'Shiok' or ridiculous? Local celebs divided on Singlish words in Oxford dictionary

14 May 2016 / 5 months 1 week ago

Noor Ashikin Abdul Rahman,
The New Paper,
May 14, 2016

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 the Singlish 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, 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-old said.

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."

Other Singlish terms for Oxford? Celebs say...


1. Wah lau

2. Pek chek

3. Sia


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 -

Additional reporting by Constance Goh


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