Back to the home page


© Jack Tsen-Ta Lee
Last updated on 14 November 2015 (67 headwords). No reproduction without permission.

AA adj. [Eng., abbrev. of a(ttract a(ttention]  Blatant, conspicuous, showy, unashamed.
2005 Renee Tan The Sunday Times, 27 February, 38 “Never see she show half ball meh.. so A.A.!” What it means: “Can’t you see she’s revealing a lot of cleavage.. so attract-attention!”

abang /ah-bahng, ˈɑbɑŋ/ n. [Mal., elder brother; male cousin or male friend of one’s own generation (Winstedt); Ind. abang older brother or sister; form of reference for older males; form of address by wife to husband regardless of latter’s age (Echols & Shadily, Ind.–Eng.)]

[1955 R.J. Wilkinson A Malay–English Dictionary, vol. 1, 1 abang. .. (Mal., Java) «Elder brother»; .. Also, familiarly, of persons regarded as elder brothers, such as elder cousins and intimate friends; occasionally, a term used by a wife to a husband..  1963 Richard Winstedt An Unabridged MalayEnglish Dictionary 1 abang.. elder brother, male cousin or male friend or one’s own generation, wife’s term for husband of any age..]

Mal. slang  A familiar term of address for a male relative or close friend who is of one’s generation but older than oneself.

acar, achar /ah-chah, ˈɑtʃɑ/ n. [Mal. < Hind. अचार acār (McGregor) < Pers. اﭼار achár powdered or salted meats, pickles or fruits, preserved in salt, vinegar, honey or syrup, particularly onions preserved in vinegar; also the pickle or liquor in which these meats or fruits are preserved (Johnson); pickles (Palmer)]

[1955 R.J. Wilkinson A Malay–English Dictionary, vol. 1, 3 achar.. Pickle; preserve in acid. .. The acid used is native vinegar (chuka jawa) flavoured with coriander, ginger, red-pepper, etc.]

Vegetables, usu. including cabbage, carrot and cucumber, which are pickled with chillies and vinegar and have crushed peanuts and sesame seeds added to them.

2004 Justin Cheong Today (Festive Special), 10 December, 2 [A] bottle of his mother’s achar (pickled vegetables)..  2005 Alan John The Sunday Times (LifeStyle), 6 February, L12 .. Acar Awak, vinegared vegetables drenched in a garlicky chilli sauce with crushed peanuts and sesame seeds.

act blur see entry under Blur.

action v. [< Eng. action n. 1 Appear to be carrying on an activity, working, etc.; put on a display.  2 Boast, show off.
2 2001 Michelle Ho (quoting Louis Tan) The Sunday Times (Sunday Plus), 14 January, P7 When the music is good, it’s fun to action a bit on the dance floor.  2005 Colin Goh The Sunday Times (LifeStyle), 30 January, L12 You very action, mah.  2006 Nur Amira Abdul Karim (quoting Ang Wei Kiat) The Sunday Times, 30 July, 35 Wei Kiat admits that his grasp of English grammar is poor and his vocabulary, weak. He does not speak high class English to his friends and family. Says Wei Kiat, Wait people think I very action.

adoi /ah-doy, ɑˈdɔɪ/ int. [< Mal. adoh, aduh oh!, an interjection of grief or pain; adohai, adohi, adui, aduhai oh! an interjection of sorrowful surprise (Wilkinson); adoh, adohi, adohai exclamations of pain or wonder (Winstedt); compare Ind. aduh ouch! ow! (Echols & Shadily, Ind.–Eng.); Jav. aḍo, aḍuh exclamation of pain, sorrow, joy (Horne); Kristang adoi ouch! (Baxter & de Silva)]

[1955 R.J. Wilkinson A Malay–English Dictionary, vol. 1, 7 adoh. Oh! as an interjection of grief or pain. A. [adoh] mak: id.; Si Jamin [Si-Djamin dan Si Djohan (2nd ed.), (Batavia: Balai Poestaka)] 35. ..  adohai, adohi. Oh! as an interjection of sorrowful surprise, = adoh + hai; cf. Gem. Ht. [Kitab Gemala Hikmat] 84 and the riddling description of a durian (pěgang adohi, buka ambohi) «oh! oh! when you grasp it, and hullo! hullo! when you open it» [oh! oh! from the pain; hullo! hullo! from the startling odour it releases.] Also adui aud [sic: and] aduhai. .. aduh = adoh (Oh!).  2006 William Gwee Thian Hock A Baba Malay Dictionary 22 adoey/adoh ([Mal.] aduh) an exclamation of pain (akin to ‘ouch’)]

often Mal. slang  An exclamation expr. consternation, disbelief, exasperation, surprise, pain, etc.

2008 Colin Goh The Sunday Times (LifeStyle), 28 December, 11 “Adoooi,” the cabbie shook his head, as he pulled out of the lane. “Nowadays, the children ah!” .. “Saturday night, adoi! My cab can be like tiger show, you know? Some of the girls wear dental floss only!”

agak /ah-gah(k), ˈɑɡɑ(k̚)/ n. & v. [Mal., conjecture, guessing; agak-agak approximately, as far as one can guess, more or less]  Also agak-agakA n. A guess, an estimation: AgarationB v. Guess, estimate.
2000 Cheong Suk-wai and Magdalene Lum (quoting Hooi Kok Wai) The Sunday Times (Sunday Plus), 26 November, P2 ‘He was from the “no room for agak-agak” school of cooking. Every recipe had to have a precise formula, as he believed firmly that was the only way to keep the quality of dishes consistent.’ Agak-agak means to guesstimate.  2004 Teo Pau Lin (quoting Pamelia Lee) The Straits Times (LifeStyle), 9 May, 32 [A]ll along shed cooked by agak (estimation). So when she wrote the cookbook, she had to discipline herself to putting everything into measurements.  B 2008 Huang Lijie (quoting Henrietta Tay) The Sunday Times (LifeStyle), 7 December, 28 “My mother-in-law and grandmother-in-law used to tell me their recipes needed ‘a little of this and a little of that’, so I’m used to agak-agak.” Agak-agak is Malay for guesstimate.

agaration /ah-gah-ray-shən, ˌɑɡɑˈreɪʃən/ n. [Mal. aga(k + Eng. –ration]  A guess, an estimation: Agak n.
Samuel Lee The Straits Times (Life! This Weekend), 28 December, 6 Free of dents and scrapes so far, any wrong move or salah agar-ation will mar the car’s flawless paintwork.

agar-agar /ah-gah, ˈɑɡɑː/ n. [Mal.]

[1 1955 R.J. Wilkinson A Malay–English Dictionary, vol. 1, 9 agar-agar: (specifically) the so-called «seaweed» from which seaweed-jelly is made.. These include Gracilaria lichenoides and Eucheuma spinosum; but much jelly is made from imported material (Gelideum spp.).  2 1955 R.J. Wilkinson A Malay–English Dictionary, vol. 1, 9 agar-agar:.. (gen.) jelly and things suggesting it such as «Turkish delight» and gelatine (a.-a. bělanda, Sul. Ment. [Soeloh Menternakkan Hidoephidoepan, Part I (Batavia: Balai Poestaka)] 16).]

Also agar agar1 The seaweed Ceylon moss (Gracilaria lichenoides) or Eucheuma spinosum, used for making jelly.  2 A food item made of sweetened, sometimes flavoured, agar-agar which is eaten on its own or used in other desserts.
1 1813 William Milburn Oriental Commerce, vol. II, ch. 23, 304 Agal Agal is a species of sea-weed, in which some trade is carried on by the Chinese. 1820 John Crawfurd History of the Indian Archipelago, vol. III, IX, ch. 2, 181 The articles of the return cargo [to China] .. embrace .. agar-a-gar, or sea-weed, tripang, or sea-slug. 
1894 N.B. Dennys A Descriptive Dictionary of British Malaya 12 Agar-Agar.– The Malay name for a species of marine alga, the Fucus saccharinus of botanists; growing on the rocky shores of many of the Malayan islands, and forming a considerable article of export to China by junks. It is esculent when boiled to a jelly, and is also used by the Chinese as a vegetable glue. Of late years it has been largely adopted in the European cuisine as a substitute for isinglass with which to make blanc-manges, jellies, &c., though wanting somewhat in delicacy of taste. The principal place of production is Pulo Pangkor Laut (Dindings) opposite Perak.  2 2001 Raelene Tan The Sunday Times (Special), 14 January, P12 The ubiquitous pineapple tarts and rose-flavoured jelly (agar agar).  2006 Thng Lay Teen The Sunday Times (LifeStyle) (from Straits Times Interactive), 25 June. .. I was not the only one who wanted to know how brown rice cakes, dumplings and agar agar would turn out.

