SinGweesh on Wednesday: Cum
by Gwee Li Sui
I GOT converted liao! Now I believe that “cum” should be considered a Singlish word. Why neh? Well, let’s gostan a bit. Some time ago, I was quite aksi about “cum” being England. Must be, right? After all, we learnt it while learning England in school. And all England dictionaries have it, defining it as chum-chum with or combined with from the Latin. So we hear of beds-cum-sofas lah, restaurants-cum-cafés lah, Summa Cum Laude lah…
But the thing is, England also has many words whose meanings change over time leh. Some words go tombalik or terbalik, inverted, such as “egregious”, which once meant sibei good. Now the word means sibei bad, shockingly bad – but why liddat? Same-same with “awful”, which last time meant full of awe one. Now you try to tell your boss that he or she is awful. England also has several words that have grown new distinct layers of meaning over time – like “high”, “wicked”, and “gay”.
Which brings me to the word “cum” and why we must keep up with common use. More and more people are using it to spell “come” – which is, err, semen. “Come” itself comes (cums? blur liao!) from its other sense as verb, meaning to have an orgasm. So we tend to giggle like si geenas when we hear “I come” or “I’m coming”, tio bo? At the same time, the England-speaking world is using “cum” in the Latin sense less and less. It’s not so happening now because something like “and” or “with” can do the trick as well. Yes, England also can streamline one hor!
So to use “cum” as a preposition in our day and age is teruk lah. Any serious England speaker cannot not see its more jialat, hum sup meaning. This use is technically not salah unless we dun use hyphens, which – alamak – we dun. Got some people therefore say that the frequency of a Latin “cum” among us must make it uniquely Singaporean. And, if most Singaporeans use it so often and so innocently, then it’s Singlish, right? Hosay liao, I think these folks have a point.
And it reveals a lot too! First, it shows that all our talk about maintaining standard England has caused our England to go senget, askew from more widely spoken England. And this has occurred ironically because we’re so ngiao about sticking to dictionary meanings! Tell you ha, no one who lives by a Learner’s Oxford or Webster will be less of a blur sotong when it cums (comes?) to what “cum” implies today.
The happy use further shows a susah over-compensation, a wish to sound lagi more England than England speakers. We want to seem more paly-paly with angmo culture but, as a result, appear more stupiak. I mean, what’s wrong with just saying “and” or “with” ha? Why not “Dinner and Variety Show” or “National Day Concert with Prize-Giving Ceremony”? Noo, we have to go create posters that tembak like “Minister’s Opening Cum Dumpling Festival”…
What to do? Singaporeans like to hao lian, and so liddat one lor. We like to sound tua ki and end up sounding tua ki in a cockanathan, goblok way. It’s lagi funny because we actually think it’s double-confirmed Queen’s England! So I open the newspaper and see ads for “receptionists cum secretaries”. I go for a walk and see a RC banner on “Sports Carnival Cum Three on Three Cup”. A real angmo who’s reading will be stressed until lao big sai! Only a kay angmo is la-dee-da about such public messages at odds with an otherwise conservative society.
Featured image by Sean Chong.
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