Singlish phrases Singaporeans just can’t help dropping at work


If you work in Singapore, chances are you’re already using or heard many Singlish words being dropped at the workplace.

But some words or phrases just keep getting used because they’re just so apt in describing a work situation or colleague.

Some are colloquial Singlish words, while some are phrases used during National Service which male colleagues simply can’t get out of their systems.

Here are a few you should get familiar with, if you haven’t already heard them.

Source: Sujin Thomas/Business Insider

1. Own time, own target What it means: The phrase was probably coined at an SAF shooting range and is still used as a command to let soldiers know to fire their rifles at their own time at target boards. In everyday life, it’s used to let people know to get work done at their own pace.

Example: “John, don’t worry. That project you can work on own time, own target.”

2. Catch no ball What it means: This is based off th e Hokkien dialect to indicate something which is not understood or confusing.

Example: “Did you understand what the boss said just now? I totally catch no ball.”

3. Bao toh What it means: This has Hokkien origins and simply means “to tattle”.

Example: “It’s okay, just leave work when you need to. I won’t bao toh you to the boss”

Television still: Arrow 3 starring Stephen Amell. Source: Mediacorp

4. Arrow What it means: Used in the Army to refer to being assigned a task. For dramatic effect, soldiers are known to mimic the act of shooting an arrow from a bow at a person being assigned.

Example: “You guys go ahead for drinks first. I just got arrow-ed this last minute.”

5. Lobang What it means: In Malay, “lubang” means “hole”. Another often-used colloquial spelling is “lobang”. It typically refers to an opportunity or exclusive means to obtain something or to get a task done. The Hokkien word “kang tow” means the same thing.

Example: “Does anyone have a lobang for a cheap vendor? I could really use some help.”

Source: ST

6. On the ball What it means: This probably has its origins on a football field and is commonly used in English conversations to refer to “competence” and “alertness”.

It has a similar meaning in Singlish but is often used to refer to someone who does a task well or stays on top of things.

Example: “Wah, that new executive is super on the ball, man. He’s a good hire!”

Source: BH

7. Wayang What it means: The word is Malay for a theatre performance involving puppetry. In Singlish, it refers to the act of pretending to do something, usually to please a superior.

Example: “The new supervisor is such a wayang king in front of the big boss. I’m surprised the higher-ups don’t see past his act.”