ah /ah, ɑ/ int. [Mand. à exclamation used at the end of sentences to indicate admiration, affirmation, exhortation, etc., or a query] interrog.  1 Conveying emphasis.  2 Expressing a request for the clarification of something just said.  Compare Hah.
2000 Samuel Lee The Straits Times (Life!), 22 December, L12 Wah lau eh, so packed ah, and I thought this was a private party by invite only?  2005Mr Brown’ (Lee Kin Mun) Today, 22 April, 30 So smart, ah, you.  2006 Cheong Suk-Wai (quoting Khalid Mohamad Jiwa) The Sunday Times (from Straits Times Interactive), 20 August, L4 “Aiyah, you ahhh,” he drawls in a chiding tone, before breaking into throaty chuckles.  2006 Tabitha Wang Today (, 6 October. Another, whose grandiose plans had fallen flat, gloomily repeated to herself: “Die ah, fail already.”  2006 Neil Humphreys Weekend Today (, 7 October. In Singapore, strangers crossed my path to say, “Wah, so tall, ah.”  2008 Colin Goh The Sunday Times (LifeStyle), 28 December, 11 Nowadays, the children ah! 
2013 Melissa Kong (quoting Tosh Zhang) Lifestyle, April, 62 The authorities are still trying to tell us, “Eh, this one cannot watch ah, later influence you all negatively then reflect badly on our society.”  2 2000 Kelvin Tong The Straits Times (Life! This Weekend), 23 November, 9 You never see the traffic jam there, ah 2000 Cheong Suk-wai The Straits Times (Life!), 25 November, L12 Wah, you’ve been married 30 years ah?  2004 Wendy Cheng (quoting Andrew Seow) Today, 26 May, 34 Hey, must take photo ah?  I look very ugly in photos leh2006 Juliana June Rasul (quoting Sheila Majid) Today, 25 July, 31 Where should I begin, ah 2010 Colin Goh The Sunday Times (LifeStyle), 18 April, 24 Sure, ah? Thanks, man, pai seh.  2011 Rachel Chang The Sunday Times (LifeStyle), 23 October, 15 See how lor. Who’s going ar?

ah, Ah /ah, ɑ/ prefix [Hk. á a prefix to a man’s name (Medhurst); Mand. ā prefix used with nicknames, surnames, etc. (Chi.–Eng. Dict.)]  A prefix used with nicknames, surnames, etc., of Chinese origin.


ah beng, Ah Beng /beng, bɛŋ/ n. & a. [a common Chinese male name, poss. Hk. beng clear, bright; to illustrate, to illumine; to display, to distinguish (Medhurst); Mand. míng bright, brilliant, light; clear, distinct; open, overt, explicit; sharp-eyed, clear-sighted; aboveboard, honest; sight; understand, know (Chi.–Eng. Dict.)] Also ellipt. beng, Beng. derog.  A n. A man perceived to be loutish and uncouth, and who follows fashion trends but is often viewed as lacking taste; the male counterpart of an Ah Huay or Ah LianB a. Having the nature or attributes of an ah beng.
1999 Cleo, May. I’m the King of Bengs! [title] .. He says he doesn’t give a hoot if people call him an ah beng, a catch-all term for the uncouth, the uneducated, the unrefined, the unenlightened, who blindly define status by the brands they own.  .. “I’m the king of bengs,” he laughs, “I have my own Prada bag, Prada shoes, Prada jacket, Gucci belt, clothes from Calvin Klein, Armani, Valentino..”  1999 Clarissa Oon The Straits Times (Life!), 29 December, 9 He skulked around.. watching hard-core bengs drag on their cigarettes.  2000 Arti Mulchand The Straits Times (Life!), 21 July, 5 Tacky enough for an Ah Beng.  2001 Neil Humphreys Notes from an Even Smaller Island 83 My friend David is always reminding me to stay away from these dangerous gangsters who stalk the streets. These people are apparently so menacing that they have even been labelled with menacing names. The boys are called Ah Bengs and the girls Ah Lians. I have been warned by friends never to make eye contact with them, never to laugh at their ridiculous clothing combinations (white, skin-tight trousers and vest, black belt and a bright yellow handphone stuck to the hip) and never to get into an argument with them because they are usually armed with knives or, wait for it, parangs.  2001 Cheong Suk-Wai, Tee Hun Ching & Michelle Ho (quoting Eng Jeng Hwee) The Sunday Times (Sunday Plus), 7 January, P3 Once the younger consumers hear the world ‘cognac’, they would think, “This is what Ah Bengs would drink.”  2003 Peh Shing Huei (quoting Allan Chia) The Sunday Times, 12 October, 32 Wayne Rooney can wait. He is still young. Anyway, he is a chao ah bengB 2000 Arti Mulchand The Straits Times (Life!), 21 July, 5 And beng or not, their radio ditties are catchier than the flu. .. Boom Boom Boom Boom is a staple in the Beng-mobile phone ringer collection.  2000 Chris Ho The Straits Times (Life!), 29 December, L6 This is the perfect pop album few believed [Kylie] Minogue could deliver. Campy, chic and also ‘beng’, Light Years is light all right but it also has X-factor thrill and dare.

ah chek /chek, tʃɛk˺/ n. [Hk. chek an uncle, a father’s brother (Medhurst); Mand. jìu mother’s brother, uncle (Chi.–Eng. Dict.)]  A middle-aged or elderly man.
1987 Toh Paik Choo On the Buses 69 It’s ‘Ah Ko’ when he doesn’t look old enough to be your father and ‘Ah Chek’ when he does.  2000 Cheong Suk-Wai The Sunday Times (Sunday Plus), 3 September, 3 Lurking ah cheks, ah peks and ah sohs 2005 Tan Chek Wee Today, 9 December, 47 It could be the ah pek, ah soh, ah chek, or even the pakcik or makcik – this syndrome seat-patting [sic: seat-patting syndrome?] spans all the major races in Singapore (well, all right, I have yet to see an ang moh doing so), transcending sex, educational level and age.

ah gua var. of ah kua, ah kwa.

ah huay, Ah Huay /huay, hʊeɪ/ n. [a common Chinese female name, poss. Hk. hwuy bright, luminous, like the brightness of the sun (Medhurst); Mand. huī sunshine, sunlight (Chi.–Eng. Dict.); or Hk. hwuy < ) (kong) hwuy bright and brilliant (Medhurst); Mand. guānghuī radiance, brilliance, glory: guāng light, ray; brightness, lustre + huī brightness, splendour; shine (Chi.–Eng. Dict.); or Hk. hwuy the brightness of fire, as bright as fire (Medhurst; according to Lin a variation of hwuy); or Hk. hwūy favour, kindness; to be obedient; to bestow (Medhurst); Mand. huì favour, kindness, benefit (Chi.–Eng. Dict.); or Hk. hwūy a pliant disposition, susceptible of instruction; intelligent, wise (Medhurst); Mand. huì intelligent, bright (Chi.–Eng. Dict.); or Hk. hwūy a fragrant plant which grows in low marshy places; if it yields but one flower on each stalk, and is very fragrant, it is called lân [Mand. lán orchid (Chi.–Eng. Dict.)], but if it yields several flowers and is deficient in fragrance, it is called hwūy (Medhurst); Mand. huì a fragrant species of marshy orchid, called 蕙兰 huìlán, having many flowers on one stalk (Giles); a species of orchid (often 兰蕙 lánhuì), symbolic of purity, beauty or fragrance (Lin)1 Ah Lian 2 A generic name for a (young) Chinese woman.
2 2007 Peh Shing Huei (quoting Lee Bee Wah) The Sunday Times (from Straits Times Interactive), 4 March. ‘Ah Huay’ MP on her Hokkien humour [title] .. [‘]I used to be called ‘auntie’; now I am younger, I’m Ah Huay,’ she said with a laugh. 
2011 Sandra Leong The Sunday Times (LifeStyle), 12 June, 13 [O]h then you MUST know Jane/Peter/Ah Kow/Ah Huay/Ah Huay’s dog..

ah kor /go (ko), ɡɒ (kɒ)/ n. [Hk. kor (elder) brother; Mand. (elder) brother (Chi.–Eng. Dict.)]  A waiter (?).
2006 Teo Pau Lin & Eunice Quek
The Straits Times (from Straits Times Interactive), 24 June. Dressed in bow ties and maroon waistcoats, the silver-haired Hainanese ah kor (waiters) offer courtly, old-world service that harks back to post-war Singapore.

