February 24, 2017

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by Gwee Li Sui

 

 

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by Gwee Li Sui

Writing about “siol” is teruk because it’s sibei misunderstood. Of hampalang end-particles, it’s easily the most controversial one. Some Singlish speakers just won’t use it while others are blur like sotong about how to use it. First off, “siol” isn’t from “siol bak chang” or hot dumpling ha – because that’s “sio”, you kutu. I mean the “siol” in lines like “Hey, long time no see siol!” or “Your England cannot make it siol!” or “Someone kena buak gooyoo siol!”

In all these examples, more people prefer “sia” – and that one also can. “Siol” and “sia” seem to do the same thing even though sometimes act-big goondus anyhowly bedek that there are im-por-tant differences. But then they cannot say what or their explanations are so koyak until kena sai! Just take it from me: “siol” and “sia” are interchangeable, OK. You not happy, form an interest group, write a petition, and send to your MP please. The difference is more in hearing sensation than in meaning lah. You can say “Someone lawa-lawa, got iPhone 7 siol!” or “Someone lawa-lawa, got iPhone 7 sia!” – both pass. No fat!

“Siol” and “sia” are used sama-sama to express being taken aback by disbelief or by envy. So you may be impressed to say “The new kid super-hardworking siol!” or jealous to remark “That MP got two cars sia!” – either way is steady. Now, theory has it that “siol” came from the Malay word “siul”, meaning poon pee pee or whistle. But you’ll catch no ball with this notion of whistling should you hear an exclaimed “siol”. Yes, “What talking you siol?” may mean “What the whistle do you mean?” – but what the fiak can that mean? So “siol” looks like a euphemism, something said in place of what cannot be said… like how “your brother” in Singlish refers to… err… some guy’s brother.

No wonder another theory pops up to claim that “siol” came from trying not to say “sial” and be piaked by one’s lao peh or mama or makcik. In Malay, “sial” means damn or damn suay and is a hum-tumable bad word. Interestingly, it’s sibei likely that “sia” also came from “sial” – since, given how identical they are, it’s logical what! If all this is true, then we have a shiok case where, in order to siam saying something vulgar, Singaporeans have created not one but two substitute words! Kawan-kawan, that’s how polite and cultured and respectful (some say anal) we are! Boomz!

That “siol”, “sia”, and “sial” are so similar hasn’t stopped half-past-six experts from trying to set them apart, often in siow ting tong ways. For example, some argue that you can note positive versus negative uses… but, alamak, where got? I can say for positive effect “She stylo-milo siol!” or “sia!” or “sial!” – meaning “She’s unbelievably stylish!” – but also for negative effect “He pumchek siol!” or “sia!” or “sial!” – meaning “He’s utterly crushed!” Hampalang can lah, people! Even if granted there could have been differences once, it’s no longer the case today, thanks to how we all anyhow-anyhow.

“Siol” is nonetheless kindest on the ear of these three end-particles. It’s soothing, makes you relak most, and sounds least harsh and even cute! In fact, you may get sibei different responses depending on which you use, like, let’s say, you remark to your kid when picking him or her up in school, “Your teacher quite chio siol!” Exclaim “Your teacher quite chio sia!”, and your geena may feel that you’re somewhat low-crass and gleefully ti ko. But never, in front of chiwren, say “Your teacher quite chio sial!” – because that’s… cannot lah! Wait sekali a parent or teacher or, worse, the principal hears you, then uh oh siol.

 

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by Gwee Li Sui

BOLEH is the Singaporean who knows when to say “hampalang” and when to say “chapalang”. He or she intuitively knows the difference even when he or she may not be as steady telling them apart. If you think you very can, then you please try lor. It’s not easy hor! How to explain why “Hampalang drop twenty!” is corright but “Chapalang drop twenty!” isn’t? Or why “Singlish is a chapalang language” works but not “Singlish is a hampalang language”?

