Stuff Singaporeans Like: #1 Acronyms

February 19, 2009 / Culture / 26 Comments

Tip: Hover your mouse over the acronyms to find out what they stand for.

To survive in Singapore, you need to know your AYEs, BKEs and CTEs. Singaporeans have acronyms for just about everything – from government bodies like MOE and MOF, swear words like KNN and CCB, to even people like their Minister Mentor LKY.

Heck, even kids tease each other with acronyms like BBQ.

So I wasn’t too surprised – although a little amused – that the Singaporean government is fighting the recession blues with perk-me-up acronyms like BOOST, SPUR, PREP-UP and YES.

Acronyms are pretty much a way of life here. Even after living here for 8 months, I still have to occasionally search for acronyms to understand what people are talking about.

But it’s these little things that make me appreciate life in Singapore.

New section: Stuff Singaporeans Like

I was inspired to start a “Stuff Singaporeans Like” section after reading Stuff White People Like. I felt it’s quite entertaining (and educational) for everyone to point out the little quirks in his or her culture. With that said, I don’t think I understand Singapore well enough to compile 100 “stuffs” yet. Perhaps some of you Singaporeans can help me with this endeavor. I’d welcome a guest post on it anytime.

Do you have any linguistic quirks in your country?


  • http://amourchaleur.com Dayna

    I agree. We use acronyms for nearly everything. The more common profanity is TMD and KB. πŸ˜‰ I hadn’t heard of BBQ though, that’s quite amusing.

    It’s already part of our life and we use it when taking the taxis (I always use PIE), we even use it for all our subjects in school. πŸ˜‰

    Oh by the way, how would you understand the word “mugging”? Someone at the forums misinterpret my meaning when I used that (I think that word is more common in Singapore). I was actually referring to studying but they took it for another meaning.

  • http://nanyate.com Ivy

    @Dayna: Mugging in Singapore means “studying hard”. Mugging in the US means “robbing”. Ya, that confusion happened to me before. I met this Singaporean girl in Canada, and she told me she was “mugging”. And I was like, “What? You robbed a bank?!”. -_____-;;

    But now I get it after my embarrassing episode. Hahaha.

  • http://claudia.sg claudia

    LOL! BTH LAH!

    BBQ?!?! first time i hear that!

  • http://www.little-wonder.net Brenda

    This is absolutely spot on! Strangely though, I was just musing about this particular topic with mum when we were driving on the roads.

    Oh, and let me relate this particularly funny incident. A friend related to me about how a group of students enrolled in an IT course were asked to read about ERP. (ERP as in, Enterprise Resource Planning.) Instead, the confused them ended up reading papers after papers on the local ERP (Electronic Road Pricing). o.O

  • http://dollprincess.org Melle

    hey, the password for my protected post is: whatcanmelsay

    Nice acronyms.. but nowadays, we use lotsa acronyms.. Juz like ROFL, LOL,BRB, GTG and more..

    MY country has TTYL .. haha

  • http://nanyate.com Ivy

    @Melle: I think the difference is that GTG, BRB are things we say online. We don’t tell our friends over dinner, “O-M-G L-O-L”. For Singaporeans, they actually do say “I want to take the A-Y-E” and “He’s such a CCB.”

    @claudia: Too cheem. I was staring at the screen wondering what BTH meant. Thank God my boyfriend came to my rescue. But after that, he said “you lived in Singapore for 8 months and you don’t know BTH?!?! You really CMI”. *facepalms*

  • http://www.teddy-o-ted.com teddY

    Those are the acronyms that make people identify themselves with the Singapore culture! Although I am not a Singaporean, living in this garden city state for 7 years helped a lot in getting me assimilated in local culture (including getting used to Singlish and the government’s fetish for acronyms).

    My friends coin KNN and CCB together to make it a more elaborate vulgarity, KNNCCB or KNNBCCB, with the B in the middle the shortened word of ‘boo’, or mother in Hokkien. Then we have TNB, which has the same meaning as BBQ except that it’s in Hokkien (‘tua neh boo’), I loled to hard when I first heard about it!

    After three letter vulgarities, we found a new love in minimalism and an avalanche of two-lettered experessions come out. DL means ‘dulan’, or ‘F#$&ed up’ in English. MF means… it’s self-explanatory. DH means ‘dick head’, CF means ‘cock face’, and we have a combination of each (DF and CH).

