SinGweesh on Wednesday: Goondu

Sep 07, 2016 11.03AM |

by Gwee Li Sui

HOW to call someone a fool in Singlish? Let me count the ways. From England, we last time used to say a lot how someone had a screw loose, like a robot liddat. The phrase appears in Sinhalese too… so maybe got more than one source? We also have “duh”, which isn’t sama-sama with the way angmos say it. It’s not an exclamation, like “It’s so simple – duh!”, but an adjective, like “Ey, you very duh!” Then there’s “stupiak”, which we call someone so kuku that we wish to piak him or her.

From Melayu, there is “bodoh” – which is said by pointing a whole hand at an addressee or rapping his or her forehead. “Bodoh” is an adjective, but, in Singlish, it’s also a noun and a verb. So “That bodoh is our MP” or “Brudder, dun bodoh can?” is fine. “Gila” is another word, and it’s made famous by a classic Malaysian Mad Magazine-inspired humour magazine called Gila-Gila. That publication last time was sibei well-read in Singapore. Even Ah Bengs and Muthus who dunno Melayu read them – because full of cartoons. A gila person can further be called a gila monster, after a type of lizard that’s really not native here one.

From Cheena, I can think of “siow ting tong” – which is only part-Hokkien. “Siow” means mad, but “ting tong” is more the sound of a doorbell than an actual word lah. Dun ask me where the connection is hor. Maybe “ting tong” is to suggest that no one is home in the head or it refers to the Ting and Tong families? (The Tings and Tongs I know aren’t that siow… or maybe just a bit.) There’s also “kukujiao”, which means the cuckoo bird specifically in a cuckoo clock, and it’s a euphemism for a guy’s little brudder. When you’re called a kukujiao, it means you’re sibei cock, which means you’re sibei hopeless intellectually.

And, last but not least, we have from the Tamil the most Singlish of words that mean dumb, “goondu”. “Goondu” is popularised by that grandmother of Singlish,  Ms Sylvia Toh Paik Choo, through the titles of her bestsellers Eh, Goondu! and Lagi Goondu! from the 1980s. (By the way, it’s Paik Choo and not Piak Choo hor. You anyhowly piak-piak, wait later her fans come and piak choo!) But this word has an interesting problem anyone who knows Tamil can tell you: in Tamil, “goondu” means fatso, not dumb-dumb.

Somehow, in the history of our multiculturalism, the use of “goondu” changed radically. It’s probably because “goon” kena understood in the England sense, and so “goondu” became linked to a kukujiao. No wonder foreign Tamils are so confused when they keep hearing Singaporeans call folks of all shapes and sizes goondus! On this note, “goondu” has the advantage of revealing whether a Tamil speaker is a Singaporean or has been here long or not. Say Mama A calls Mama B a goondu, but the latter feels offended for the wrong reason, looking lagi goondu…

At least Tamil words like “aiyoh”, “mama”, “vanakkam”, “thani”, and now “kolaveri” mean roughly the same in Singlish. “Goondu” is distinct from another class of words whose original meanings non-Tamil speakers dunno but frankly should know lah. Its words include “samudera”, which means sea; “thanggam”, which means gold; and “kovan”, which can refer to a herdsman, a king, or even the Hindu Lord Shiva. Ask any Tamil-tidak apa Singaporean what these mean, and you’ll hear LRT and MRT stations… and that’s not wrong. But alamak, sibei goondu leh!


Featured image by Sean Chong.

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