ah kua, ah kwa /kuah, kʊɑː/ n. & a. [poss. Hk. ( k’hwa (sëà distorted, perverse (Medhurst); Mand. k (literary language) askew, crooked, aslant, oblique (+ xié evil, heretical, irregular) (Comp. Chi.–Eng. Dict.)] Also ah gua, ah qua, and abbrev. to AK, AQ. derog.  A n. 1 An effeminate man.  2 A male transvestite.  B a. Effeminate, sissy.
A 1
1978 Leong Choon Cheong Youth in the Army 303 a koa peng. An effeminate soldier: Hokkien.  1985 Michael Chiang Army Daze 33 Ar kwa (Hokkien) .. effeminate soldier.  2006 Leong Su-lin The Straits Times (Life!) (from Straits Times Interactive), 3 April. Kumar is a drag queen, not a transvestite. .. He has no desire to be a woman, he says, and he does not get a thrill from wearing women’s clothes. It is just part of his job. .. [W]hen he started out, he found jeers of ‘Ah Kwa’ (a Hokkien term used loosely to describe effeminate men) from the audience ‘really hurtful’, but forced himself to put on a facade.  2 2004Mr Brown (Lee Kin Mun) Today, 9 April, 20 [W]ah lau eh, that one look like Changi Village Ah Gua, man!  2005 Karl Ho (quoting Gia Tamalas) The Sunday Times (LifeStyle), 22 May 2005, L4 People don’t say “eee, ah kuah” anymore, at least not in front of my face.  2008 Wong Kim Hoh The Straits Times (Saturday), 6 September, D2 Make-up artist Lynette Leong aka Ginger, in her 30s, says the [transsexual] community has to put up with many derogatory names, including ah kwa and bapok.  B 2006 Jeanine Tan (quoting Kumar) Today, 4 January, 32 They called me ah kua (Hokkien for sissy) lah, what else?

ah lian, Ah Lian /leearn, liːɛn/ n. & a. [a common Chinese female name, poss. Hk. lëên < ( lëên (hwa) the water lily (Medhurst); Mand. lián lotus + huā flower, blossom, bloom (Chi.–Eng. Dict.); Hk. )莲 () lëên the lotus (Medhurst); Mand. lotus (Chi.–Eng. Dict.)] Also ellipt. lian, Lian. derog.  A n. The female counterpart of an Ah Beng: a woman perceived to be loutish and uncouth, and who follows fashion trends but is often viewed as lacking taste.  B a. Having the nature or attributes of an ah lian.
A 2000
Yeow Kai Chai The Sunday Times (Sunday Plus), 2 July, 5 He has been accused of making Fann Wong look like a cheena ah lian2000 Theresa Tan & Neo Hui Min (quoting Jolin Tan) The Straits Times, 4 December, H10 Parents don’t spend much time with their kids in Singapore and they turn into ‘Bengs’ and ‘Lians’.  2000 Samuel Lee The Straits Times (Life!), 29 December, L8 You can’t deny that it was a good tune. Even if the Bengs and Lians latched on six months after the general populace.  2001 Michelle Ho The Sunday Times (Sunday Plus), 14 January, P7 Often labelled as Bengs and Lians, they howl in Hokkien and gesture in unison while dancing to Euro-trance.  B 2000 Jason Wee The Straits Times (Life!), 16 October, 8 An ah lian manicurist.  2001 Clarissa Oon (quoting Cynthia Lee MacQuarrie) The Straits Times (Life!), 9 July, L5 So what’s the most lian thing about you?  .. Actually, I do not think I’m lian at all, definitely not my dressing.  2004 Lim Kuan Chiang Today, 14 May, 48 [W]e’re not going to go back to those ah lian insults published in the press last month.

ah long, ah long san /long sahn, lɒŋ sɑn/ n. [poss. Hk. lông a wolf (Medhurst); Mand. láng wolf (Chi.–Eng. Dict.); compare Hk. 豺狼 ch’haê lông (Medhurst); Mand. cháiláng jackals and wolves – cruel and evil people (Chi.–Eng. Dict.) + poss. Hk. sân a hill (Medhurst); Mand. shān hill, mountain (Chi.–Eng. Dict.)]  An illegal moneylender, a loan shark.
  The Straits Times, 19 July, 1 Ah Longs cut short credit lines [title] .. A resident.. has obviously defaulted on his loan from an ‘ah long’, or loan shark. 1998 The Straits Times, 19 July, 3 A friend set up the meeting with the Ah Long (loan shark in Hokkien)..  2001 The Straits Times, 6 January, H13 He was visiting ah longs (loansharks) and he had to bring his girlfriend along as a guarantor!  2003 Tan Shzr Ee (quoting Anthony Teo) The Sunday Times, 5 October, L2 Ah Long San, triad boss, gangster.  I’ve done all the bad guys..  Bad guy more interesting, I can be more expressive.  2006 The Straits Times (from Straits Times Interactive), 20 March. Ah Longs not having it easy now [title].. He used to be a loan shark or Ah Long, and the headman for Ang Soon Tong secret society. He ran an illegal moneylending business for 30 years, making up to $20,000 a day when times were good in the early 1990s. .. Sighing in resignation, he summed up the bad times loan sharks were facing these days in Hokkien: ‘Ah long pai tan’.  2006 Faith Teo The New Paper, 26 December, 10 Ah Long Version 2.0 [title].. Three years later, in 2001, Chua’s loanshark brother, Tiong Tiong (he was known as Ah Long San) was jailed for 10 years. .. [L]oansharks have been increasingly switching to high technology to cover their tracks. In the old days, loansharks and borrowers met in coffeeshops, often in Geylang – to discuss the terms of a loan, hand out money, and collect repayments. .. These days, communication by handphone is enough. That way, the loanshark maintains his anonymity. And runners no longer wait outside homes to confront debtors. Surprise “gifts” of pig heads are a thing of the past. Now, they deliver “hell notes” to the debtor and his neighbours through their post boxes. Others splash paint on doors in the dead of the night.

ah pek /pe, pɛ/ n. [Hk. pek a superior, an elder; (vernacular) 阿伯 an păyh an uncle (Medhurst); Mand. father’s elder brother, uncle (Chi.–Eng. Dict.)]  Also ah peh.  A middle-aged or elderly man.
Cheong Suk-Wai The Sunday Times (Sunday Plus), 3 September, 3 Lurking ah cheks, ah peks and ah sohs2000 Cheong Suk-Wai The Sunday Times (Life! This Weekend), 28 September, 6 A mangy bunch of ah peks, ah cheks and ah tees making a beeline there.  2001 Tan Shzr Ee The Sunday Times (Sunday Plus), 22 April, P8 Ah peks (old uncles) sitting on newspapers laid over dew-covered park benches sigh mournfully into the morning air.  2001 Matthew Pan (quoting Nasir bin Kiram) The Straits Times (National Day Special 2001), 9 August, 9 We passed motion into a bucket, and an old ah pek collected the bucket the next morning.  2002 The Straits Times (Life! This Weekend), 12 April, L22  I often see ah peks at kopitiams shaking their legs while enjoying their kopi.  [2006 William Gwee Thian Hock A Baba Malay Dictionary 22 ah pek [阿伯] term of address for an elderly Chinese gentleman]

ah qua var. of ah kua, ah kwa.

ah soh /soh, səʊ/ n. & a. [Hk. só a sister-in-law (Medhurst); Mand. sǎu elder brother’s wife, sister-in-law (Chi.–Eng. Dict.)A n. A middle-aged or elderly woman, esp. one perceived to be of a low class.  B a. Of or pertaining to a middle-aged or elderly woman: old-fashioned, gossipy, complaining.
A 2000
Yeow Kai Chai The Sunday Times (Sunday Plus), 2 July, 5 So, weep, all you ah sohs2000 Tee Hun Cheng (quoting Andrew Ho) The Sunday Times (Sunday Plus), 23 July, 2 Trendy ah sohs who want to be different.  2000 Cheong Suk-Wai The Sunday Times (Sunday Plus), 3 September, 3 Lurking ah cheks, ah peks and ah sohs. 2000 Kelvin Tong The Straits Times (Life! This Weekend), 23 November, 9 How can like that? Where got man dress like ah soh2001 Leong Chan Teik & Deborah Ng The Sunday Times, 14 January, 38 It’s a different crowd now compared to about three years ago – not so much the tai-tais but the ah sohs2006 Tan Chek Wee Today (, 5 October. After the British soldiers left Singapore, she worked as a coffee lady (kopi ah soh) in offices, making drinks and carrying out cleaning chores.  B 2000 Tee Hun Cheng (quoting Wendy Ng) The Sunday Times (Sunday Plus), 23 July, 2 The image is so ‘ah-soh’!

