning literally “the going is tough”. It expresses hopelessness at receiving a piece of bad news, or when one is faced with a difficulty.
How to use “jialat”:
- “Jialat jialat, I forgot to submit that report my boss wants and I’m seeing him later!”
- “She’s in a jialat situation – everyone in the office thinks poorly of her now.”
4. “Walau” (wa la-o)
Originating from Hokkien, it literally means “Oh my dad”. This is an interjection and can be used in almost any situation where someone expresses anger, disbelief or disappointment. It’s the equivalent of “Come on!”, “Seriously?” or “Oh damn…” Take note it can be used in any part of the sentence and still sounds right.
How to use “walau”:
- “Walau, I gave him my share of ice-cream and he didn’t even thank me. What a jerk!”
- “I can’t believe I missed the passing mark by 5 points, walau…”
5. “Liddat one” (lai-det one)
This is a combination of “like” and “that” and has evolved to be used as a verb. It can be most closely translated as “be this way” or “like this/that”, and usually expresses frustration or predictability at someone or something. The “one” at the end is a modifier and has no inherent meaning except to emphasise certainty.
How to use “liddat one”:
- “He’s always liddat one, leaving his dirty laundry all over the floor.” (“This is how he’s always like, leaving his dirty laundry all over the floor.”)
- “I can predict the final scene of this drama series. K-dramas are always liddat one.” (“I can predict the final scene of this drama series – K-dramas are predictable.”)
Singaporeans prize efficiency. Instead of saying “Yes, I can do that.” we figured out that we can say “can!” and convey the same meaning. So why not?
Tip: Any foreigner using “can” the right way will immediately sound Singaporean! It originated from a simple reply to the question, “Can you do this?” – “I can do it.” But now, it is used all the time to simply mean “yes”.
How to use “can”:
- “Please let me know when you’re about to arrive, I’ll go pick you up.”
7. “Kiasu” (kee-ah-soo)
Every true blue Singaporean understands this adjective because she also displays kiasu tendencies. It is a Hokkien phrase meaning “scared to lose” and implies the competitive and FOMO (fear of missing out) nature in us.
How to use “kiasu”:
- “At the Great Singapore Sale, that horde of kiasu shoppers thronged the store like there was no tomorrow!”
- “It is the kiasu mentality that drives every parent to send their children for more enrichment classes outside school hours.”
8. “Suay” (sway)
Unlucky or unfortunate. This origins from the Hokkien dialect meaning “feeble” or “weak”. Today it can be heard from someone who is down on his luck.
How to use “suay”:
- “I stepped into a mud puddle, then a bird pooped in my eye. Today is such a suay day for me!”
9. “Kena” (ker-na)
This is a Malay word. It is added before any verb, meaning “to get _______”. Usually referring to a suay person at the receiving end of something unpleasant.
How to use “kena”:
- “I kena dumped by my girlfriend today…”
10. “Boliao” (boh lee-ow)
Not to be confused with bojio. It is a Hokkien term, meaning “bored” or “boring”. It has more commonly been used in the “nothing better to do” way.
How to use “boliao”:
- “He was so boliao during the Covid-19 season that he started picking up a new language.”
- “Don’t be boliao and laze in bed all day. Go meet some friends!”
11. “Chope” (chope)
This famous Singlish phrase came from “chop” or to leave stamp or a mark. It means making a seat reservation or to mark out a spot which no one else can use.
How to use “chope”:
- “You see that spot under the tree? I’ll chope it with our picnic mat for our picnic!”
- “Quickly, go chope that seat! The lunch crowd is coming.”
12. “Tompang” (tohm-parng)
This is a Malay word literally meaning “to take shelter with”. It is now used to mean hitching a ride, or passing an item to Person A through Person B who is already making his way to Person A.
How to use “tompang”:
- “Hey, I live near you. Can I tompang your car home please?”
- “Since you’re headed to the library, can I tompang you to return these books for me as well?”
13. “Tabao” (ta-bau)
This is a Mandarin saying which means “to put in a packet”. This is widely used while ordering food, and it means to order a “takeway”, or food in general. You tell the stall owner that you would like to tabao your chicken rice.
How to use “tabao”:
- “I didn’t cook today, let’s go and tabao.
14. “Lepak” (lay-park)
Originated from Malay, meaning “slouched”. It now means to relax or to chill.
How to use “lepak”:
- “Shall we go out on the National Day public holiday and lepak somewhere?”
15. “Atas” (ah-tars)
A Malay word, meaning “upstairs”. It means sophisticated or even arrogant. It may be used to describe a place or a person.
How to use “atas”:
- “Let’s go back to that atas restaurant for our anniversary, darling.”
- “I can’t afford to book that atas hotel, let’s find a cheaper one.”
16. “Spoil market”
It literally means to disturb the economy. To perform exceedingly well in an area, such that others look bad.
How to use “spoil market”:
- “Don’t spoil the market please, everyone only has to report 2 ideas to the boss, and you came up with 10?”
Essentially derived from the Cantonese Chinese dialect, “pokkai” refers to being broke.
How to use “pokkai”:
- “I bought the newest iPad Air yesterday, this month pokkai already.”
With rising costs of living, “pokkai” might be a useful word to keep in your back pocket to lament to Singaporeans about how everything is going up: petrol, groceries, food, etc. But one thing you can save on is your telco plan.
How to be less pokkai?
In conjunction with National Day celebrations, new users get $15 off the first month once you sign up for any M1 SIM-only plan. Wait there’s more, PLUS a $5 GrabFood voucher! Promo expires August 31st so don’t miss out!
Happy National Day, Singapore!