Ang moh, wah, sabo: Oxford English Dictionary accepts more Singlish terms, Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

Ang moh, wah, sabo: Oxford English Dictionary accepts more Singlish terms

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While some are delighted that more Singlish terms have just been accepted into the Oxford English Dictionary, others find it 'ridiculous'

An ang moh and a Chinese helicopter have landed in Oxford. Well, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED).

Feeling blur like sotong? Don't.

Get yourself a teh tarik at the hawker centre and celebrate.

Those are just a sample of theSinglish terms that have been accepted into the esteemed publication.

Wah, you say. No, Oxford said so themselves.

In a media statement on Wednesday, the English dictionary stated that oft-used colloquial items like "ang moh", "Chinese helicopter", hawker centre, "wah" and "sabo" are now part of its lexicon.

According to Oxford, the terms are "new senses of common English words", "loanwords from Chinese... and Malay", and "formations in English that are only used in Singapore".

Dr Kirpal Singh, associate professor of English literature at Singapore Management University, said there are "good qualities" to Singlish and the recognition means it has earned respect.

He said: "The pity is that we in Singapore have often tended to deride our own and place value when others (especially the Westerners) say it's okay.

"I have firmly stood by the fact that one day (Singlish) will become integral to the way or ways in which we use English."

This is not the first time Singapore English terms have been added to the dictionary.

When the online version of OED was launched in March 2000, the words "lah" and "sinseh" made it to the list. In 2007, the word "kiasu" was added.

Most local celebrities The New Paper spoke to were more than happy to share this part of the Singaporean identity with the rest of the world.

Rapper Shigga Shay (below), whose hit songs like Lion City Kia and LimPeh are liberally sprinkled with Singlish, said the inclusion of the Singlish terms is music to his ears.

"It will open more doors for me when reaching out to audiences around the world," he said.

The 23-year-old added: "I don't think this means the death of speaking proper English because the use of Singlish is all about time and place.

"You don't just suddenly forget to speak good English when new words are added."

Actor and host Chua Enlai agreed: "English is all about the grammar and if you can find substitute words (in Singlish) and still use it with proper grammar, then you'll be fine.

"It's just like how some French words are also English words," said the 37-year-old, whose favourite Singlish phrases include "wah lau eh" and "jialat".

For film-maker Jack Neo, Singlish has always been a feature in his works and will continue to remain so.

"I am disappointed whenever Singlish is deemed improper or uncouth. Now the international experts are recognising Singlish as proper. You should probably ask those who put down Singlish how they feel about this topic," said Neo, 56.


ONE FM 91.3 DJ Glenn Ong, who confesses to not being pro-Singlish, said the fact that OED recognises these terms as English words is "baffling".

"I have no problem with the fact that these terms were included, but I'm not sure if we can consider them English since some words were borrowed from the Malay language or Hokkien dialect.

"The OED sets the standard for English and I am surprised that Singlish words are included," the 46-year-oldsaid.

Ong said: "I feel that Singlish is sometimes used as an excuse for bad English and I don't like that. Maybe OED resorted to this because people are not paying attention to dictionaries any more and they are trying to stand out.

"It would be wonderful if OED can explain themselves... in English."

Ms Sylvia Toh Paik Choo, who popularised Singlish through her books Eh, Goondu! (1982) and its sequel Lagi Goondu! (1986), said the additions are "nothing to be proud of".

"I feel that it's ridiculous. The words are so esoteric and I find (this addition) very peculiar. Have they run out of words? I highly doubt anyone beyond this region will grow to use it."

- Additional reporting by Constance Goh

"The OED sets the standard for English and I am surprised that Singlish words are included. I feel that Singlish is sometimes used as an excuse for bad English and I don't like that."

- DJ Glenn Ong (main picture) on how he does not think Singlish belongs in the Oxford English Dictionary



1. Wah lau

2. Pek chek

3. Sian


1. Wah lau

2. Limpeh

3. Tak boleh tahan


1. Brudders

2. Fuyoh!


1. Rojak (as a noun and adjective)

2. Laksa

3. Pasar malam


1. Abuden

2. Orbi good

3. Jialat


1. Steady!

2. Nap shot

3. Swee

- Noor Ashikin Abdul Rahman

New Singlish terms in the Oxford Dictionary

1 ang moh, n.

A light-skinned person, especially of Western origin or descent; a Caucasian.

2 blur, n.

Slow in understanding; unaware, ignorant, confused. Sometimes reduplicated for emphasis.

3 char siu, n.

In Cantonese cookery: roast pork marinated in a sweet and savoury sauce, typically served sliced into thin strips.

4 chilli crab, n.

A dish originating in Singapore but also popular in Malaysia, consisting of crab cooked in a sweet and spicy gravy containing red chillies and tomato.

5 Chinese helicopter, n.

Singapore English: derogatory, a Singaporean whose schooling was conducted in Mandarin Chinese and who has limited knowledge of English.

6 hawker centre, n.

A food market at which individual vendors sell cooked food from small stalls, with a shared seating area for customers.

7 HDB, n.

Housing and Development Board; used with reference to public housing estates built and managed by the Singapore Government.

8 killer litter, n.

Objects thrown or falling from high-rise buildings, endangering people below.

9 lepak, n.

The practice of loitering aimlessly or idly; loafing, relaxing, hanging out.

10 lepak, v.

To loiter aimlessly or idly; to loaf, relax, hang out.

11 lepaking

See lepak.

12 shiok, interjection and adjective.

A. Interjection - expressing admiration or approval: 'cool!' 'great!'

B. Adjective - of food, a meal, etc: delicious, superb.

13 sabo, n.

The action of intentionally causing inconvenience, trouble, or harm to others, especially to gain a personal advantage. Also, the playing of tricks or pranks.

14 sabo, v.

To harm, inconvenience, or make trouble for (a person), especially to gain a personal advantage. Also, to trick, play a prank on.

15 sabo king, n.

A person who causes inconvenience, trouble, or harm to others, especially to gain a personal advantage; (also) a prankster.

16 sotong, n.

A. Squid or cuttlefish.

B. Used to denote a stereotypically stupid, clumsy or ignorant person, especially in blur as (a) sotong, blur like (a) sotong.

17 teh tarik, n.

Sweet tea with milk, prepared by pouring the liquid back and forth repeatedly between two containers so as to produce a thick foam on top; a drink of this.

18 wah, interjection.

Used (especially at the beginning of a sentence) to express admiration, encouragement, delight, surprise, etc.

19. wet market, n. S.E. Asian.

A market for the sale of fresh meat, fish, and produce.

Source: Oxford English Dictionary

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