SinGweesh on Wednesday: Catch No Ball

Jun 15, 2016 11.00AM |

by Gwee Li Sui 

HOW come Singlish got so many ways of calling someone clueless one ha? Cluelessness got so teruk among us Singaporeans meh? Look, there is “blur”, which only means unclear in England, and, from it, we have “blur king”, which we use to crown anyone who’s blur all the time. Then we have the simile “blur like sotong”, which even the wonderful and powderful Ho Ching knows wor! Sotongs are squids – but I dunno why they’re considered blur when science says they sibei smart. Maybe it’s because they swim like not very steady one?

An older generation will know “mong char char”, which is from the Cantonese and can be simplified as “MCC”. “Mong char char” also means blur – surplise! Then there’s my own favourite, the beautiful term “gabra”, which can function as both adjective and verb. To gabra is to act out of blurness and, in the process, manifest panic. So someone who gabras doesn’t know what to do and panics and, by panicking, becomes lagi blur. When you always gabra, responding poorly out of blurness, you’ll be crowned – what else? – a gabra king.

Next we have “kelam kabut” and “kalang kabut”, slightly more complex since these draw on a metaphor. In Malay, “kelam” means murky and “kalang” means dark or unclear while “kabut” means fog. So the two expressions have agak-agak not just the same sound but also the same meaning as fogginess. It becomes quite hard to tell which one actually came first. But no matter lah: to kelam kabut or to kalang kabut is sama-sama about scrambling amidst confusion or chaos. As adjectives, they point to being a gabra sotong itself.

And finally there’s “catch no ball”, which leaves many still somewhat clueless about its origin. “Catch no ball” may be from the Hokkien “liak bo kiew”, but what is this kiew, this ball, that hasn’t been liaked? It’s certainly not related to the “balls” in “bang balls” and “carry balls”, which refer to – errr, RA warning! – testicles. So to bang balls means to be sibei frus or full of kolaveri when things dun work in your favour. To carry balls is same-same but different: this time, you’re carrying someone else’s testicles (metaphorically) to get in his or her favour. It’s from “angkat bola” in Malay, but you have to work out for yourself why powderful folks need to have their family jewels lifted hor.

So the ball in “catch no ball” is presumably just the normal one in like basketball or netball or volleyball or sepak tekraw or what-have-you. These games involve players seeking to intercept a single ball throughout. To be unable to catch a ball therefore means that you’re not steady at all or not in sync with the game lah. Gasak-gasak a bit, and to catch no ball can suggest that you’re unable to get a meaning, dunno what’s going on. But this connection no guarantee one and is I anyhow guessbag hor! When you cannot understand someone, you may say, “What talking you? I catch no ball.” When some arty-farty show gets too cheem, you may hear, “Ey, catch no ball!”

I connect this expression to ball games because, unlike geenas today, last-time Singaporeans very sporty one. We used to invent and play several simple games, the most notorious of which was something called hantum bola. Hantum bola is very shiok but very painful to play lah. Basically, you take a tennis ball and whack someone with it. The victim groans “Aiyoh! Aiyoh!” and then takes the ball and whacks someone else. This all goes on until recess is over. Sounds fun or not? What – catch no ball? Gabra, kalang kabut? Blur? Aiyah, you geenas today are just too kuniang to appreciate.


Featured image by Sean Chong.

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