Singapore Adventure

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Vocabulary Lessons
by venitha

Kiasu, siao, kaypoh, ang moh... I expected to be flummoxed and entertained by the Mandarin, Hokkien, Malay, etc., contributions to Singlish. What I didn't expect was the number of perfectly standard English terms that I'd need to learn.

  • Zebra crossing. This term makes you start to wonder just what animals live in the rainforest and the mangrove swamps, but it means the striped crosswalks at which Singaporean drivers will slam on their brakes to allow pedestrians to cross the street. Beware being lulled into complacency by this behavior, however, for such courtesy does not extend to the drivers in Bangkok, who, in their defense, probably just can't see either pedestrians or the zebra crossing through the polluted air.

  • Petrol kiosk. Sounds so cool that I almost wish I had a car so I had an excuse to visit one regularly. Then again, considering the latest petrol prices, not so much. Sorry, but it's beyond my mental capabilities to figure out the current price of petrol for comparison with the extortion going on these days in the US; Sing dollars per litre, and then there's some percentage discount that, well, um, let's just take the MRT. I'll even buy.

  • Lift. Yep, it's an elevator, and I've also heard the term used for escalators, which are far more common here. The moving walkway at the airport is called a travellator.

  • Green fingers. Instead of a green thumb, which, alas, I also don't have. A few weeks ago, I bought a bunch of houseplants, thinking it an act sure to get us sent home in no time flat. Not only are we still here, but in spite of my best efforts, I have yet to kill a single plant with my not-green fingers.

  • Capsicum. A bell pepper by any other name would taste as sweet, but I can't imagine where else it would cost as little as it does in Singapore.

  • Lorry. Yeah, it's a truck, but nothing like those Ram tough trucks in the US. Note to all you Singaporean entrepreneurs out there: I'm much more interested in a ride in the back of one of these than in a , especially if you throw in the requisite number of handsome Malay construction workers.

  • Queue. We probably need this term here just because we spend so much time doing it. And so much time bitching about kiasu aunties not doing it appropriately.

  • Hump. Otherwise known as a speed bump. I haven't actually heard this used in conversation, but it cracked me up to see it painted like a command on the road.
  • Cum. Regardless of whether or not this word has the meaning in Singapore that scares Americans away from using it in polite conversation - I don't know and I'm not about to ask - Singaporeans use it quite properly as a preposition meaning together with, as in bar cum restaurant, handphone cum camera, massage parlor cum whorehouse.

  • Can/Cannot. Far more common here than yes and no. Even in our Malay class, we learned can and cannot well before we learned yes and no.

  • Off/on. These words are verbs! Who knew? On the light. Off the fan. Poor unnecessary turn.
Okay, class, listen up! Your homework is to use the above words together in a short paragraph. Turn in your assignment as a comment on this blog post. Extra credit if you use them all!