You mull over this a bit while uncle slowly describes something lagi shiok. Fun fact: nobody actually knows how these two saat-saat words came to relate to each other! Some bedek kings may kay-kay, yaya-papaya say that they took from Hokkien – but cannot be lah. They say at least “chapalang” in Hokkien means eat-full-people and so suggests being whole in satisfaction. Hello, kong simi? Eat-full-people your head lah! Can dun be a bodoh and everything with “lang” say is Hokkien? “Lalang” is Hokkien? “Tulang” is Hokkien?

In fact, “hampalang” and “chapalang” may involve almost every other cheena dialect except Hokkien. “Hampalang” is in Cantonese, and so, if you go Hong Kong, can hear “hampalang hampalang” a lot one. Some Hakkas got use too! “Chapalang” is trickier since it doesn’t exist liddat anywhere else. But “chap” means mixture in Cantonese and Hakka while the Teochews say “zap luang”. “Chap chai png” at your hawker centre is thus mixed veggie rice – also known in cheemer vocab as economic rice (huh?). “Chapalang” probably emerged as our chut-pattern variation on “hampalang” – with “palang” maybe from “barang”, meaning stuff in Malay.

Uncle will now go on to differentiate “hampalang” and “chapalang” – you think can be done? We know that “hampalang” refers to everyone, everything, or everywhere, and so you say “I hampalang buy from Daiso one” or “When in Geylang, hampalang the lao ti ko visits”. It can also be a predeterminer that means “all of”, as in “Hampalang Singapore is tulan with the frequent MRT breakdowns”. When a whole extent is noted already, “hampalang” isn’t a repetition but means “altogether”. So: “All the tourists hampalang go queue for Michelin-starred Hong Kong chicken noodles.”

As for “chapalang”, it isn’t so much about extent as about things mixing lah. It’s macam about varieties rather than about totality. “Chapalang” refers to anyone, anything, or anywhere – specifically how liddat also can. So, while “hampalang” suggests order and awe, “chapalang” conjures chaos and surprise. You differently say “I chapalang buy from Daiso one” or “When in Geylang, chapalang the lao ti ko visits”. See how they not sama-sama… or, err, maybe not? Nemmind.

“Hampalang” has a sibei epic sound, with just long vowels giving it a steady-poon-pee-pee panoramic sweep. Its masculine first syllable “ham” – pronounced “hum”, like in PM Lee’s famous “mee siam mai hum” – explodes into a tokong “pa” and tempts you to wave a grand drama-mama hand and say “lang”. Everything is included – left, right, centre! “Chapalang”, on the other hand, begins with a short vowel and instantly doesn’t feel the same although it uses the lively “palang” of “hampalang”. In sound, it’s mixed in the way its meaning is chum-chum too.

A choobi aspect of our two words is actually their rhetorical use. As they invite the dramatic, they’re often stressed in a sentence, and so, even as objects or adverbs, they appear early, impatiently. An Ah Pui therefore says either “I hampalang eat” or “Hampalang I eat” or either “I chapalang eat” or “Chapalang I eat” – but never “I eat hampalang” or “I eat chapalang”. “Hampalang” or “chapalang” gets us excited and prepares a sense of relation. We hear “chapalang-style cooking” and expect an any-o-how but creative dish. We hear “Hampalang fail exam!” and expect loud gasps, then a lot of cow pei cow bu.

 

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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.”

 

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Goondu, SinGweesh, Singlish

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!

 

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by Gwee Li Sui

LIFE in Singapore is sibei siow on. Everything changes so fast. You blink your eyes once, and a building disappears. You blink another time, and a whole street disappears. Then taller buildings and malls shoot up, and suddenly a McSpicy meal costs $7. (Remember last time was below $5?) Very scary one – but it’s liddat lor! It’s how we went from Third-World to First-World in satu generation. If this Red Dot is full of anything, it’s change.

So, sadly, some people last time didn’t think far and save up money – because live for the day mah! Now, with inflation and all thrown in, they pokkai liao and need to work into their old age. Such is the susa context in which Singaporeans have come to repeat the wise words: “Last time is last time, now is now”. It’s a Singlish warning, and it warns against anyhowly confusing the conditions of the past with the conditions of the present.

