SinGweesh on Wednesday: Anyhowly

Aug 05, 2015 11.00AM |

by Gwee Li Sui

“ANYHOWLY” is a rather recent Singlish permutation of the word “anyhow”. It has the same meaning as “anyhow” and conveys the same sense of acting blurly or randomly as “anyhow”. It can be used in the same adverbial way as “anyhow”. So you may ask: if a word looks and sounds like another word and has the same meaning and use as that word, why the fiak did Singlish speakers even go and make it up? For what?

You steady poon pee pee! Here’s a good time for me to share about one way Singlish typically develops. To be sure, “anyhow” is a very tok kong word for the Singaporean mind, which is stuck between a love of freedom and a fear of chaos. It’s like God made this word for us. But, when any term gets used a lot by many people, what is known as Gwee’s First Law of Singlish Dynamics kicks in. This law states that a frequently employed expression tends towards a rhyme.

The history of “anyhow” proves this lor. Other than its regular form, Singlish also uses a number of its own versions, the oldest being “any-o-how”. This phrase follows the England “any old how” or “any old way”. If you dun hear it as much nowadays, it’s because your Ah Peks and Ah Mahs, who have lived through the British colonial era, are its main users. I think that even Ah Kong used it before, but I need to double confirm with some Ah Kong expert – like the people at the Ah Kong School of Public Policy – first.

Soon after, two other forms came into play: “anyhow whack” and “anyhow pong”. These terms are an improvement because they buang the whole need to remember and name the action verb itself. So, instead of saying “Dun vote anyhow!” or “Dun any-o-how vote!”, you just say “Dun anyhow whack!’ or “Dun anyhow pong!” If the context is clear, the meaning is automatically clear. “Whack” and “pong” are generic action words in Singlish although the meaning of “whack” is more obvious. “Pong” actually comes from the mahjong game, where a player forms a pong by grabbing four three (Editor’s Note: Gwee Li Sui apologises for not knowing how to play mahjong and so do we) identical tiles and shouts “Pong!” Anyone who anyhow pong is damn one kind.

Then “anyhow” evolved further! “Anyhow-anyhow” as construction is lagi best as it dispenses with not just a precise verb but a verb altogether. Song bo? But note first how Gwee’s First Law of Singlish Dynamics has already crept in, with a rhyme appearing. Also note how, while “anyhow-anyhow” is super-irregular, it shows awareness in a way the earlier forms dun. “Anyhow-anyhow” is careless – in having two adverbs with no verb and the same adverb twice – and so highlights that “anyhow” is about carelessness! It becomes what “anyhow” means.

Do you see how self-consciously Singlish incorporates humour yet? People who dun geddit can go on and on studying Singlish for this linguistic influence and that linguistic influence and wholly miss the point. Singlish is a constructed language in the most kilat sense: it’s not no-brain one. If a wordplay feels shiok, we will sure use it more and more, arm chio in the knowledge that we may be abusing a word but our version is better. All this becomes part of Singlish at some point.

So it is that we arrive at Gwee’s Second Law of Singlish Dynamics, which states that a frequently used expression tends towards humour. In “anyhowly”, “anyhow” has found its most compact rhyming form; this use is also its most complex, if not undecided, since it can be constructed with a verb and without one. But nemmind: we mustn’t miss the pure Singlish shiokness that’s here. It’s in the joke that “anyhowly” has improved on “anyhow” – by making an adverb look lagi like an adverb.


– Gwee Li Sui is a poet, a graphic novelist, and a lite-ra-rary critic who also likes to talk cock sing song. This is a weekly series.



Featured image pockets hole or zip? by Flickr user s2artCC BY-NC 2.0.

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