top of page



0-9    B    C     D    G    H     I     J    K    L    M    N    O    P    S    T    U    Y



  1. 4-Digit; a legalised form of gambling in Singapore operated by Singapore Pools which involves betting on a four-digit number that can range from 0000 to 9999. 23 sets of winning 4D numbers are selected at draws held every Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday at 6.30pm.

And the same four digits - '0000' - came back with a bang in yesterday's draw. This time, it hit the first prize. According to the Singapore Pools website, this is the 11th time the same set of digits have emerged as the winning numbers since 2000.

(Read more)

Balik Kampung

/bah-lek kahm-pong/

verbal phrase 

  1. return to one's village 

  2. return home or to one’s place of origin

  3. go back to where one came from

A borrowing from Malay.

One headhunting firm bent on filling leadership positions with Singaporeans has started a campaign aptly called Balik Kampong, which means ‘homecoming’ in Malay. The strategy is to get overseas Singaporeans to return home to work.

(Read more)

Bao Ka Liao

/bhow ka lee-ow/

verbal phrase 

  1. bag the whole thing

  2. undertake or do everything

  3. take everything into account

  4. everything covered

A borrowing from Hokkien.

This ‘bao ka liao’ wedding package deal is a cautionary tale for anyone who is going to get married and thinking of picking any bridal shop in the hopes all should go swimmingly well — because a bit of technology in the wrong hands is worse than… actually there is no reason why these photos are so bad but they just are.

(Read more)


Bo Jio

/boh jee-oh/

verbal phrase 

  1. not call someone along 

  2. neglect to include/invite

  3. a complaint or exclamation when one is not included/invited

A borrowing from Hokkien.



proper noun

  1. a bridge that links Singapore to Peninsula Malaysia





  1. derived from teacher

What about teachers, for instance? They are civil servants too. So if a teacher cannot comment or criticise public policy via blogs or any other form of public expression, then what do they teach their kids?

“ ’Cher 'cher! Can I write about how much I hate NS on my blog?”

“No child. We must consult the Instructional Manual (IM) first. Or better yet. Wait, better ask the Permanent Secretary.”

(Read more)




  1. to rush forward

  2. to charge towards something, like a hill 


A borrowing from Hokkien.

Da Bao

/dah pao/


  1. to bag up or pack

  2. to take away; commonly used in the context of food


A borrowing from Mandarin.

Weighing in on the issue, Ms Rose Tan, chairman of public relations company Integrated Marketing Solutions Group, likened "unlimited changes" to going to a buffet and asking to dabao (Mandarin for packing) food home.

(Read more)


Giam Kana

/giahm kah-nah/


  1. dried olives that have been preserved using salt and sugar, consumed as a snack

  2. metaphor for a stingy or miserly person, perhaps due to the taste left in other people’s mouths after an encounter with said person


A borrowing from Hokkien.

I could still remember when I first started working, with my miserable pay and huge student loan to repay, in order to save money, whenever my colleagues asked where we should go for lunch, I would always say, “No need to ask me. I am sure to say market. I don’t want to spend more than $2 on my meal.” Yes, I have been giam kana even before I came to the U.S.!

(Read more)


Grandfather Road

/gran-fah-the rohd/


  1. expresses sarcasm at someone for behaving arrogantly with regards to the road, often used as part of a rhetorical question mocking a person's family’s pseudo claim to ownership




  1. ghost

  2. spirit


A borrowing from Malay.


Heng Suay

/heng sway/


  1. an ambiguous state of being lucky and/or unlucky

  2. connotes a sense of resignation to the uncertainties of fate

A borrowing from Hokkien.

Surprisingly the chicken noodles is better than the pho, imho. Salty lemonade is refreshing. Fried cockles is a heng-suay dish, when it's bad, it's very baaaaad, like sewage-smelly. Oops.

(Read more)



  1. or NRIC, National Registration Identity Card; an identity card issued under the provisions of the National Registration Act 1965 (No. 11 of 1965) of Singapore. The NRIC comes in 2 colous. A pink card is issued to citizens while a blue card is issued to permanent residents. Newly enlisted national servicemen receive an SAF 11B, a military identity card, in exchange for their NRICs, which will only be returned to them after they have completed their National Service.

Pink IC and red passport not enough to make you Singaporean.

(Read more)

Jia Lat



  1. difficult, terrible, or tough

  2. very dire or severe straits

  3. deep shit



  1. expresses dismay or resignation equivalent to “good grief” or “holy crap”


A borrowing from Hokkien.


Kai Kai

/gai gai/


  1. to gallivant, to go wandering about in pursuit of fun

A borrowing from Hokkien/Teochew.





  1. a village or cluster of homes

  2. a rural or undeveloped area

A borrowing from Malay.

Karang Guni

/kah-rung goo-nee/


  1. gunny sack; a bag commonly made from jute, a coarse but strong and durable fabric

  2. rag-and-bone items; recyclable items such as newspapers or broken appliances that are collected by the karang guni or rag-and-bone man in exchange for a small sum of money.  