“Last time is last time, now is now” translates from cheena Mandarin – and, if you stop to think about it, actually not a lot of such phrases are so cheena one. Surplise! Singlish kapos more from cheena dialects, which aren’t quite the same thing. Anyway, this saying is used firstly to highlight the speed of change in life in general. If last time your sng bao (those flavoured ice sticks) cost ten cents and now Haagen-Dazs costs 10 dollars, there’s nothing you can do about it. Just LL accept it lor.

This leads to my second point, which is that the speed of change precisely makes it impossible to reverse the trend. Cannot terbalik, U-turn, gostan one! You cannot say I dun like today’s education system and want my chiwren to attend last-time kind of school where they could fly kite (literally) or catch guppies in the longkang. No such thing lah, OK! The only way forward is forward – what does our National Anthem say? Majulah Singapura! The past is the past.

From here, we reach my third point, which is that it’s very unreasona-ra-ble to compare last time and now hor. Even Gahmen always says already: dun go and compare! (But then they ownself always go and compare: neh mind.) If you order teh-peng in the kopitiam and it costs $1.20, dun kuai lan and go cry father cry mother, say so expensive, last time only eighty cents. Oi, brudder: last time and now not the same one hor! In fact, these days, $1.20 is sibei cheap liao. You want $5 teh-peng also got – you want? So diam-diam and just lim!

Interestingly, from the Hokkien comes a variant of “Last time is last time, now is now”, which is “Last time policemen wore shorts”. Maybe you got hear this saying before? It’s a bit different and uses the dress code of colonial-era law enforcers – who, so cute, wore the kind of long grandfather shorts – to make the obvious point: the times have changed liao. Old fashion is old fashion, not stylo-milo liao. But the meaning is still sama-sama: we cannot suka-suka invoke old conditions to make sense today.

Personally, I prefer the first saying because it feels more shiok lah. It repeats in a way that creates similarity and difference, continuity and rupture… eerr, what cock am I talking, sounds so cheem! Basically, it got the shape of A=A and B=B but A≠B – and so there’s a nice logical and mathematical beauty. But the important thing is, both sayings share the same cue: they follow any argument using the term “last time”, like “Last time you were so romantic”. Or “Last time all the Minas loved me”. Or “Last time bus drivers let me stand on the steps.” Hello, when you hear these, you know how to respond.

 

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Mah, SinGweesh

by Gwee Li Sui

“MAH” isn’t mother, and it isn’t short for mama or uncle in Tamil. When a Singlish speaker uses this word, he or she isn’t invoking his or her mother or uncle, OK. Just how goondu are you ha? “Mah” is rather yet another Singlish end-particle, but it’s quite an easy one – dun stress. You chut pattern by adding it to the end of a sentence, and it turns all that you’ve said into what ought to be obvious.

So, when someone asks why he or she no understand a word you’re spiaking – presuming you spiak Singlish – you exclaim “You jiak kentang one mah!” Which translates as “You kena influenced by angmo culture – isn’t it obvious?” (Did I just translate Singlish into Singlish? Neh mind.) Maybe the siow ting tong still won’t understand, but that’s not your problem lor. Or, when your friends ask why you won’t go thani with them until mamok, you say, twisting a lembek face, “I pumchek liao mah!” Which means? “I’m knackered – can’t you see?”

In fact, “mah” has to be pronounced right or people will be blur one. Dun go on abrupt high pitch: “Mah!” It should bear a long vowel sound that’s kept steady, like sheep baaing. This – with the right tone – can distinguish it from “ma”, for mother. You say it feeling irritated or bored to show how unimpressed you are with what should no need to say one lah. “Mah” works like a slap that sayangs, a gentle reminder to use one’s brain a bit more. So, when someone complains about kena fined jialat-jialat for overdue library books, you say “Walao, it’s liddat one mah!”

Unlike “lah” and “leh”, “mah” as end-particle doesn’t change its meaning with volume. You can say softly or loudly, but got no difference one. The two main types of “mah” are rather distinguished by their contexts:

  1. The innocent “mah” directly responds to a query or a statement. So, when it’s observed that you always study sibei hard, you announce “I kiasu chow mugger mah!” – which is corright.
  1. The sarcastic “mah” is said in indirect hostile response to what is said. For example, when asked by your lazy superior who only arrows work why you’re not busy, you say “You very smart one mah!”