ah-balling /ah-boh-ling, ˈɑːbəʊlɪŋ/ n. [poss. Teo. 鸭母 ah4bho2 duck egg (ah4 the name of a water fowl, commonly used to refer to the domestic duck which has a flat beak and short legs, webs between its toes, and is good at swimming but unable to fly high + bho2 mother) (Chaozhou Dict.) + (?) ling [the Chinese character cannot be displayed due to software limitations: it consists of a radical with on the right] (not found in Chaozhou Dict.); Mand. duck + mother + líng (literary language) rice cake, rice pastry (Comp. Chi.–Eng. Dict.)] Also ah balling, arboling.  A Chinese (Teochew) dessert consisting of glutinous rice balls with a sweet filling such as red bean, peanut or sesame paste, usu. served in a light sweetened syrup.
¶ Known in Mand. as
汤圆 tāngyuán: tāng soup, broth + yuán round, circular; spherical.
Teo Pau Lin The Sunday Times, 5 October, L38 Machine-made ah-balling, or glutinous rice balls, are now readily available in supermarkets. .. All five types of fillings – red bean, green bean, yam, peanut and sesame – are made by hand. And, in keeping with the Teochew tradition, the sugar syrup is flavoured simply with pandan leaves.  2005 Teo Pau Lin The Sunday Times (LifeStyle) (from Straits Times Interactive), 31 July. Hai Sing Ah Balling .. Loh Yeow Seng, 59, started helping at his father’s stall in the now-demolished Ellenborough market, near Clarke Quay, more than 30 years ago. The average waiting time was one hour because every glutinous rice ball was hand-made upon each order. Eschewing machine-made convenience, he still makes them by hand today, and the difference is clear. The texture of the rice ball is so smooth that your lips could clamp down on one and it wouldn’t stick to you.  2006 Kuek Lin The Sunday Times (LifeStyle) (from Straits Times Interactive), 17 September. Her ah-balling are bursting with peanut filling and have a smooth, thin skin. Delicious when eaten hot.  2008 Chen Fen Today, 18–19 October, 39 Give the usual sesame cream and ah bohling dumplings a miss.

air-con /air-kon, ˈɛːkɒn/ n., v. & a. [Eng., abbrev. of air-conditioner, air-conditioning] Also airconA n. Air-conditioner.  B v. Install an air-conditioner; cool a room using an air-conditioner.  C a. Air-conditioned, cooled by air-conditioning.
A 2000 Teo Pau Lin (quoting Dasmond Koh) The Sunday Times (Sunday Plus), 3 December, P26 People think we just.. enjoy the air-con.  2005 ‘Mr Brown’ (Lee Kin Mun) Today, 6 May, 32 [F]ewer people will loiter.. less air-con will be used. Added cost savings!  2005 Tay Yek Keak The Sunday Times (from Straits Times Interactive), 7 August. I hear complaints every day. Half of them in my head, from me complaining about me to me. At first they sound very irritating. Then they turn into a droning noise like an air-con that’s been running too long. Then they gain a rhythm. Now, they’re background music I cannot shake off. ..  2007 Neil Humphreys Weekend Today (from, 20 January. Singapore might be a fine city but it’s also a humid one, so don’t even think about messing with their air-con.  B 2005Mr Brown’ (Lee Kin Mun) Today, 22 April, 30 There will still be security cameras in our casinos, but at least the place will be aircon-ed.  2006 Colin Goh The Sunday Times (LifeStyle) (from Straits Times Interactive), 18 June. Wouldn’t this be a more pleasant experience if they air-conned the whole stadium?  C 1987 Toh Paik Choo On the Buses 16 Air-con buses.  2003Mr Brown (Lee Kin Mun) Today, 5 December, 54 Apparently, there are soldiers out there who believe the new IPPT (Individual Physical Proficiency Test) in an aircon gym is not a good thing.  2005 ‘Mr Brown’ (Lee Kin Mun) Today, 18 March, 36 [W]e decided to stick to the air-con places.

air-level /air-le-vəl, ˈɛːˌlɛvəl/ n. [< Eng., mispron. of A-level (examinations)] derog. mil. slang. A person educated up to the General Certificate of Education (GCE) Advanced Level standard; fig. a person perceived to be more intelligent than oneself, a smart-aleck.
1991 Valerie Tan The Straits Times (Section 3), 9 August, 19 air-level – a person with A levels.  1994 C.S. Chong NS: An Air-Level Story [back cover] Air Level.. Army lingo for A-level. An obvious corruption used to ridicule A-Level trainees when they failed to meet commanders’ expectations.  7 I have tried to bring them to life in their ‘Air Level’ mindset, complete with all their strengths, weaknesses and language.  64 He said he was not afraid of ‘Air-Levels’.

aiyah /ı-yah, ʌɪˈjɑː/ int. [Mand. 哎呀 āiyā]  An exclamation used at the beginning of a sentence to expr. consternation, despair, dismay, exasperation, etc.
1989 David Henry Hwang M. Butterfly Aaaa-ya! How can you use such sickening language?  1991
Valerie Tan The Straits Times (Section 3), 9 August, 19 aiyah! – [exasperated exclamation], from Chinese.  2000 Cheong Suk-Wai (quoting Sim Bak Sun) The Straits Times (Life! This Weekend), 13 July, 7 Aiyah, what to do, I was not smart enough for higher studies.  2000 Diane Tan (quoting Patricia Mok) The Straits Times (Life!), 4 September, 20 Aiya, the people around us thought we were acting. 2000 Cheong Suk-wai The Straits Times (Life!), 25 November, L12 Aiya, your father will be harvesting his cherry tomatoes as usual.  2002 “Nine Made Instant Millionaires” (quoting Lim Leng Beng) The Straits Times, 26 February 1 Aiyah, bought at the wrong place.  2006 Colin Goh The Sunday Times (from Straits Times Interactive), 12 March. ‘Aiyah,’ sighed the Wife. ‘I guess people don’t believe you’re a real star unless you dress like one.’  2006 Ben Nadarajan & K.C. Vijayan (quoting Lawrence Lai) The Straits Times (from Straits Times Interactive), 27 April. Aiyah, it’s you again.  2006 Cheong Suk-Wai (quoting Khalid Mohamad Jiwa) The Sunday Times (from Straits Times Interactive), 20 August, L4 “Aiyah, you ahhh,” he drawls in a chiding tone, before breaking into throaty chuckles.

aiyoh /ı-yoh, ʌɪˈjəʊ/ int. [Mand. 哎哟 āiyō]  An exclamation expr. concern, consternation, dismay, frustration, surprise, etc.
2000 Karamjit Kaur The Straits Times, 15 February, 44 Aiyoh, that’s all is it?  2000 Teo Pau Lin (quoting Dasmond Koh) The Sunday Times (Sunday Plus), 3 December, P26 Aiyoh, we sound so guai (decent)!  2006 Juliana June Rasul (quoting Sheila Majid) Today, 25 July, 30 Aiyoh! Don’t call me that [a veteran] lah. Macam (like) pensioner lah.

a-jay /ay-jay, ˈeɪdʒeɪ/ n. & a. [Eng. gay in pig Latin with the g modified to j] Also ay-jay.  Homosexual, gay.  Compare G, PLU.

AK abbrev. of ah kua, ah kwa.

akshen aje /ak-shən ah-jay, ˈakʃən ˈɑːdʒeɪ/ a. phr. [< Eng. action + Mal. aja, aje, var. of sahaja, saja only, merely; compare Ind. sadja just, merely (Echols & Shadily, Ind.–Eng.) (Wilkinson notes that in Bazaar Mal. sahaja means ‘only’ and that the older meaning (‘intentionally’) has been lost sight of. Winstedt says that sadja, saja are < Skt., but no similar words have been found in Monier-Williams)] Mal. slang  Pretend to be tough when one is not.
1991 Valerie Tan The Straits Times (Section 3), 9 August, 19 Akshen aje – act tough only.

aksi borak /ak-see bo-rahk, ˈaksiː ˈbɒrɑk/ a. [Ind. aksi action; to take action; to act in a bragging way (Echols & Shadily, Ind.–Eng.); Jav. aksi action; act of aggression; arrogant, overbearing; personal style (Horne), poss. < Eng. action + poss. Mal. borak, berborak chatter, drivel, trail on (Winstedt); or Jav. bora(k), mborak(a) I don’t care! to hell with it! (Echols & Shadily, Ind.–Eng.)]

[2006 William Gwee Thian Hock A Baba Malay Dictionary 23 aksi ([Mal.] aksi) a put-on action  aksi borak to show off]

Also ellipt. aksi.  Arrogant, proud, stuck-up, yaya.

2000 Leong Liew Geok “Forever Singlish” in Women without Men 130 Proper English? So lecheh, / So correct, so actsy for what?

alamak /ah-lah-mahk, ɑlɑˈmɑk/ int. [poss. ‘mother of God’: the Virgin Mary < Mal. ala high, exalted (Wilkinson) < Arab. اله ala to deify, make a god of; to become a deity, a godhead; to deify oneself; or Mal. Allah God, Allah < Arab. الله allāh Allah, God (as the One and Only) (Wehr) (ال al the + الاه ilāh a god, a pagan deity (Johnson); أله ālih (pagan) god (Wehr)) + Mal. mak mother, aunt; compare Kristang alamah (surprise) Mother of God! (Scully & Zuzarte)]

[2006 William Gwee Thian Hock A Baba Malay Dictionary 23 alamak ([Mal.] alamak) exclamation of surprise; what the...!] 

