SinGweesh on Wednesday: Steady Poon Pee Pee

Aug 12, 2015 11.00AM |
 

by Gwee Li Sui

BEFORE some ngiao si geena tells me that it’s “steady pom pee pee”, let me make one killer point. Have you noticed that people who say “pom pee pee” also have no idea where this expression came from? Because it’s “poon pee pee” – as in “blow a whistle” in Hokkien – lah! Walao! But I’m happy to go with “steady pom pee pee” if Singlish eventually settles on this form through natural selection… but notchyet. Not when so many Singlish speakers are still saying “poon”.

And, in my head, it was Mark Lee who taught Singapore to shout “steady poon pee pee” back in the late 1990s. Who can double-confirm this nagging suspicion of mine? Normally, Singlish shortens, but here’s one tok kong instance where it actually lengthens. Last time we just said “You damn steady!” or “Steady lah!” and can already. It takes a real genius to show us how “steady” is still not steady enough.

“Steady” doesn’t denote a lot in Singlish. It means confident or promising without all those more objective senses in England. An England speaker may thus call a gradual or constant development steady, but a Singlish speaker means something reassuring. In this sense, what is steady for angmos may well not be for Singaporeans, and terbalik (or tombalik). Ah Huey may be steadily moving up her career ladder, but she may not be steady. Ah Kow may act steady about his love life that isn’t too steady.

Then there’s “poon pee pee”, where “poon” means blow while “pee pee” is onomatopoeic – walao, cheem England word alert! But relak: an onomatopoeia just names something as it sounds like. So, for example, in “Poot you lah!”, the word “poot” names the magic gas from your lobang where the sun doesn’t shine that goes “poot”. “Pee pee” therefore has nothing to do with peeing, and, in Singlish, we dun even say “I go pee pee” lah. It’s “I go she-she” – a more kilat onomatopoeia.

“Poon pee pee”, as this image of hope, comes to us from an entertainment or sporting context. There was a time when members of an audience would blow whistles until they khee hong to show love for a performer or a team or to express how shiok they felt. Yes, that age of gila, ear-pecahing noise pollution was something! I’m not too sure if the gila-ness still goes on, but, the last time I tuned in to a variety show on TV, uncles and aunties were clapping with long balloons. That’s quite considerate hor – but, as far as idioms go, “steady bob bob bob” isn’t very happening.

Joining “steady” with “poon pee pee” succeeds in making a speaker feel song song kao Jurong. The result is so shiok that it absorbs a range of contexts, as when, to show approval, you say “You very steady leh!” or “Steady poon pee pee!” To spur someone on, you say “Steady ha!” or just “Steady poon pee pee!” To express your concern, you say “Steady hor?” or – you guessed it – “Steady poon pee pee!” This idiom is so versatile that it’s not hard to see why it is itself steady poon pee pee. Or pom pee pee. Whatever lah. Not so steady liao leh.

– 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 Whistle by Flickr user Kate Te HaarCC BY-NC 2.0.

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