  3. the call made by karang guni men as they ply their trade

A borrowing from Malay and Hindi.



adjectival noun

  1. a busybody

  2. a meddlesome or nosy person


  1. to meddle or pry into other people's affairs


A borrowing from Hokkien.

We spot a woman trying to dissuade her friend who is pushing a toddler in a pram from crossing the road illegally, to no avail. The woman, known only as Madam Chen, sighed...saying: "I always tell my friends not to jaywalk and just use the pedestrian crossing, especially when they are with kids. But they scold me for being 'kaypoh'.”

(Read more)




  1. deep fried savoury crackers usually made out of tapioca flour and prawns, fish, or cuttlefish; popular in South-East Asian cuisine


A borrowing from Malay.

In Kuala Terengganu, the scorching heat is also putting smiles on the faces of keropok entrepreneurs. Many of them, including those in small- and medium-sized enterprises in Pengkalan Setar, view the El Nino phenomenon a blessing in disguise as their keropok dries faster and their incomes are soaring.

(Read more)




  1. to be afraid, fearful, or frightened

  2. to become anxious or worried


A borrowing from Hokkien.

The creative director of social enterprise The Thought Collective cited annual National Day surveys that continue to rank kiasu and “kiasi” (Singlish for being afraid to die) as among the top defining traits of Singaporeans. “We laugh about it, but it’s been 50 years and the joke’s on us,” said Ms Kuik. 

(Read more)



  1. keep in view; to be aware of something without taking immediate action




  1. coffee; specifically a local blend of coffee available everywhere in Singapore. Commonly brewed using Robusta beans that have been roasted with sugar, butter/margarine. Depending on personal preferences, it can be ordered with differing amounts of sugar, condensed milk, and/or evaporated milk. 

A borrowing from Hokkien/Malay.                                                                                     (Watch Video)

Order like a pro, or learn by playing Kopi King:

kopi peng -  regular iced coffee

/koh-pee peng/

kopi kau - extra thick coffe

/koh-pee gau/

kopi kah tai - coffee with more sugar

/koh-pee gah thai/

kopi-C - coffee made with evaporated milk rather than condensed milk. C refers to ‘Carnation’, the first brand of evaporated milk first sold in the late 19th or early 20th century.

/koh-pee see/

kopi-chino - coffee topped with frothed milk like a cappuccino

/koh-pee chee-no/

kopi po - diluted coffee

/koh-pee poe/

kopi siew tai - coffee with less sugar

/koh-pee see-you thai/

kopi kosong - coffee with no sugar

/koh-pee ko-song/

kopi-O - coffee without milk but with sugar

/koh-pee oh/

kopi-O kosong - coffee without milk or sugar

/koh-pee oh ko-song/

Kueh Tart

/koo-eh tahrt/


  1. a sweet confectionery primarily made out of pineapple jam, flour, sugar, and butter that can come in 3 different shapes: an open flower,  a spiky pineapple, or a pillow

A borrowing from Malay.

Lau Nua



  1. to drool

A borrowing from Hokkien/Teochew.




  1. a hole

  2. an opening or opportunity 

  3. a good deal

A borrowing from Malay.





  1. to progress forward 

  2. to move onwards

A borrowing from Malay.



  1. Member of Parliament; Singapore runs on a Westminster style parliamentary system, with constituencies electing their preferred representatives who are then appointed as Members of Parliament for a term of 5 to 6 years.



  1. Mass Rapid Transit; a nation-wide railway network



  1. National Service; compulsory enlistment of Singaporean males into the Singapore Armed Forces


Oh Ah Beh Ah Som



  1. a rhyme recited before a game begins to randomly divide players into 2 teams, to eliminate players, or to single a player out. Players stand in a circle and repeat the rhyme together with their calling hands placed on their chests or behind their backs. 

At the last syllable of the rhyme, all players simultaneously display their hands in front of them with either their palms (white) or the backs of their hands (black) facing upwards. When dividing into 2 teams for games like soccer or basketball, players repeat the rhyme until there is an equal or close to equal number of whites and blacks. When eliminating players as part of a selection process, either white or black players are eliminated, depending on the numbers required. When singling out a player for games like catching, the rhyme is repeated until there are just 2 players left, who then play a round of scissors paper stone to determine the final player selected.

On The Ball


adjectival phrase

  1. attentive and responsive

  2. hardworking

  3. enthusiastic, keen


verbal phrase

  1. to be focused on a task

  2. to concentrate

The designations kept flowing: Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say is ‘Chief Salesman’, Nee Soon MP Lee Bee Wah is “on the ball”, and MacPherson MP Tin Pei Ling has a “stout heart”. We might enlist the PM to write our Christmas cards for us! 

