Worldwide icon-chevron-right Asia icon-chevron-right Singapore icon-chevron-right 13 words that have a different meaning in Singapore than anywhere else
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Photograph: Unsplash/Roger Yeoh

13 words that have a different meaning in Singapore than anywhere else

Some words just hit a little different in the Singaporean context

By Delfina Utomo

Don't ask us why we speak English so well. If you must know we're pretty talented people – most of us are bilingual or even trilingual, plus we have our own creole language called Singlish. Besides borrowing words from Hokkien, Malay and more, we also appropriate some English words to make it our own. It can be a little confusing if you're a rookie Singlish speaker But don't be confused – or blur – just yet, all you have to do is to keep up with this nifty list.

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Photograph: Shutterstock

Circuit breaker

Elsewhere: "I cut off all the circuit breakers in the house but I can still hear a buzzing sound."

In Singapore: "I tell police you go to your boyfriend's house during circuit breaker!"

Meaning: A prolonged period of mostly staying indoors, not socialising and abiding by a set of rules for everyone's safety.



bubble tea
Photograph: Shutterstock/Elena Veselova


Elsewhere: "You need to step up if you want that promotion."

In Singapore: "Don't step like you social justice warrior, yesterday you queued for bubble tea till closing time."

Meaning: To pretend, be someone you're not.

running, singapore, marina bay
Photograph: Shutterstock


Elsewhere: "I don't remember much about the event. I had too much to drink so everything was a blur."

In Singapore: "He's so damn blur, I told him to do it so many times already!"

Meaning: Dim-witted, birdbrained 

weird flex but ok_english slang
Photograph: Time Out


Elsewhere: "We need to take action if we want to see change."

In Singapore: "Don't so action, can? Just cos you from elite school no need to flex your English so much."

Meaning: To show off, be arrogant or haughty.

Photograph: Nineteen80


Elsewhere: "So what's happening in the city this weekend?"

In Singapore: "The new restaurant at Ann Siang damn happening, got DJ on some nights."

Meaning: Cool, exciting or wild. 

Photograph: Pexels


Elsewhere: "The money will revert back to the general funds if not claimed by today."

In Singapore: "Hi there, please revert my email. Thanks."

Meaning: To reply or respond

Photograph: Unsplash/John Matychuk


Elsewhere: "Cock it and pull it."

In Singapore: "Damn cock, I kena fine for parking illegally for just one minute."

Meaning: To screw up or make a mess

kampong lorong buangkok
Photograph: Delfina Utomo

Last time

Elsewhere: "We had Mexican food for dinner the last time we ate out."

In Singapore: "Last time my parents stay in kampong in Malaysia."

Meaning: Long, loooooong ago.

Hawker Chan
Photograph: Hawker Chan


Elsewhere: "Can you handle this while I'm gone?"

In Singapore: "You want me to handle for you? Sure can one."

Meaning: Another word for yes. 

Photograph: Unsplash/Lily Banse


Elsewhere: "Careful when driving, you don't want to die in an accident."

In Singapore: "She's so stubborn! Already know cannot but die die want to try!"

Meaning: Desperation and stubbornness.

Couple taking selfie
Photograph: Shutterstock


Elsewhere: "Steady, hold your balance."

In Singapore: "Wah you still on diet ah? Steady!" or "Want to go steady with me?"

Meaning: A compliment, like 'awesome!' or also another word for boyfriend/girlfriend.

power nasi lemak
Photograph: Power Nasi Lemak


Elsewhere: "Let's some toast for breakfast."

In Singapore: "What you want for breakfast ah? Nasi lemak, prata, kaya toast, mee siam, mee rebus or fried carrot cake?"

Meaning: The first meal you take for the day which contains all food groups and dishes. Everything is breakfast food. 

Photograph: Unsplash/Kit Suman


Elsewhere: "I've got to go, see you again next week."

In Singapore: "Where got say? Don't anyhow fake news hor."

Meaning: Used with an element of denial or defensiveness. 

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