SinGweesh on Wednesday: KNN
by Gwee Li Sui
LET’S talk about abbreviations in Singlish can? Singaporeans sibei love to abbreviate one. We would tell foreigners about MRT and COE and PSLE and NDP and MC (yea, MC also!) like they knew what we were saying or cared. Our NS boys would impress chabors with talk of IPPT, 5BX, Pes A, Attend B, PC, OC, OO, MO, NCO, SBO, OCS, POP, ORD or last time ROD, etc. – like they knew what they were saying or cared.
The most obvious reason to abbreviate is to shorten a phrase. It’s why one of Singlish’s oldest forms involves complex ethnic categories that sabo our Gahmen’s CMIO model. Peranakans were last time called OCBC, which doesn’t stand for Overseas Chinese Banking Corporation hor – although its first chairman was indeed Baba. It’s for “orang cina bukan cina”, or “Chinese but not Chinese” in Malay. Needless to add, “cheena”, which we hear a lot these days, isn’t a made-up pronunciation to mock Chinese people; it comes from “cina” in Malay.
From the late 1980s, “ABC” started to pop up because we were encountering several on our island – to our excitement. ABCs, which refer to American-born Chinese, are also OCBC in a way, but, in view of Hollywood and global Yankee power, many wanted to speak and act like swaggy ABCs. The pretenders who then despised Singaporeanness are called kay angmos, clustered with an older generation of kay angmos who mimicked the British. From the 2000s, we have… “PRC”! “PRC” stands for “People’s Republic of China” and is used on the new mainland Chinese who have come to live among us too, like the ABCs before.
Now, kawan-kawan, “ABC” shouldn’t be confused with “ACBC”, which just means “act cute, buay cute”. More than in the previous set of abbreviations, the set to which “ACBC” belongs is used in a personal, and often bitchy, context. It’s kinda a code shared between persons A and B to mock person C – which, even if C hears and understands, is recognised as a means to exclude C. So, say, when some student manjas a teacher in hope of a good grade, another student can blurt out loudly: “ACBC!”
“NFFFFN” is also a Singlish code and tends to be used by NS boys when they’re let out to lepak in their civvies. They may go squat along Orchard Road to ogle, and when someone seemingly hot appears on their radars, they get happy like bird. (Poor things!) On occasions when the happiness fizzles out up-close, they remark “NFFFFN” – that is to say, “nice from far, far from nice”. Then there’s “O$P$”, which I think every Singaporean knows since it’s a highly influential HDB installation artwork. Scrawled often in blood red on doors or walls by Ah Beng loan sharks – our very own Banksy – and sometimes presented with a pig’s head, it means “owe money, pay money”.
At long last we come to “KNN” – one of today’s popular abbreviations – which belongs to a third category: Singlish profanities. “KNN” stands for “k*n n* n*” in Hokkien and refers to doing something unprintable to someone’s lao bu. It’s itself a shortened form of “KNNBCCB”, or “k*n n* n* b** ch*w ch** by*”, which carries a particular olfactory description of where the adult act happens. Hokkien, by the way, is a great reservoir for bad words, and Singlish speakers and SAF personnel know this well. But, becoming more and more cultured, we make sure that most of its expletives once used freely on the streets and in kopitiams by our PG generation are encrypted.
Such abbreviations add a uniquely Singaporean texture of self-censorship, where – as in so many other ways – we say something without having said it. So there’s “SMLJ”, standing for “simi l*n j***”, roughly “what the p****”. “LPPL”, or “l** p* p* l*n” is a circular expression that describes a situation where you allow yourself to be played out or screwed. For example, when Ah Hui returns to her abusive boyfriend, her best friend Nisha may ask, “Oi, why you LPPL?” And there’s “LL”, or “l*n l*n”, which also uses wordplay – two same-sounding words with different intonations – on a fate you cannot but be resigned to. So Ah Hui may reply to Nisha: “What to do? He hansum, got money, and I sibei shallow one. So LL lor.”
Featured image by Sean Chong.
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