And that really is all. The difference between the two “mahs” is a matter of degree, with the sarcastic “mah” more intense and fed-up than the innocent “mah”. In this light, it is shiok to note that the feeling of “mah” actually remains stable while the whole nature of an answer changes. When some cynic questions all the media excitement over Joseph Schooling, you begin with an innocent “He won Olympic gold medal mah!” But, when this joker goes on and on until you buay tahan him or her, you retort, “You can also win gold medal mah!”

See the difference? In “mah” is, therefore, an interesting feeling, a pekchekness or exasperation with communication that often grips the Singaporean. This is all part of our kancheong impatient culture quick to tembak and not necessarily to hear, think, or process info. So, short of always repeating ourselves, we’ve invented “mah” to establish clarity. It’s my understanding anyway. OK, in conclusion, shall we practise pronouncing “mah” right? Let’s go! Say this tongue-twister five times before you do anything else: “My mama is the makcik in the mama shop mah!”

 

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Lugi, SinGweesh

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!”

 

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England, SinGweesh

by Gwee Li Sui

WHY Singlish speakers like to say “England” when they mean “English” ha? Is this a solid question or what? Well, uncle thinks it’s high time we all get to the root and dun go make bodoh, self-loathing remarks. Dun go and say that “England” is used because we enjoy making fun of the less educated who cannot pronounce “English”. Because, you know, if someone bo tak chek, everything angmo sounds same-same one.

Excue me hor, if you want to anyhowly hum-tum or hentam, can at least use your head a bit? Less educated people can say “Sing-lish” but somehow cannot say “Eng-lish” – hello? And why you think that Singlish belongs only to those who dun study ha? Why you dun think that all of us can say “English” if we want to ha? Wah piang eh, this argument got so many lobangs that it exposes just how chow atas kay angmo anyone making it is!

Fact is, Singlish is smarter than you may believe if you’ll only give chance! By using “England”, Singlish speakers aren’t simply triggering a joke about mislearning, a fault that characterises someone blur about a language. Because to gabra over “English” is sibei unlikely, it rather highlights wilful mislearning. In other words, Singlish speakers are gnay-gnay using the wrong word here. We aren’t necessarily showing a gap in knowledge – we’re enforcing a gap in culture!

Dun stress yet, and let me explain more. Through “England”, Singlish is reminding you that England the language was a colonial import. England came to us from England, and, while it’s all schooled Singaporeans’ first language now, it can never be our only language. So “England” forces us to see England in both geographical and historical terms and to acknowledge angmo impact on our part of the world. It insists that we remember what speaking England well can make us forget, that we dun own this basic feature of us.

In fact, just pay attention to how Singlish often pokes fun at the cultural value of England lah. For example, “powderful” is yet another word that goondus like to talk cock and any-o-how say mocks the less educated. But please OK: you think Singlish speakers cannot say “power” if we want to meh? “Power” is itself a Singlish word although ours is a bit different from England’s. It means steady poon pee pee or top-notch – and we say “power” to this or that to speak it to power.

But, with the powderful, what or who is already full of power, Singlish is very uneasy even if it’s something or someone we like. The distortion in “powderful” doesn’t happen to similar adjectives like “beautiful” or “wonderful”, tio bo? Because Singlish is essentially wary of authority and force, it tends to chochok or cucuk these and speak of them in a naughty, kuai lan way. “Powderful” doesn’t just mispronounce “powerful”; it powderises power and makes it something macam sangat kecil!

Or consider the word “support”, which new England learners manage with a short second syllable, without the “r” sound. Last time, your teacher got scold you and kolaveri about how it was “sup-pourt”, with a long, airy, atas sound like “court” – which you also misread as “cot” – or not? Dun bedek me and say never hor. Well, Singlish chochoks this pretentiousness too, and so what do we say? “Suppork.” With a long, airy, atas sound, except that that’s all babi.

 

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cum, sinGweesh, #37

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.

 

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