A mild exclamation expr. annoyance, exasperation, frustration, etc.; for goodness’ sake!, oh dear!, oh no!
1991 Valerie Tan The Straits Times (Section 3), 9 August, 19 alamak! – exasperated exclamation, from Malay.  1994 C.S. Chong NS: An Air-Level Story 94 Alamak, medic kena whack!  2001 Leong Ching The Straits Times (Life!), 25 May, L16 ‘What’s the main course?’ ‘Er, that was the main course,’ I said. ‘Alamak,’ he said. 2004 Teo Pau Lin (quoting Anamah Tan) The Sunday Times (LifeStyle), 26 September, L36 What’s your ultimate favourite dish? Alamak, there are so many to choose from.  2004 Colin Goh The Sunday Times (LifeStyle), 3 October, L16 Alamak, better act blur.  2005 Tan Chek Wee Today, 9 December, 47 You see it more often in public buses. You vacate your seat and before you can even utter “alamak”, you hear a loud patting of the seat.  2007 Janadas Devan The Straits Times (from Straits Times Interactive), 12 April. Singaporeans are debating Administrative Service and ministerial pay. My advice is: Go bargain with public servants if you want. As citizens and taxpayers, we certainly have the right to do so – ‘$500K can or not? Not sure? Alamak. One million boleh? You become great, I give two mil, promise. Can settle or not?’ But do not assume anybody can do these jobs.

Ali Baba bag n. [Eng., poss. f. the fact that the bag appears tall enough to contain a person, like the oil-jars that the thieves hid in to attack Ali Baba, a fictional character in the story of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves f. The Arabian Nights or A Thousand and One Nights; compare Ali Baba basket a tall laundry basket resembling in shape the oil-jars in which the thieves hid to attack Ali Baba]  mil.  A soldier’s duffle bag or kit bag, a tall cylindrical canvas bag for carrying personal belongings.
1981 Martin Choo (ed.) The Singapore Armed Forces 108 Each enlistee leaves.. with items packed into a duffel bag more commonly known as the ‘Ali-Baba’ bag.  1990 Mickey Chiang Fighting Fit: The Singapore Armed Forces 112 At the General Supply Base, they receive their army kit, and an ‘Ali Baba’ bag, a big duffle bag large enough to contain all their kit.. and more. .. To the young recruit who is already carrying a civilian bag packed with his belongings and spare civilian clothing, the Ali Baba bag is a man-size load.

amacam /ah-mah-chahm, ɑmɑˈtʃɑm/ int. [Mal. a(pa) macam what kind of; how; what (Wilkinson); what’s this?, what’s up? (Winstedt): apa how, somehow, somewhat, what, which (Wilkinson: see quot. 1955 below) + macam, macham sort, type, kind, like (Wilkinson); kind, sort, quality; like (Winstedt, who says the word is Tam.)]

[1955 R.J. Wilkinson A Malay–English Dictionary, vol. 1, 40 apa. .. What; how; which; somehow; somewhat. An idiomatic word giving a suggestion of indefiniteness or interrogation – even contemptuous interrogation – to the sentence in which it occurs. .. Apa macham: what kind of; how; what.  vol. 2, 717 macham. Sort; type; kind; like. A word much used in Bazaar-Malay: .. apa m[acham] (how)..  2011 Colin Goh The Sunday Times (LifeStyle), 18 September, 16 Apa macam, Eck Kheng? (Malay for ‘so how’?)  1963 Richard Winstedt An Unabridged MalayEnglish Dictionary 222 apa m[acham]? what’s this? what’s up?]

What’s this?, what’s up?, how are you doing?
Nur Amira Abdul Karim (quoting Ahmad Ali Hatta) The Sunday Times, 30 July, 35 I say ‘wassup?’ or ‘amacam?’ which are equivalent to ‘how are you?’ to my friends. But I would certainly not write that down in an essay. I doubt any other student would.

ambilla labu /ahm-bee-lə lah-boo, ɑmˈbiːlə ˈlɑbuː/ n. [ambilla (?) + Mal. labu gourd (Ridhwan)]  A Eurasian curry made of pork ribs and squash.
2010 Huang Lijie The Sunday Times (LifeStyle), 14 February, 22 [H]ome-style Eurasian dishes such as.. ambilla labu, a pork rib and squash curry.

ang ku kueh /ahng koo kueh, ɑŋ kuː kʊeɪ/ n. [Hk. ang red + ku tortoise; Mand. hóngguī + Kueh] Also angkoo kueh.  A sticky Chinese cake, usu. red in colour and shaped like a tortoise shell, filled with green bean paste.
2001 David Kraal The Straits Times (Life!), 20 February, L6 There was angkoo kueh, not just the red ones but yellow and green and purple, sticky and sweet and super.  2006 Teo Pau Lin The Sunday Times (LifeStyle), 30 July, L27 Ang ku kueh are a paradox. As their name suggests, these Hokkien-originated “red tortoise cakes” are shaped to look like bone-hard tortoise shells. But when you bite into them, they are super soft, smooth and chewy. Their sticky skins are made with glutinous rice flour, although Nonya versions have coconut milk and pandan juice added to them. Traditionally, their fillings are limited to peanut, green bean and salty green bean. But in recent years, newfangled versions have included durian, mango, coconut, yam, coffee and corn. Many shops have also resorted to using machines to make these steamed cakes, which are shaped like tortoise shells as some believe that by eating these long-living creatures, you, too, would enjoy a long life. .. I sampled ang ku kueh, which the Chinese traditionally eat on special occasions, from 10 shops last week. 
2006 The Straits Times (from Straits Times Interactive), 15 October. Steamed rice-flour dough, for example, in Nyonya kuih kosui and ang koo kuih skin, can also be given a firmer consistency by carefully measured amounts of alkaline water.  2009 Yen Feng The Straits Times (Home), 3 February, B5 Devotees streamed in and out of the temple [Thian Hock Keng], built in 1839, bearing red and sweet gifts symbolising prosperity and good tidings: rosy pillow-shaped buns, apples and stacked packets of ang ku kueh, a red-coloured glutinous rice cake.

ang moh /ahng mor, ɑŋ mɔː/ n. & a. [< Hk. 红毛( âng mô (kwúy): âng red, of a red colour + mô hair, the hair of the head and eyebrows + kwúy a ghost, a spirit, a demon, an imp (Medhurst); Mand. hóng red + máo hair + guǐ ghost, spirit, apparition (Chi.–Eng. Dict.)]

[1832 Walter Henry Medhurst A Dictionary of the Hok-Këèn Dialect of the Chinese Language 481, col. 1 紅毛 âng mô, red haired, generally applied to the English people.] 

Also ang mo, angmoh, ang-moh.  A n. A Caucasian, a white person.  See also Mat Salleh, KentangB a. Having the nature or attributes of a Caucasian or white person.
¶ The term is regarded by some as derog.
A 1991 Valerie Tan The Straits Times (Section 3), 9 August, 19 The younger generation.. have a tendency to talk like what the older generation call ang mohs (Caucasians).  1991 Valerie Tan The Straits Times (Section 3), 9 August, 19 ang moh – Hokkien (literally, red hair) for Caucasian.  2000 Lea Wee The Straits Times (Life!), 10 April, 4 [A]n angmoh peddling ice kacang and chendol and loving every minute of it.  2000 Michael French The Sunday Times (Sunday Plus), 7 May, 6 I’m the only angmoh bungalow agent who speaks Mandarin, Cantonese, Hokkien and Teochew fluently.  2001 Michelle Ho The Sunday Times (Sunday Plus), 14 January, P7 The Asian women’s mission is ang-mohs; the ang-mohs passion is the exotic.  2004 Ong Soh Chin The Straits Times (Life!), 30 October, 4 [M]any of my Singaporean friends felt the term ‘ang moh’ was definitely racist. Said one, with surprising finality: ‘The original term was “ang moh gui” which means “red hair devil” in Hokkien. That’s definitely racist.’ However, the ‘gui’ bit has long been dropped from the term, defanging it considerably. .. Both ‘ang moh gui’ and ‘gwailo’ – Cantonese for ‘devil person’ –  originated from the initial Chinese suspicion of foreigners way back in those days when the country saw itself as the Middle Kingdom.  2004 Sean Ashley The Straits Times (Life!), 5 November, 5 Stop calling me ang moh [title]  As an ‘ang moh’ who has lived here for over six years, I hope more people will realise just how offensive the term is.  2004 Garry Hubble The Straits Times (Life!), 5 November, 5 To have my Chinese Singaporean friends call me ‘ang moh’ is more humorous than anything else. As no insult is intended, none is taken.  B 2001 Cat Ong (quoting Ase Wang) The Sunday Times (Sunday Plus), 11 February, P8 I look quite ang mo until I open my mouth and speak with a totally Singaporean accent.  2002 Suzanne Sng The Sunday Times (Sunday Plus), 31 March, P20 She speaks Mandarin with an ang moh accent.  2006 Chew Poh Loh Today (from, 17 March. How Ang Mo Kio really got its name [title].. In olden Singapore, it was common to name some districts after nearby landmarks such as rivers (kang in Hokkien) or bridges (kio).. And so, there was, and is, Ang Moh (Caucasian) Kio. In those days, anything “modern” was considered ang moh, such as a brick-and-tile house, as opposed to an attap-and-wood dwelling. Thus, Ang Mo Kio probably referred to a nearly iron – hence, modern – bridge built to replace an old wooden one.

angkat /ahng-kaht, ˈɑŋkɑt/ v. [Mal., lift, raise, carry up < mengangkat-angkat to flatter, over-praise]  Flatter; curry favour with; do things for a person to obtain privileges, a promotion, etc Also transl. into Eng. as Carry.
2000 Tee Hun Ching The Sunday Times (Sunday Plus), 2 April, 14 I’m proud that I got my assignments through honest work. I don’t know how to angkat (Angkat is Malay for curry favour) people.

