Singaporeans have been saying “shiok”, “sabo” and “lepak” for generations, and these and 12 other Singlish words are officially part of one of the most authoritative English dictionaries.
In a media release issued on Wednesday (11 May), the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) said it has included a number of Singapore English words in its latest update. Among them, OED defines “shiok” as “cool, great; delicious, superb”, “sabo” as “to harm, inconvenience, or make trouble for (a person)” and “lepak” as “to loiter aimlessly or idly; to loaf, relax, hang out”.
Singlish references to food and places like “chilli crab”, “teh tarik”, “hawker centre” and “HDB” are also new entries in the OED.
Gwee Li Sui, a former academic at the National University of Singapore’s English Language and Literature Department, said the inclusion is not about recognising Singlish as an international language.
“English itself has to adapt not just with the times but also with the places it is used. If it doesn’t, it will just become more and more abstract and imprecise,” said Gwee, who pointed out that words like “kiasu” and “void deck” were previously added to the OED.
Meanwhile, the OED is asking the public to help trace the origins of “sabo” and “shiok”. Those who are interested can post evidence on http://public.oed.com/appeals/, which will open until 10 June.
So if you are not sure about the meaning of “wah” or “Chinese helicopter”, don’t be “blur like sotong” and look them up in the OED.
Dr Danica Salazar, World English Editor for the OED, will be in Singapore from 17 to 22 May to talk about Singapore English in the dictionary. She will be speaking at the following events:
Singapore English in the Oxford English Dictionary
18 May 2016, 3:30 pm
Seminar Room 4, School of Humanities and Social Science (HSS), Nanyang Technological University
HSS-B1-09, 14 Nanyang Drive, Singapore 637332
Because Words Matter
21 May 2016, 2:00 pm
SMUX Active Learning Classroom 3-1, Level 3, SMU Labs, 71-77 Stamford Road, Singapore 178895
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