    When my business lecturer mentioned about the Capital Pricing Asset Model (CAPM) and the Security Market Line (SML), people laughed so hard he had to actually pause the lecture (and to make a side note that ‘It happens every year’). SML stands for ‘similan’, or ‘What the dick?!’ in dialect. Similar to WTF in English I assume? Some even make u[ a new acronym out of CAPM – Come And Phuck Me @.@ people are surely creative when it comes to this!

    Oh, the BBQ gave me a good laugh! I never knew it could be big breasted queen πŸ˜€ haha!

  • http://mayamurofushi.blogspot.com Maya

    Hi dear! I didn’t know that Acronymos was one of the sort for computer! It was my artist’s friend’s name,haha
    I’m glad that you are fine;-) Have a nice day!

  • http://fight-again.net Sandra

    BBQ is usually used for something else, lol. It’s impressive that a country has that much acronyms. In swedish there’s not that many them. We do however have a word that doesn’t exist in any other language. It means you can’t translate it or even explain what it means ’cause no one understands the concept of it. The word is “lagom”.

  • http://silvercpu.com/blog Lissy

    at at&t everything and I mean EVERYTHING is an acronym. I think they do it so if someone outside would get one of our papers or something, you would have no idea what they’re talking about. I still don’t most of the time.

    I work in CDT-WorX, for RUBY on CBUS and NFM. Every week I put my time into WMS and CM/PM. I still don’t know what any of those acronyms stand for.

  • http://justshen.com Shen

    Ah, we don’t use acronyms here, instead we have our own sort of dialect. It’s pretty odd and I’m sure the rest of the world won’t understand unless you live in this culture.

    For example, the word ‘horn’ here actually means to cheat on your significant other. ‘Let’s lime,’ means to let’s go hang out. If you’ve got ‘tabanca’ it’s the feeling of hurt when a romantic relationship ends. Ah, it’s odd but you can go through the sites I gave and see some other slang we use.

    http://www.geocities.com/nubian_baby/lingo.html
    http://users.rcn.com/alana.interport/dialect.html

  • pyee

    That’s so true~! As a foreigner, I actually had a hard time applying job because every job description is full of acronyms eg. AWS, SOP… haha

  • http://www.everdestiny.com Destiny

    Oh goodness, that’s a lot of acronyms to remember!! We have a number of those in Canada as well but not as much. You’ve lived in Canada for a while so I’m sure you know! :)
    I hope I can visit Singapore one day and check it out!

  • http://joeloholic.wordpress.com Joel O’s

    @teddY: As a fellow business student, I’ve had my share of dealing with CAPM and SML and the SML and the like. But I’ve NEVER made the “SML” connection – guess I’m a bit too removed from my ‘beng roots.

    Or maybe this is a sign that after studying here in O Canada for the last four years, I am finally… outgrowing my FOB status? (more acronyms for ya)

    But thank you for making sure that I’ll never be able to seriously think about modern portfolio theory without smirking stupidly to myself ever again.

  • http://amourchaleur.com Dayna

    @Ivy: Haha! Ya, they thought I was going to rob and beat someone up. I was like “huh.. I’m going to bury myself in books.”. This one was pretty funny. πŸ˜‰

    @teddY: Oh, no one in my class came up new acronyms for CAPM and SML in every class I’ve been. We just took it as it is. This is interesting.

  • http://myhugs.blogspot.com s k jain

    A blog as fresh as nature in design and cool stuff.

  • http://diaryofchanel.com chanel

    I have a hard time with these new acronyms rolling around the internet. I be seeing “ia thegefvf” and I’m like “Why won’t they just say the whole sentence for crying out loud.” lol.

  • http://passion.squirrelism.net/ Natalija

    In Canada, the linguistic occurrences aren’t so much in abbreviations as they are in product-related goods (although you probably know that from having lived in Canada).

    I can’t count how many times I’ve been asked if I wanted to go get a “Tim’s”. Or how many times someone’s said to me, “That guy’s pretty hot, eh?”

    In my region in particular (Northern Ontario), the linguistic trend seems to be changing what the in-word is for “good/interesting” every year. One year it’s “cool”, then “hot”, then “mint”, then “rad”, etc.