Phrase: angkat bola /boh-lah, ˈbolɑː/ v. phr. [Mal. bola ball, apparently a reference to the testicles].  Also transl. into Eng. as Carry Balls.

angkoli /ahng-koh-lee, ɑŋˈkoliː/ n. [Hk.?]  The goldband snapper (Pristipomoides multidens and Pristipomoides typus), a type of edible fish, often used to make the Indian dish fish head curry.
¶ Known in Mal. as ikan kurisi. The common and scientific names of the fish were obtained from “Goldband snapper”, (23 April 2008; accessed on 15 March 2009).
2006 Teo Pau Lin The Sunday Times (LifeStyle) (from Straits Times Interactive), 15 October. Famous for its curry fish head, this popular restaurant has created a new variant, tandoori fish head.. . Angkoli fish heads are marinated in a secret sauce before being roasted in a tandoor oven. The meat is fall-off-the-bone juicy.  2006 Eveline Gan Weekend Today, 23–24 December, 26–27. The angoli fish head curry.. – which looked and tasted devilishly fiery – was more flavourful than the usual Indian fish curry. Ramu let on that this was because he uses Thai fish sauce and over 15 types of spices which he specially blends.  2013 Thng Lay Teen The Sunday Times (SundayLife!), 19 May, 23 I am hooked after my friend takes me there one afternoon to try the fish head curry ($22). The fresh ang ko li (red snapper) is cooked just right – tender enough for the flesh to just come off the fork.

angkoo kueh var. of Ang Ku Kueh.

angpow /ahng-pow, ɑŋˈpaʊ/ n. [Hk. âng red, of a red colour + paou to include, to inclose; paou to bundle up (Medhurst); Mand. hóng red + bāo bundle, package, pack, packet, parcel (Chi.–Eng. Dict.)] Also ang pow.   Hongbao.
2004 Krisse Tan Today (Festive Special), 10 December, 8 Thankfully for me, many of my relatives have taken to giving me ang pows or gift vouchers in the past several years.

anyhow adv. [Eng., in any way or manner whatever, or however imperfect; in random fashion, unmethodically]  Carelessly, recklessly.
2003 Tan Shzr Ee (quoting David Wee) The Sunday Times (LifeStyle), 21 December, L11 Careful. Don’t anyhow say. Must check first.

anyhow whack see entry under Whack 2.

appom /ah-pom, ɑˈpɒm/ n. [Tam. அப்பம் appam round cake of rice flour and sugar fried in ghee; thin cake; wafer; bread (Burrow & Emeneau, Tam. Lex.); rice cakes, bread, pastry (Percival, Tam. Dict.); compare Malayalam അപപം appam children’s food; a kind of cake (Mlm. Lex.)]  See quot. 2003.
1883 The Straits Times, 3 May, 2 It appears that the cause of the rash act [attempted suicide] was a domestic quarrel between the wretched man and his wife, arising, it is said, from the refusal of the latter to accept an appome, or native cake, which the husband had brought home.  2003 Teo Pau Lin The Sunday Times, 5 October, L38 Appom.. Taken with orange sugar, these little pancakes of rice flour and coconut milk are easy to eat but very hard to make.  2004 Sharon Soh Streats, 23 December, 24 A cook prepares the appoms in front of the restaurant, to perfectly tissue-thin crisp edges and soft, fluffy centres. Mop up milky vegetable stew with it, or drizzle coconut milk over the appom’s centre for a sweet, spongy treat.

AQ abbrev. of ah qua: see entry under ah kua, ah kwa.

ar /ah, ɑː/ v. [poss. < Hk. aóu to twist (Medhurst); Mand. ǎo bend so as to break (Chi.–Eng. Dict.)]  Find favour with, curry favour with.
1978 Leong Choon Cheong (quoting Tay Poh Hock) Youth in the Army 53 So if you ar with the IC.. you can chiah chua a bit.  303 ar. Get into favour with (usually aimed at someone who gets on well with his superiors. This may denote either the person’s ability at doing it or the superior’s ‘niceness’): Hokkien. Sometimes used with a sign – one arm in Indian wrestling movements.  1985 Michael Chiang Army Daze 32 Ar (Hokkien) Favour, as in curry favour. Eg, ‘This officer can ar one, man.’ (Translated, this officer is one with whom one can negotiate.)

Comb. and phrases:

ar ka chi /kah chee, kɑː tʃɪ/ v. phr. [Hk. k’hăh according to Medhurst (p. lxii), a colloquial particle which does not appear to have any corresponding sounds in the reading dialect, being probably introduced from some foreign language, or indigenous to Fujian (Fukien) Province before its union with the empire of China + chëet, (vernacular) cheĕh to break, to break off; compare 拗折 aóu chëet to twist off (Medhurst); Mand. zhé break, snap; bend, twist (Chi.–Eng. Dict.)]  Currying a person’s favour to such an extent that the effort backfires.
1978 Leong Choon Cheong Youth in the Army 303 a ka chih. Ar to the extent of breaking one’s arm.  Overdoing the art of currying favour to the extent of losing out in the end: Hokkien.

ar ka liau /kah liow, kɑː liaʊ/ v. & a. [Hk. k’hăh a colloquial particle: see Ar Ka Chi + leáou finished, done; determined; fully comprehended (Medhurst); Mand. liǎo ended, finished, settled, disposed of (Chi.–Eng. Dict.)A v. Make a great effort to find favour with.  B a. Of a person: highly amenable to flattery; of two or more persons: closely acquainted to the extent of doing favours for each another.
A 1978 Leong Choon Cheong Youth in the Army 303 a ka liau. An extension of the meaning of ar. The two additional words mean to the end, to the limit. The phrase therefore means ‘get into favour with someone to the limit’. This is actually a superlative of arB 1985 Michael Chiang Army Daze 33 Ar ka liau (Hokkien) One who is totally ar-gable.

ar lip bo ar chut /ah lip boh ah choot, ɑː lɪp̚ bəʊ ɑː tʃʊt̚/ v. phr. [Hk. ar lip bo ar chut ar in, no ar out: lip in; bôo, (vernacular) no, not, not in existence, do not; ch’hut to go out (Medhurst); Mand. jìn enter, come or go into, get into; not have, there is not, without; chū go or come out (Chi.–Eng. Dict.)]  Granting favours only to a particular person or group.
1978 Leong Choon Cheong Youth in the Army 303 a lip bo a chut. Phrase incorporating again the slang ar.  Literally, it means ‘ar in no ar out’. This is applied to a situation in which one allows favours exclusively to those in his clique or to another person: Hokkien.

arboling var. of Ah-Balling.

arbuthen /ah-bah-den, ˌɑːbɑˈdɛn/ int. [poss. < Eng. ah, but then?]  An exclamation expr. that something is manifestly self-evident or obvious; duh!
2011 Colin Goh The Sunday Times (LifeStyle), 20 March. While watching TV coverage of the catastrophe engulfing Japan, I turned to the Wife and said, ‘I know this is horribly churlish of me, but I can’t help wondering: If we needed to evacuate in a hurry, what would be the first thing you’d grab?’ ‘You mean besides Yakuza Baby?’ she frowned as our toddler turned her head at the mention of her nickname. ‘Arbuthen?’ I clicked my tongue.

ardeh /ah-day, ɑːˈdeɪ/ int. [origin uncertain; poss. < Baba Mal. ande friend (= handai companion, associate) (Wilkinson); or Ind. adik younger brother or sister; form of address to a younger brother or sister and to younger people (Echols & Shadily, Ind.–Eng.); Jav. aḍi younger sibling; person younger than oneself (Horne)]  An exclamation expr. consternation, surprise, etc.
C.S. Chong NS: An Air-Level Story 135 ardeh. Unique army exclamation.

argable a. [Hk. Ar + Eng. –able] Of a person: one whose favour it is possible to get into, easily flattered.
1978 Leong Choon Cheong Youth in the Army 303 argable. One you can get into favour or ar with: fusion of Hokkien and English.  1985 Michael Chiang Army Daze 33 Ar ka liau (Hokkien) One who is totally ar-gable.