(Read more)

Ownself Check Ownself

/ohn-self chek ohn-self/


  1. the application of internal checks and balances





  1. to go on a date

A borrowing from Hokkien.



adjective, noun

  1. superstitious 

  2. taboo

A borrowing from Malay.

Pasar Malam

/pah-sahr mah-lahm/


  1. an open-air bazaar or market held at night

A borrowing from Malay.



contraction, noun

  1. sabotage; an action or omission that causes inconvenience, trouble, or harm to others, especially in order to gain personal advantage

  2. an act that intentionally damages the reputation of another person 

  3. the act of playing tricks or pranks



  1. to sabotage




  1. Singapore's 100th anniversary of its founding; to be celebrated in 2065



  1. Standard Operating Procedure


DES Quake was quaking in his SAF boots. He was ready to erupt. After spending so much time commanding staff to wake up their ideas and realise that the company was getting bombarded by public complaints about delays and stoppages, he now has to tell them to wake up their ideas and follow Standard Operating Procedure (SOP).

(Read more)

Stun Like Vegetable


  1. shocked into speechlessness; this phrase forms part of the lyrics of the music video “Unbelievable” to promote the local sitcom “Spouse for House”. Performed by veteran actor, Chen Tian Wen, and inspired by a 1970s song by Singaporean singer, Huang Qing Yuen, the music video is a throwback to badly dubbed Hokkien karaoke tunes of old. 

Un-un-un-un-unbelievable that’s what you are
Come be my coffee table and I’ll be your sofa
Un-un-un-un-unbelievable so near yet so far
Please be the metal cable to my cable car
You blossom like a flower
I so stunned like vegetable
My girl you are





  1. tea; it can be ordered with differing amounts of sugar, condensed milk, and/or evaporated milk.

A borrowing from Malay.

Order like a pro, or learn by playing Kopi King:

teh - regular tea; comes with a serving of sugar and condensed milk


teh peng -  regular tea with ice

/tay peng/

teh kah tai - tea with more sugar

/tay gah thai/

teh-C - tea made with evaporated milk rather than condensed milk. C refers to ‘Carnation’, the first brand of evaporated milk first sold in the late 19th or early 20th century.

/tay see/

teh-chino - tea topped with frothed milk like a cappuccino

/tay chee-no/

teh tarik - tea that has been frothed by pouring it back and forth between cups over a height

/tay ta-rek/

teh halia - tea with ginger

/tay ah-li-ah/

yuan yang - mixture of kopi and teh with condensed milk and sugar

/yuan young/

teh po - diluted tea

/tay poe/

teh siew tai - tea with less sugar

/tay see-you thai/

teh kosong - tea with no sugar

/tay ko-song/

teh-O - tea without condensed milk but with sugar

/tay oh/

kopi-O kosong - tea without milk or sugar

/tay oh ko-song/




  1. inverted or reversed 

  2. flipped 

  3. the other way around 

A borrowing from Malay.




  1. suddenly shocked or surprised 

A borrowing from Malay.



  1. Total Fertility Rate; the average number of children who would be born per woman, if all women live through their childbearing years of 15-49 and bear children according to a given set of age-specific fertility rates. Singapore’s TFR stands at 1.24 in 2015, which is below the replacement rate of 2.1.

National University of Singapore sociologist Paulin Straughan said: "If the TFR doesn't go down, it's already a good thing. The fact that it has gone up and crossed 1.2 is definitely a big bonus."

(Read more)

Tikam Tikam

/tee-kum tee-kum/

noun, verb

  1. to randomly guess, choose, or take a chance

A borrowing from Malay.

"Singaporeans must vote for the party that they believe is best able to govern. They should not treat elections like circuses, auctions, beauty contests, or tikam tikam...In our hands, rest the power and responsibility to make a positive difference, some to lead and others to support," said Mr Goh.

(Read more)



  1. derived from the combination of ‘Totalisator’ and ‘Lotto’; a legalised form of gambling in Singapore operated by Singapore Pools. This lottery system involves selecting at least 6 numbers between 1 and 49. 6 winning numbers and 1 additional number are selected at draws held every Monday and Thursday at 6.30pm.




  1. remote or rural, out of the way

  2. an undeveloped place

  3. backward locale


A borrowing from Malay.


You Think, I Thought, Who Confirm?


  1. a sarcastic response for when someone says "I think"

Apparently, the Superintendent of the WRDC thought that sawing off the handle of the toilet window was enough, no need to grill it up, because he thought the guards would always have line of sight of the detainees. The guards thought that even without line of sight, it would be ok, because they thought the toilet was secure enough. As our Sergeants used to scream at us in National Service: "You think, I thought, who confirm?"

(Read more)


A Dictionary of Singlish and Singapore English

The linked articles, podcasts, videos, and webpages on this page provide contextual references to the use of Singlish for the convenience of non-Singaporeans playing dun tok cok. The inclusion of these links do not constitute, on the part of starknicked, an endorsement of any product, service, or subscription referred to therein. 

bottom of page