Terms such as “lepak”,”teh tarik” and “wet market” have found their way into the quarterly update of the OED.
However, while it recognises that many of these words are used by Malaysians, the OED has chosen to lump them all under the “Singapore English” category.
These are among more than 500 new words, phrases, and senses from different parts of the English-speaking world that have found a place in the OED.
The OED website says: “The terms “lepak” (‘to loiter aimlessly or idly; to loaf, relax, hang out’) and “teh tarik” (‘sweet tea with milk’), are characteristic of both Singapore and Malaysian English, while “wet market” (‘a market for the sale of fresh meat, fish, and produce’) is used not just in these two countries, but all over Southeast Asia.”
The OED website says the “Singapore English” words demonstrate “new senses of common English words such as “blur” meaning ‘slow in understanding; unaware, ignorant, confused’; loanwords from Chinese, such as “ang moh” , and Malay, such as “shiok” (‘cool, great; delicious, superb’).
Many Malaysians will realise that these terms are also in currency here, not just in Singapore.
It has also included formations in English that it says are only used in Singapore, such as “sabo” (‘to harm, inconvenience, or make trouble for (a person); to trick, play a prank on’) and HDB (‘a public housing estate’).
In a note, OED’s Senior Assistant Editor Jonathan Dent says: “Looking beyond the UK and US, there’s also an (almost complete) alphabet of newly added terms from World English to explore, from “and moh” (a Singapore English term for a light-skinned person, especially one of European origin – literally in Hokkien Chinese ‘(a person with) red hair’) to “yum cha” (a Chinese meal, usually of dim sum and tea, eaten in the morning or early afternoon).”
He says the word “wah”, an expression of surprise, admiration, or delight, is used in Indian and Singapore English and boasts a complex etymology possibly involving Urdu, Persian, Cantonese, Mandarin, and Malay etymons.
Here are the new “Singapore English” words:
- ang moh
- char siu
- chilli crab
- hawker centre
- lepak (as a verb and as a noun)
- sabo (as a verb and as a noun)
- sabo king
- teh tarik
- wet market
- Chinese helicopter
- killer litter