SinGweesh on Wednesday: Lugi

Aug 17, 2016 11.15AM |

by Gwee Li Sui

OI PEOPLE, the original word is “rugi” hor, which means loss in Malay. But we Singlish speakers always like to anyhow-anyhow one. So “hentam” can become “hum-tum”, and “terbalik” can become “tombalik”. “Steady poon pee pee” becomes “steady pom pee pee”, and “excuse me” becomes “excue me”. “Stupid” becomes “stupiak” – but this one got sense since some people are so stupid we want to piak them.

And I get it: Singlish – like any language – has its own life. It can absorb words from other languages by changing how to spiak them and even what they can mean. Cunning linguists call these loanwords. Melayu has them too, with England “taxi” as “teksi”, Latin “schola” for school as “sekolah”, Portuguese “toahla” for towel as “tuala”, and Hokkien “diam” for shurrup as, well, still “diam”. Cheena took sibei a lot from England. “Bikini” is “bijini”, “salad” is “shala”, and “Coca-Cola” is “keko-kele”, which actually, actually hor, means tasty and happy.

How “rugi” can change into “lugi” may be due to how “lugi” happily got the sound of “lose”. And this Singlish word is sibei old and important because, like “kiasu”, it describes the typical mindset of generations of Singaporeans. In fact, “kiasu” means afraid to lugi, tio bo? We cannot help this type of fear one. Even as private beings, we think all the time in terms of gains and losses as life is short and Singapore is small and, if we dun kapo every random chance to huat, someone hungrier – to use PM Lee’s saying – will steal our lunch!

So bean-counting and advantage-seeking are all become part of our psyche. Angmos dun understand this and think that our chiwren are good at Maths because of our world-crass educational system. No lah! Every born-and-bled Singaporean can count money very well one, what with GST and CPF and Medisave and HDB prices and blah-blah training our minds. From young, Smiley the POSB squirrel had invited us to deposit the one dollar we could have bought two more bowls of kway teow soup with. “You save up your money, you sure won’t lugi!” we learnt – and so our adventure not to lugi in life began.

In fact, despite “lugi” having a clear-cut meaning, its usage is quite specific. You can normally lose anything – personal items, friends, jobs, races, faces – but “lugi” tends to take the monetary sense. Why? Because Singapore. If you lose your iPhone, you dun say you lugi it, corright? You only say you lugi when you have to buy another phone for losing that one. If you witness a car accident, you got lugi meh? Lives may be lost but you neh lugi – unless you the driver, then dun say lah. Yet, you may lugi if you dun hurry up and go buy 4D with that car plate number!

“Lugi” is thus interesting because there’s often no one other than yourself you’re lugi-ing to. When your Ah Lian fashion shop in Bugis has to vacate as you can’t pay the rent, you got lugi to the greedy property owner or the next business moving in? You just say you lugi – and it’s understooded liao! You’re losing the overall sense of what you the kiasu Singaporean deserves in life. Like how those jokers queuing three hours for Hong Kong soya sauce chicken noodles never stop to care about their lost time. But, when they get their spreads of dishes, their one thought besides “Looks good!” is what? “Heng never go restaurant and lugi!”


Featured image by Sean Chong.

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