arrow v. [Eng., poss. f. the practice of drawing or stamping an arrow on a document against a name to direct the document to that person for his or her attention] freq. mil. slang  Assign, delegate (esp. an unpleasant task); direct, order.
2003Pak Cham Kai <>, 14 December. The chao ang mor all arrow me to come because they were damn sian of their hard tack and hojjiber MRE [Meal, Ready-to-Eat]. Then got one of their occifer saw me making Maggi mee in the barracks, and arrow me to come and make for them.  2005 Hong Xinyi The Sunday Times (from
Straits Times Interactive), 19 June. Arrow. Army use: In army administrative practice, a tiny arrow is stamped next to the name of the person in charge in official documents. Civilian use: To delegate an unpleasant job to somebody. If you are the person being given such a task, the correct response is ‘I kena arrow’. Example: My colleague fell ill, so I kena arrow by my boss to write this boring proposal for the client.  2010 Niki Bruce The Sunday Times, 12 December, 33. “I can’t meet you for lunch tomorrow,” said a new colleague. “I’ve been arrowed to work on that NDP [National Day Parade] project.” .. I asked a fellow expat who’d been here a bit longer what it meant. Apparently, my friend had been asked by a senior editor to work on a project. I assumed that the “arrow” in question was a pointed finger, but apparently the term has been borrowed from the military.

art buah /ahrt buah, ɑːt bʊɑː/ n. [Hn.]  A sticky Hainanese Kueh made from rice flour that is coated in ginger-flavoured coconut shavings and sesame seeds and fried.
2004 Katrina Karim Today, 22 March, 40 A special dessert includes the gooey art buah.., which is made from rice flour and coated with ginger-flavoured coconut shavings and sesame seeds. 
2010 Rebecca Lynne Tan The Sunday Times (LifeStyle), 25 July, 21 [A]rt bua, a rice flour kueh doused in coconut and sesame seeds cooked in brown sugar.

assam /ah-sahm, ɑˈsɑm/ n. [< Mal. asam chelagi (asam acid, sour; a generic name for acid fruits and preparations); asam jawa (or Jawa) (Jawa Java; Javanese: see quot. 1955 below; poss. < Skt. यव yava barley (in the earliest times probably any grain or corn yielding flour or meal); a barley-corn (Monier-Williams)) or buah asam keranji (buah fruit, keranji a tree-name: asam keranji Manilla tamarind (Pithecolobium dulce) (OED)) (Wilkinson)]

[1955 R.J. Wilkinson A Malay–English Dictionary, vol. 1, 452 Jawa. [Skr. [Sanskrit] jawa (millet, barley)] Java; Javanese. Java is described by early Indian writers as rich in millet and gold; it may have got its name from the millet. The Arab navigators applied the name to both Sumatra and Java, whence Jawi, q.v. Modern Malays use it of Java proper.. asam J[awa] (tamarind)..]

Also asam.  The tamarind, a brown pod from the tree Tamarindus indica, N.O. Leguminosæ, containing one to twelve seeds embedded in a soft brown or reddish-black acid pulp which is used in cookery (OED).

2006 Eveline Gan Weekend Today, 22–23 July, 23 The ikan garam assam ($12) – two fish fillets drenched in assam curry.. [T]he sour assam gravy was excellent with the right balance of tangy spiciness.  2006 Sukri Kadola Today (from, 21 September. My dad and I used to share a warm packet of nasi padang over our favourite wildlife documentary. He indulged in mother’s recipe of stir-fried lady’s fingers or bitter gourd infused with the rich taste of sliced mackerel in assam sauce.  2006 Chris Tan The Sunday Times (LifeStyle) (from Straits Times Interactive), 1 October. Knead 11/2 Tbs assam (tamarind) pulp with 200ml water until the pulp dissolves. Strain and set it aside.  2006 Sylvia Tan The Straits Times (Mind Your Body), 29 November, 14. Ikan masak assam is fish cooked in a spicy tamarind stock, which belongs to a whole category of Peranakan sour gravies.  2008 Shermaine Wong Weekend Today, 15–16 November, 37 The new dish of assam fish was in a league of its own. For $32 you get a whole grilled tilapia served on a banana leaf with wing beans or lady’s fingers. It was slathered with a thick, addictive assam paste, which was tangy, sweet, spicy and salty all at once.  2008 Wong Ah Yoke The Sunday Times (LifeStyle), 16 November, 26 I tried it as braised duck meat with mustard green, asam (tamarind) and chilli, which is inspired by a Malaysian dish cooked with leftover meat from banquets.  2013 Thng Lay Teen The Sunday Times (SundayLife!), 8 December, 37 For something more filling, the assam curry pork with rice ($4.50) is a decent bet. Think tender pork slices smothered in assam curry gravy, complete with vegetables such as brinjal, lady’s fingers and tomato. Sour but not too spicy, it makes a good one-dish lunch if you are in a hurry.


assam laksa /lahk-sah, ˈlɑksɑ/ n. [Mal.; see Laksa]  Penang Laksa.
2011 Rebecca Lynne Tan The Sunday Times (LifeStyle), 26 June, 22 .. assam laksa, a dark and sour fish-based tamarind-infused broth served with cucumber, pineapple and hae-ko (prawn paste)..

assam pedas /-dahs, ˈpədas/ n. [Mal. pedas spicy hot (Ridhwan)]  A spicy fish curry flavoured with assam.
2009 Wong Ah Yoke The Sunday Times (LifeStyle), 19 April, 28 For a healthier dish, try the assam pedas (tamarind fish curry, $12.90), which comprises three ikan kembong cooked in an appetising sweet-sour soup. It tastes like Penang laksa without the noodles and prawn paste.

atas /ah-tahs, ɑːˈtɑs/ a. [Mal., position over or above (Wilkinson); above in height, on (land, ship, bank, mound), over (people) (Winstedt)]  1 Arrogant, snobbish.  2 High-brow, sophisticated.
1 2003 Colin Goh The Sunday Times, 12 October, L18 I’m a supporter of good English (if only to thumb a nose at atas Westerners and bananas).  2003 Colin Goh The Sunday Times (LifeStyle), 23 November, L18 Why you so atas, see me no up?  2004 Colin Goh The Sunday Times (LifeStyle), 22 August, L14 ‘Wah lau, you’re such an atas wanker,’ snorted the Wife in disbelief.  2005 Tor Ching Li (quoting Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong) Weekend Today, 14–15 May, 10 When you speak (Chinese with) good hanyu pinyin pronunciation, nobody thinks you are being sikit atas (Malay for snobbish). It’s okay. But, when you speak good English then people think .. maybe you don’t fit in. So, you water down and try to fit in your English and be friends with people.  2007 Paul Jacob The Straits Times (from Straits Times Interactive), 10 November. Since when did S’poreans become so ‘atas’? [title] .. Since when did some of us become so ‘atas’, so superior, that we can no longer be tolerant and accommodating of those who are helping do the labour that will make this place grow, become more vibrant and attractive.  2 2006 Jeanine Tan (quoting Kumar) Today, 4 January, 33 I love the limelight. I want to be Oprah Winfrey, but the lonely, poor version. I want to go atas (Malay for high-brow). 

attap chee /ah-tahp chee, ˈɑtɑp̚ tʃiː/ n. [Mal. attap the trunkless palm Nypa fruticans + Hk. choó a son, a child (Medhurst); Mand. seed (Chi.–Eng. Dict.)]

[2006 William Gwee Thian Hock A Baba Malay Dictionary 29 atap chi [籽] palm fruit]

The fruit of the trunkless palm Nypa fruticans which is small, oval-shaped, whitish and chewy. It is usu. preserved in a heavy sugar syrup and eaten in desserts such as Ice Kacang.
The Straits Times (Saturday), 22 November, D11 The Nipah Palm.. is the only true mangrove palm in Singapore. The attap chee commonly found in chendol desserts are nipah palm seeds preserved in heavy syrup.

attend B n. [Eng., poss. < attend v. of a medical man: to pay professional visits to (a patient)] mil.  1 Medical leave assigned by an army medical officer putting a soldier on light duties.  2 The state of being issued with an attend B medical certificate; on light duties.  3 A soldier who is on attend B status.
1 1985
Michael Chiang Army Daze 33 Attend B. Doctor’s prescription. Means a soldier can only perform light duties – but cannot switch off.  2004 Col. Bernard Toh Today, 25 May, 10 ‘Attend B’ medical leave means that the serviceman can undergo non-physically demanding training activities or perform light duties. 2 1994 C.S. Chong NS: An Air-Level Story 135 Attend B/C. Types of medical conditions. .. B is a case of excuses from specific physical tasks, eg. running.  3 1994 C.S. Chong NS: An Air-Level Story 45 We heard that there were Attend B recruits deployed in various parts to masquerade as the enemy.

attend C n. [Eng., poss. < attend v. of a medical man: to pay professional visits to (a patient)] mil.  1 Medical leave assigned by an army medical officer excusing a soldier from all duties.  2 The state of being issued with an attend C medical certificate; excused from all duties.  3 A soldier who is on attend C status.
1985 Michael Chiang Army Daze 34 Attend C. More valuable doctor’s prescription. Equivalent to an MC – now can switch off.  2004 Col. Bernard Toh Today, 25 May, 10 ‘Attend C’ medical leave means that the serviceman needs complete rest, either at home or in the barracks.  2 1994 C.S. Chong NS: An Air-Level Story 135 Attend B/C. Types of medical conditions. .. C means something serious enough to confine one to bed, sickbay or home.  3 1994 C.S. Chong NS: An Air-Level Story 51 There were Attend B’s and C’s for this grand occasion.

