Monday, May 23, 2005

We own this language and it owns us back


Aunty Lilly got all excited on Sunday and yelled up and down the terrace house, waking Uncle Albert and my cousins with:
Ben's face come out newspaper! Ben's face come out newspaper! Ben's face come out newspaper!
My grumpy cousins grunted their replies, hoping she'd leave them alone so they could go back to sleep. But Aunty Lilly, all essited and more repetitive than the karang-guni man, persisted:
Ben's face come out newspaper, you know?
Aunty Lilly won't know what it's all about if you told her this pidgin called Singlish is to be strongly discouraged. Or that schools will have to buck up and teach proper English, they say. Or that simply passing English exams at Cambridge GCE O and A levels isn't good enough now. Just when (linguists and linguistic hobbyists please correct me - yes, Daryl, you) this pidgin was on the cusp of turning into a creole, a veritable language of its own. And they're kewwing it! The fuckers! Just when we've almost acquired a real mother tongue and a national language that's congruent with our migrant heritage. Nabeh, our forefathers (limpeh) came here, appropriated everything and made it their own, ok? Ban Singlish and you might as well ban chicken rice, kaya toast, hainanese coffee, satay, mee siam, laksa, rojak and ice-kachang. While you're at it, this purist binge, you might as well tell everyone the real reason for the crescent moon on the national flag. Not the 'young nation' and the Jackson Five spiel. Aiyah, dunno lah. All's I care about is that there are etymological gems like the following floating around: During 'live-firing' range training in the Army in National Service (another national institution, hey, why not ban this too?), soldiers who are really, really bad shots are called 'Bobo shooters', by their instructors and comrades. Now, I used to think that the word 'Bobo' came from the Hokkien rude root word, 'Boh', meaning 'don't have', 'don't got', or 'nothing', but an old Army hand recently left a comment in my Army team blog and explained otherwise:
BOBO is an adulterated version of WOWO. WO stands for 'Washed Out', i.e., hopeless in shooting (like our national soccer team), can't get a single hit. During those days, there were the english educated and the chinese educated. There were even the Hokkien platoons (where they can't even converse in Mandarin). There were malay, tamil and other language speaking soldiers.Those days ===> 60s and 70s. We wore name tags with different coloured backgrounds from 1975. Green for English, orange for Mandarin, red for Hokkien, yellow for Tamil, blue for Malay and purple for others (like Teochew speaking). The background colour is for your main language. It would be green if you are english educated. Then, if you could also speak mandarin proficiently, a little orange colour is added to the right end of the tag. You could add several colours if you speak several languages proficiently. Back to BOBO. As the chinese helicoptered (derogatory term to describe the chinese educated by the english educated) usually mispronounced english terms, they pronounced WOWO as BOBO. We used to joke about it but somehow the term appar to stick since. Trust me. I enlisted in 1973.
Orange for Mandarin. How cool is that?
Surf stop: wurh.com (because easy to remember URL)
iTunes' party shuffle is playing a copy of: Lookin' Through the Windows - The Jackson 5 - Number One Motown, of which I have the original CD and therefore didn't steal music.


10 Comments:

Blogger KwokSiong said...

haha, does this mean that i'm supposed to be called a wowo shooter, instead of a bobo shooter? haha. i wonder what other things in the army has been distorted as bad as this.

5/22/2005 10:45:00 PM  
Blogger RK said...

If you haven't seen this site yet, in all kindess, please take a look at it--(at least once in your life):

whowilldietoday.blogspot.com

5/23/2005 12:46:00 AM  
Blogger Lexandria said...

"Green for English, orange for Mandarin, red for Hokkien, yellow for Tamil, blue for Malay and purple for others (like Teochew speaking). The background colour is for your main language. It would be green if you are english educated. Then, if you could also speak mandarin proficiently, a little orange colour is added to the right end of the tag."


Green -*ting!* English. Good can talk to easily.

Orleng - *TEH!* abit warning. speak mandarin, careful abit.

RED - BEWARE!!!!! Hokkien!!! They very vulgar!

That's all i can make out of. Any more ideas?

5/23/2005 01:46:00 AM  
Blogger ~*Starryluvly*~ said...

hmm..interesting etymological story! Although I find it a bit weird that W would be mispronounced as B....

5/23/2005 11:02:00 AM  
Blogger Pkchukiss said...

I sincerely hate language purists: they poison the nation with their deadly cocktails in their attempts to stem the "cancerous" growth of our own national identity.

If any deviation from the norm is considered heretical, we should probably just remain the same old boring Singapore.

5/23/2005 11:12:00 AM  
Blogger Pkchukiss said...

Oh, and I really love bobo instead of wowo. It concotes a sense of minor idiocy in it. Simply won't sound the same if we go wowo

5/23/2005 11:13:00 AM  
Blogger J Schnorng said...

wah, ci'en again? now is what, five ah? six? the miyagi love just flows all over that website.

5/23/2005 12:58:00 PM  
Blogger Merenwen said...

Another cute anecdote about Auntie Lilly finally! I've missed her, man!

5/23/2005 01:29:00 PM  
Blogger Ah 9 said...

'Face come out newspaper'

i can imagine you crawling out (like sadako or ju-on) of the newspaper with the exact same face.....wahhaha

5/23/2005 08:12:00 PM  
Anonymous germaine said...

im annoyed english is killing my english exams are eating me up

5/23/2005 10:48:00 PM  

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