Possibly not everyone knows that English is an official language of Singapore (one of 4.) What’s more, there is an unofficial (and sometimes frowned upon) mini-language called Singlish, derived from bits of Hokkien, Teochew, Malay, English and Tamil.

Most of these words exist either to express something that does not have an English equivalent, or to say something more succinctly. Either way, it does come in handy, and it’s fun to use language that would be unacceptable or confusing back home.

So here’s a list of my 10 favourite Singlish words and phrases, some of which I’d probably use when I visit the UK:

1: Shiok

This is used to describe anything that feels good, especially when eating. That feeling you get when eating a really hot curry, almost painful but oh so nice?Super shiok.

2: Kiasu

This means ‘afraid to fail’, and is used to describe any overly competitive behaviour. Jumping the queue, pushing onto a train, panic buying are all forms of being kiasu.

3: Atas

This is like ‘posh’ in British English, or ‘snooty’.

4: Can

This is lazy, but I use it shamelessly. It is a very versatile word that can mean ‘you may do that’, ‘that is acceptable’, ‘that is indeed possible’ and more. As a question, Can? can mean ‘can I do this?’ or ‘will this work?’ or ‘do you want me to do this?’ Probably lots more examples too.

5: Kaypoh

Someone who is kaypoh is nosey; a busybody.

6: See how

This means ‘I will wait and see how things turn out’. It’s one of Brin’s favourite phrases, and I have stolen it.

7: Chope

OK, I’m not sure I’ll get to use this one in the UK, but it means to reserve/save a seat, especially with a tissue pack or an umbrella. Yeah. Kind of a specialist one.

8: Ulu

Great word. This means a place that is remote and maybe kind of weird for being so. Singapore is half the size of London, so being ‘remote’ is quite relative.

9: Got

Like can, this can be used as a question or in a statement. It can mean ‘you have” or ‘I have’ or ‘this place has’, or in question form can mean ‘do you have?’ “This place got ghost.” “Confirm got one.

10: Uncle

Though it will be wrong to do so, I will almost certainly use this in the UK. It’s used to address an older person, in certain types of shops, and /always/ cab drivers. Unless they’re younger (bro) or female (auntie). This is so natural now, it confuses me how I could communicate with taxi drivers in the UK before.“Uncle, got change for 50 anot?” “Get out.”

UK friends: you have been warned. Singaporeans: how am I doing? Are there any Singlish words I’m missing out on?

10 Singlish phrases I would actually use in the UK

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