  • http://www.sabrina.sg Princessa

    Just dropping a note to say hi ;x

    Very nice blog design btw.

  • metwin1

    I confused my CBC res-mates the very first time I used the term “mugging” too! It must be a common experience amongst Singaporeans in Toronto. πŸ˜€

    Actually, “mug” isn’t Singlish. That was the assumption I made, then I checked the OED, and sure enough, it’s there; the 5th of 7 verb entries for “mug” (and 6 noun entries).

    [taken from OED]

    mug, v.

    1. intr. To read or study in a concentrated manner. Now freq. with up (on a subject, book, etc.); also formerly with away at, on at.

    1848 MAXWELL in L. Campbell Life (1882) 117 Please to write about your Prizes at College, and about coming here to mug.
    1860 J. C. HOTTEN Dict. Slang (ed. 2), Mug-up… To β€˜cram’ for an examination.{em}Army.
    1878 About Some Fellows vii. 45 Stortford, ever since he had settled to work, had..been patiently mugging on at his verses, and had got twelve done.
    1893 G. ALLEN Scallywag I. 241 That prize essay you were mugging away at.
    1915 H. L. WILSON Ruggles of Red Gap ix. 161 Many an hour found him mugging away at the book, earnestly striving to memorize the part.
    1960 W. H. AUDEN Homage to Clio 90 You need not mug up on dates.
    1989 R. MACNEIL Wordstruck iv. 102 His marginal notes suggest that he mugged up on Milton..about five minutes before he confronted us.
    1999 Alumnus (National Univ. Singapore) Apr. 55/2 You must have mugged all the way through school and are working so hard that you have no time to relax.

    [/taken from OED]

    But I also don’t know why only Singaporeans “mug”; even native English speakers from UK don’t use the word “mug” like that anymore.

  • http://nanyate.com Ivy

    @metwin1: We’re stuck in our archaic ways. A lot of “Singlish” words have roots in old English slang, while the English slang have evolved over time. Take it as a fragment of our colonial past. :)

  • http://pocketcultures.com Liz

    Interesting post! Maybe they sholud give everyone a glossary when they pass through customs to enter Singapore.

    I think my mum says ‘mug-up’ for the meaning you said. I’ve never heard anyone younger use it though.

  • metwin1

    @Ivy: Usually a word stops being used when another “more fashionable” word takes its place, or that the word becomes irrelevant or loses its social context.

    I’m sure the other people who mug as well, the Japanese, the Koreans and the Chinese (from PRC I mean)… they have a nice short simple term in their language that means “mug” exactly as we still use it in Singapore. :) Absolute tongue-in-cheek, and no offence intended to anybody from UK (or anywhere else), but perhaps the reason why “mug” is still used in Singapore where it’s died elsewhere is because Singaporeans are the only English speakers who still mug?

  • http://nanyate.com Ivy

    @metwin1: That’s exactly what I said. British English has evolved after they left Singapore. But “mug” has become incorporated into Singlish, so it is still being used here.

    And I don’t think it’s fair to say that Singaporeans are the only ones who mug in the world – especially since the creme de la creme of academia is still very much centered in the West. (Sorry had to make a lame pun). “Mug” in US and Canada just has a different connotation. It means to rob/to steal. “Studying my ass off” is the American way of saying “to mug”.

    Nothing to be surprised about and nothing worth a debate,
    really. Each country has its own slangs that are influenced by its history and culture. And Singapore has both a culture of “mugging” and a history of British colonialism – it would thus be expected for us to incorporate British slangs from the colonial era in our everyday speech. But of course, the British slangs from the 40s and 50s would be replaced already. Hence the misunderstanding across cultures and borders.

    Same thing with American English. They all had roots in Britain at one point, and all spoke British English at one point. But after its independence, their English grew a life of its own and became American English – dropping “u” from colours, and flipping “centre” to “center”, and having a entirely new set of slangs. Likewise, Singaporean English has grew a life of its own after our independence from British colonialism – adding dialects, changing grammatical structures, etc.

    It’s all very common and normal. Nothing that requires fascination or debate. Happens all the time. :)

  • http://toni-in-asia.blogspot.com Toni

    omg haha BBQ…that one is so funny! :p

  • http://callie.com CALLIE (:

    HEYHEYHEY (: ohmytian man. sibeigaoxiao πŸ˜€