Kiasu Is Oxford English Dictionary’s Word Of The Day

Singlish is often frowned upon as the poorer local cousin to the Queen’s English but do you know that some Singlish words have found their way into the hallowed Oxford English Dictionary (OED)?

Along with promoting the latest December 2014 quarterly update – which contains new words such as BYOD (bring your own device), un-PC (not politically correct) and g’day – to its online database of 60 million words, OED also selected an interesting choice for its Word of the Day on Feb 11.

“Kiasu” was featured. It is not the only Singlish word to be accepted by the OED. Does this mean we can play the word in Words With Friends now?

In the meantime, here is a quick primer on Singlish in the OED.

“Lah” and “sinseh” included in OED’s online debut

OED’s maiden online version, which was launched in March 2000, contained the Singlish words “lah” and “sinseh”. Ironically, this inclusion was announced just a month before then-Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong launched the Speak Good English Movement, aimed at stamping out Singlish.

“Lah” is described as a particle used with various kinds of pitch to convey the mood and attitude of the speaker, with examples such as “Don’t act tough lah” gleaned from author and former New Paper journalist Sylvia Toh.

According to OED, “sinseh” refers to a traditional Chinese physician or herbalist in Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore.

Singaporeans’ favourite catchphrase was admitted in 2007

“Kiasu” (noun and adjective) officially made it to the big time in March 2007, together with now-ubiquitous words such as wiki (which means quick and is also short for Wikipedia) and technopreneur.

The term is used to refer to a person “governed by self-interest, typically manifesting as a selfish, grasping attitude arising from a fear of missing out on something.”

Here is one of the examples cited: “I know I always think mean things of Alisa about her being kiasu and pretending not to study, but..I realise that she probably also feels insecure about her own intelligence.”

How are new words chosen for the OED?

Once a word gets into the dictionary, it is there to stay forever. OED reportedly adopts a conservative approach to language, keeping out newfangled words until they become widely used.

An editorial team in charge of new words actively monitors the Oxford Reading Programme (an electronic collection of short extracts drawn from a huge variety of writing) and the Oxford English Corpus (entire documents sourced mostly from the Internet). If there is evidence that a new term is being used in a variety of different sources, it qualifies as a candidate.

These are then selected for entry based on what the team judges to be the most significant or important, as well as being likely to stand the test of time.

Former Straits Times journalist Janadas Devan also noted in a 2007 interview that the Internet has played a large role in legitimising some words approved by the OED.

Why is OED’s Word of the Day special?

OED claims each word is “carefully selected for a particular reason”, be it for the word’s interesting etymology, a long and fascinating history, or simply because it’s novel and amusing. It can also be connected with a particular event or important date.

Why do you think “kiasu” was selected?

Trivia: It will take approximately 753 years for every word in the dictionary to be featured in Word of the Day. And that is if nothing else is added.



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