auntie n. [Eng., poss. a transl. of Mand. 阿姨 āyí ones mothers sister, auntie; a childs form of address for any woman of its mothers generation; or cognates in other Chi. dialects]  (A polite term of address for) a middle-aged or elderly woman who may or may not be a relative.  Compare Uncle.
2001 Neil Humphreys Notes from an Even Smaller Island 29 .. I have yet to meet anyone who is ‘harder’ than a Singaporean auntie. Believe me, they are rock solid and their resolute attitude and lust for life is something that the younger, greedier generation can learn from. A Singaporean auntie or uncle can be anyone who is from the older generations, like an English old age pensioner (OAP), and the term is used out of affection and respect.  2003 Anthea Rowan The Daily Telegraph (from, 14 October. Weve found an island full of aunts and uncles [title] .. I was still getting to grips with the local parlance. Singlish – an unconventional brand of English with a smattering of Chinese and Malay thrown in – was my next hurdle. Tea became teh, coffee became kopi, and waitresses and waiters ceased to be – replaced by people I was expected to call auntie and uncle. Good grief, I had relatives here?  2004 Janadas Devan The Straits Times (Very! Singapore), 9 August, 20 I had occasion to visit a Singapore hospital a month ago. I heard nurses call older patients ‘uncles’ and ‘aunties’ and I felt instantly at home.  2005 Shane Ng Soo Lian The Straits Times (from Straits Times Interactive), 12 July. Imagine using a first-aid diagram to teach an auntie to perform cardiac pulmonary resuscitation on an unconscious person.  2006 Lee U-Wen Today (from, 20 March, 6 Hail the aunty army: McDonald’s honoured for encouraging employment of older workers.. [title].  2006 June Cheong (quoting Jeanette Sim) The Straits Times (Life!) (from Straits Times Interactive), 19 April. You can call me auntie: At 75, SLGA [Singapore Ladies Golf Association]s president says happiness is family, mahjong and golf [title].. I like the term auntie as... it shows people respect or love us. But it would be nicer to use the word evergreens to describe us.  2006 Terence Chong The Straits Times (from Straits Times Interactive), 17 June. I dont think they [Singapores skinheads] are troublemakers. Many just want to provide shock value. If heartlander uncles and aunties are shocked, then all the better, because this reaction means that they have achieved their raison detre to be different.  2009 Jasmine Teo, Rachael Boon & Natasha Ann Zachariah The Sunday Times (LifeStyle), 8 March, 2 The word “auntie” conjures up an image of a nagging old woman with a bad perm while “uncle” is more likely to be a fuddy-duddy balding old man in a singlet and shorts hanging out at the void deck.  2009 David Yeo The Straits Times (Life!), 14 March, E6 The terms of address – “auntie” and “uncle” – have negative connotations and are often used to refer to people from the lower strata of society.  2009 Christine Tan The Straits Times (Life!), 14 March, E6 I would be offended if someone were to address me as “auntie”, especially if that person is older than me. If I am an “auntie”, then what would that make my mother? I believe that no single or young woman would like to be called “auntie”. The word brings to mind housewives shopping at a wet market.  2009 Mrs C.P. Ho The Straits Times (Life!), 14 March, E6 From young, my parents taught me to call anyone older, especially those who are married or are working, “auntie” or “uncle”. It is a way of showing respect. If you feel old just because people call you “auntie” or “uncle”, then you have a self-esteem problem. If you are a foreigner who objects to being called “auntie” and “uncle”, I say this is part of our culture, so accept it.

ayam buah keluak /ı-yuum buuah kə-luuahrk, ˈʌɪjʌm bʊɑː kəˈlʊɑːk̚/ n. [Mal. ayam chicken + buah keluak the nut of the kepayang, picung or pangi (Pangium edule): buah fruit]  A Peranakan dish consisting of chicken stewed with buah keluak, a type of black-coloured nut. A hole is made in each buah keluak, the contents are removed and cooked in spices, then stuffed back into the shell.
2004 Sam Chua Today, 12 April, 38 Ayam buah keluak.. is the signature dish of any Peranakan cook. The preparation of this dish of chicken and black nuts is time-consuming and every cook has his or her own special method. .. The black paste within the nut is eaten with white rice and tastes like a savoury version of dark chocolate.  2004 Karl Ho The Sunday Times, 26 September, L8 [H]is grandmother was a well-liked matron who could whip up a mean ayam buah keluak. The signature Peranakan dish is made from chicken, pork and Indonesian black nuts.  2006 Teo Pau Lin (quoting Benjamin Seck) The Sunday Times (LifeStyle), 31 December, L28 What is the most laborious dish to prepare in Peranakan cuisine? / Ayam buah keluak (chicken with Indonesian black nut). The rempah (pounded spices) alone is made of seven ingredients and takes half a day to fry. Then, you have to scrub every nut, soak it in water for two days, chop off one end of the nut and dig out the black flesh inside. Then you have to pound or blend it with some spices. You have to neaten the nut’s opening with a cutter so that it’s presentable before you put the flesh back in. Finally, you put the stuffed nuts, chicken and rempah on a simmer for another half a day until the sauce thickens. It takes a lot of work.

ayam penyet /ı-yuum pen-yet, ˈʌɪjʌm ˈpɛnjɛt/ n. [Mal. ayam chicken + Penang Mal. penyet, Johor Mal. penyek flattened; snub (of the nose) (Winstedt) < Jav. ajam chicken + pènjèt, penjèt, penjet to press, squeeze (Horne); Ind. pénjék flattened (Echols & Shadily, Ind.–Eng.)]  An Indonesian dish consisting of a flattened, deep-fried chicken thigh which is served with Sambal chilli, vegetables and rice.
2006 Teo Pau Lin The Sunday Times (LifeStyle), 3 December, L26 A chicken dish from Indonesia that combines Singapore’s love for all things deep-fried with the love for chilli sauce has become a hot favourite within four years of landing here. The dish is ayam penyet, which is Bahasa Indonesia for “flattened chicken”. Word of its tastiness has spread so fast that there are now more than 40 hawker stalls and restaurants selling it. .. It is a big slab of chicken thigh deep-fried to a lovely crispiness. It is then hammered flat with a wooden pestle to loosen the meat from the bone (hence its name). The tasty meat is placed on a wooden plate alongside boiled or raw vegetables, and spicy sambal and served with hot, fluffy rice. The dish originates from Surabaya, capital of Indonesia’s East Java province, though it has come to Singapore through Batam. Mr Mohamed Fadzil Mohamed Rashid, 38, opened his first Sri Bistari stall in a coffee shop in Still Road after tasting the dish in Batam in 2002.

ayam percik /ı-yuum -chik, ˈʌɪjʌm ˈpətʃɪk̚/ n. [Mal. ayam chicken + poss. Mal. perchek, percik, memerchekkan, rechek sprinkle; compare perchekan drops (of water sprinkled); sprinkling; teperchek splashed (Winstedt)]  A Malay dish originating from Kelantan, Malaysia, consisting of chicken wings that have been marinated with black pepper, chilli, ginger, etc., and barbequed.
2005 Zul Othman Today (from, 15 October. These Hari Raya treats
which include.. ayam percik (marinated chicken wings) are usually available during the fasting month of Ramadan.  2005 The Star (from The Star Online), 26 October. Ayub Deraman sells Ayam Percik that has been marinated in spices and laced with thick Ayam Percik gravy. The secret of his recipe is in its gravy and spices. While he was willing to disclose that the gravy is made with thick coconut milk he was reluctant to share his trade secret – his spices, used to marinade the chicken. “We do not add peanuts to thicken our sauce as some traders do as our Ayam Percik is the Kelantan version,” said Ayub.

ayam sio /ı-yuum sioh, ˈʌɪjʌm sɪo/ n. [Mal. ayam chicken + Hk. sëo to burn (Medhurst); Mand. shāo cook; stew after frying or fry after stewing (Chi.–Eng. Dict.)]  A Peranakan dish consisting of chicken that is cooked dry with tamarind, coriander, onions and sugar, giving it a sweet-sour flavour.
Alan John The Sunday Times (LifeStyle), 6 February, L12 I could never get enough of her Ayam Sio. This was chicken like I’d never had before, cooked dry in a mysterious sweet-sour blend of tamarind, coriander, onions and sugar.  [2006 William Gwee Thian Hock A Baba Malay Dictionary 29 ayam sion chicken in spicy stew]  2008 Huang Lijie The Sunday Times (LifeStyle), 23 November, 28 [S]he contributed her recipes for dishes such as ayam sio (chicken with coriander and fermented bean paste) and chap chye to the cookbook..

ay-jay var. of A-Jay.

horizontal rule

Back to the home page   Back to the top