SinGweesh on Wednesday: Buak Gooyoo

May 11, 2016 11.00AM |

by Gwee Li Sui

A GOOD Singaporean knows all about punishment. When we were young, we kena caned by our parents and, for some, by our principals too – at least during my time lah. During my time, we also kena pulled ears and knuckle-rapped and niam by our teachers. In the army, just for the guys, we kena drop-twenty plus several times of no-count-start-again, run-and-touch-or-kiss-tree-and-come-back, all sorts of gilaness lah. As civilians, we sometimes kena fined for littering, jaywalking, parking without coupon to have breakfast at kopitiam, and so on.

In Singlish, all kinds of punishment for whatever reason can be described with one word: “tekan”. “Tekan” means to be hurt badly and often unfairly, and one can be tekanded physically, verbally, or mentally. By the way, the past participle of “tekan” is “tekanded” because, in Singlish, you must stress the lateness in this form. So it’s “You die”, “You died”, “You dieded”, for example. A physical tekan is when, say, a bully tekans a community cat. (Dun ha, si geenas.) A verbal tekan is like when a boss scolds an employee for being lazy. A teacher can tekan her students mentally by setting a very siong exam paper.

But there is tekan and there is tekan, and “buak gooyoo” takes tekaning to a whole teruk level. While anyone can tekan, not everyone can buak gooyoo, which literally means to spread butter. Technically, only a powderful source can buak gooyoo, and this tends to mean the state or any of its law-enforcing agencies. “Buak gooyoo” is way worse than “lim kopi” or to drink coffee, which just amounts to being called in for a – ahem – conversation. But to kena buak gooyoo implies jialat corporal punishment.

Therefore, if you kena buak gooyoo, it means that you must be guilty of some wrongful act. It also suggests that you’re still kuai lan, go and test your luck with the system despite your guilt, and so tio your just desserts… and I dun mean chendol or pulut hitam hor. Orbigood! There’s definitely in “buak gooyoo” a sense of hubris or over-confidence leading to a downfall. The one on whom gooyoo is buak chochoks too much, is too garang with his or her misbehaviour or rebelliousness, tempts fate. So no wonder he or she kena.

The origin for “buak gooyoo” is unclear, but I’ve heard several accounts. In the guai-guai account, it comes from the England “You’re toast”, which means that you liao liao, habis, finished. So Singlish speakers simply extend this metaphor to spread butter on the toast too. Another account points to the medical treatment you get after kena caned in school or in prison. This kind of caning no joke one, and, after the whacking, your ka chng will bleed, and you cannot sit down for a long time. Antiseptic cream is then applied – and I dun mean Mopiko or Tiger Balm or tea tree oil hor. I mean something stronger like, maybe, Burnol.

Then there’s the RA account. This one says that “buak gooyoo” actually comes from being prepared for getting it from behind. Yes, it’s a reference to male rape in prison. I dunno if this version has arisen from the popularity of crime shows on TV or from actual stories set in Changi, but Lao Bengs like to snigger and claim that it’s the truth. I personally prefer the other two accounts since they sound likelier in the culture of our conservative silent majority. But, what to do, I very innocent one.


Featured image by Sean Chong.

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