In the wake of National Day, take this fun comprehensive test to find out how Singaporean you are with these 10 Singlish phrases. Try to guess its meaning with an example sentence before reading the answer. Give yourself 1 point for each correct answer. No cheating!
1. Own time own target / OTOT
In a sentence: I'm tasking you with preparing this presentation deck. It's OTOT; just let me know whenever you're ready to go.
Meaning: Set your own pace
Singapore may have a reputation for being one of the busiest cities in the world, but lulls do pop by every now and then. Having 'OTOT' attached to an assignment generally means that its completion can be handled at leisure.
2. Mai tu liao
In a sentence: Mai tu liao – the warehouse sale begins in five minutes!
Meaning: Stop delaying or wasting time
Typically used to indicate urgency, 'mai tu liao' is often exclaimed in the direction of people who are usually guilty of dragging their feet. Slowpokes are more than likely sick and tired of hearing this all the time!
3. Pang kang liao
In a sentence: It's 6.30PM – pang kang lo! Where should we go for dinner tonight?
Meaning: knock-off time
In a time when WFH has become increasingly common, this phrase has admittedly lost some of its punch. But pre-COVID, it was very common for the end of the work-day to be accompanied by relieved sighs and utterances of this nature.
In a sentence: I missed a step and tripped in the public. So Paiseh!
Photo Credit: Campus
Meaning: Embarrassing / my bad
The concept of 'face' is a familiar one across most Asian cultures, and Singaporeans are generally quite conservative when it comes to taking risks. In the event of the occasional slip-up, 'paiseh' is used as both an apology and a mea culpa.
5. Blur like sotong
In a sentence: He's really blur like sotong: he thought that feeding cows chocolate produces chocolate milk!
Meaning: Someone who is generally clueless or clumsy.
It's hard to pinpoint the exact origin of this saying, especially since its accuracy is suspect (squids are actually quite intelligent creatures). Regardless, its usage is widespread – both housewives and drill sergeants have used 'blur like sotong' to castigate clueless individuals for generations.
In a sentence: Sian – I need to OT at the office over the weekend.
Meaning: To be tired of something, or caught in bothersome situations you cannot do anything about.
Murphy’s Law dictates that when things can go wrong, they usually will. For the few that are unfortunate enough to experience this first-hand, ‘sian’ would probably be a very familiar utterance. Chin up though – things could always be worse (knock on wood)!
In a sentence: My recipe for chicken curry isn't very precise with the ingredients. Go by feel and just agak-agak with the portions.
Meaning: estimate or guess on your own approximation.
The last place you'll probably hear this phrase being used is in a science lab. 'Agak-agak' is similar to 'own time own target' in the sense that everything boils down to the individual at hand – anything goes as long as you're comfortable with it!
In a sentence: I'll need to chiong and complete this essay in time if I want to complete this course module.
Photo Credit: SGAG
Meaning: To rush or hurry to completion.
When you're told to 'chiong', it's time to hurry up with whatever you're doing. Kicking things into overdrive tends to take it out of you, so be sure to stay hydrated with your Thermos® One-Push Tumbler.
In a sentence: Today's chicken rice really CMI – the one I had last week was much better.
Meaning: Doesn't meet the standard.
Existing as both a verb and adjective phrase, 'cannot make it' (CMI) is most often used to describe something that fails to meet a standard (determinate or arbitrary). Most consider describing a person as such to be a trespass in social etiquette, so do not use it flippantly.
In a sentence: You brought a Thermos® Food Jar full of your wife's famous seafood chowder to share with the office? Swee!
Meaning: To compliment something / nice one.
The polar opposite of 'cannot make it' – 'swee' is essentially an accolade afforded to people, precedents or objects that exceed expectations. It's also often used in lieu of a pat on the back.
If you found this quiz challenging and fun (or maybe too easy for your Singlish skills), then why not continue putting your lingo knowledge to the test with 8 more Singlish phrases!