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How Good is Your Singlish?

Master these common phrases and you’ll gain respect faster than you can say aiyoh!


Aiyoh (say eye-yoh)

An exclamation used similarly to the English equivalent of “oh my goodness!” If the situation is more serious or shocking, the Malay expression alamak (say ah-lah-mak) is used instead. Usage:“Aiyoh, why are you always so late?” and “Alamak… I left my presentation files at home!”


Kaypo (say Kay-poh)

Refers to a busybody. Usage: “This is really none of your business; can you please stop being a kay-poh?”


Kiasu (say kya-soo)

Hokkien for “afraid of losing”, and this fear drives people to take extreme measures to find success. Usage: “You queued overnight to get your son into this preschool? Why so kiasu?!”


Bo jio (say boh-zhyo)

Hokkien for “did not invite”. Used when you discover “friends” had a night out without you. Feeling left out, you exclaim, “Bo jio!”, and hope you’ll be included the next time round.


It’s actually short for “reconnaissance”, and it’s used so commonly probably because Singaporean males having served in the army for national service. Usage: “We need to recce the site first, to see if it’s the best venue for the workshop.”


Making sense of LAH, LOR & LEH

Lah is used to make a statement, and can be used for cursing and for assurances. If you use it at the end of every sentence, you show no mastery of Singlish, so pick your moments. Usage: “Get lost, lah!” or “Come on, lah, join us for drinks.”

Lor is similar to lah, but has a more resigned tone. Usage: “Yah lor, I told him to rest at home but he just wouldn’t listen.”

Using leh at the end of a sentence is an effective way of getting agreement to your requests. Usage: “Let me go first leh.”.

Need help with your way around a hawker centre or food court? Read on at http://thefinder.life/singapore-expat-life/living-singapore/hawker-centre-etiquette

By Joshua Tan, The Finder, May 2015

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