I don’t think it means what you think it means.

Carousell is a fantastic classified ad platform. It embodies one of my favorite proverbs, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

However, to find the treasure, you have to hunt. There are clues, but sometimes the clues are misleading.

In particular, I’ve noticed that people use words for different kinds of furniture in surprising ways.

There are people who use the word cabinet to describe a piece of furniture when it is clearly a shelf—and vice versa!

Deciding what to call something is hard. Especially if you’ve got more than one language rattling around in your brain.

See below for proof.

Continue reading I don’t think it means what you think it means.

Carouspell: A collection of spelling mistakes in Carousell classified ads

Oral language is a blur. We don’t notice, unless we try to sing karaoke and realize we have no idea what the words to our favorite songs actually are, or—worse—that we’ve been singing them wrong with utter conviction for decades.

Eggcorns (plausible malapropisms) are words or phrases that exist thanks to this kind of ambiguity. Wrong song lyrics, in case you’re curious, are called mondegreens.

On classified ad sites like Carousell, language assumptions that pass unnoticed in speech are made visible. You can learn a lot about the local dialect by cataloging the unintentionally hilarious mistakes that local native English speakers make.

See below for examples.

Continue reading Carouspell: A collection of spelling mistakes in Carousell classified ads

Threelogy Lah by Casey Chen

This box set contains three folk tales told in Singlish style: The Three Little Pigs Lah, The Red Riding Hood Lah, and The Goldilocks Lah.

The plots are not very different from other adaptations of these familiar tales. The characters are not very different, except that the bears in the story of Goldilocks are not bears but wolves, a change presumably made to connect the third book with the first two. The setting for the stories is Singapore. The illustrations are a mix of drawings and photos of objects and places, and each book’s drawings are by a different artist.

The appeal of these books (in general and for me specifically) is that they use and teach Singlish dialect and slang expressions. The target audience includes both those who want to see their own dialect used for humorous effect and those who are unfamiliar with Singlish and interested in increasing their understanding of it.

See below for more details about these books.

Continue reading Threelogy Lah by Casey Chen

Mobile Phone Protective Case

After I bought a Samsung S7 from a friend, I immediately bought a rubbery (thermoplastic polyurethane) case for it at the nearest mobile phone accessory kiosk. (Throw a rock in any direction in downtown Singapore and you’ll hit ten such kiosks.)

The text on the package is hilarious…

Continue reading Mobile Phone Protective Case

Bras Basah Complex: Art, Dance, Explore, Sports, Book

If you are looking to buy books in Singapore, this is a good place to go. It has several book shops selling new or used books. It also has print shops, art supply shops, stationery shops, and shops selling musical instruments and antiques.

Within the last couple of years, these colorful square signs were added to convey the complex’s status as a cultural hub of sorts.

Bras Basah Complex
* Art * Dance * Explore * Sport * Book

One of my pet peeves is lists of things that aren’t all the same part of speech. “Art, Dance, Explore, Sports, Book” is a fantastic example. See below for why.

Continue reading Bras Basah Complex: Art, Dance, Explore, Sports, Book

Soup Spoon Novena: Cutleries Station is now Cutlery Corner

Last June, I posted a photo of a sign that said “Cutleries Station”. They have improved the sign tremendously since then.

  • In particular, the non-word “cutleries” has been replaced with “cutlery”.
  • The sign has an icon showing cutlery, for additional clarity.
  • The sign is in better shape.
  • It uses cheesy alliteration (of which I am a fan).

I didn’t mention it before, but if you say “cutleries station” aloud, it runs together because of the “s” in the middle and sounds like “cutlery station”. Maybe the similarity in the pronunciation of the two phrases helps explain why the previous sign was written the way it was. The inaudibility of that double s also helps explain “Today Special“.

Zero-inflection plurals do not include cucumber.

This package of Japanese Kyuri from Malaysia says:

Rich in nutrients, Cucumber are excellent in salads, sandwiches, stir-fry and sushi.

Here, the fact that the singular is being treated like a plural makes it sound as if cucumbers are exotic animals like bison or buffalo.

Recently, though I don’t have a photo, I saw a sign in front of some model planes (in the Tin Tin shop strangely located on Pagoda St in Chinatown) that was advertising “aircrafts for sale”. Ack. No.

For a variety of historical reasons, English has many kinds of nouns that are annoyingly difficult to pluralize, and Wikipedia helpfully lists them.

Interestingly, the cucumber package shows ‘salads’, ‘sandwiches’, ‘stir-fry’, and ‘sushi’ all in the correct form, even though ‘salad’ requires an ‘s’, ‘sandwich’ requires ‘es’, and ‘stir-fry’ and ‘sushi’ are uncountable.

Why, then, was it so hard to give ‘cucumber’ its plural ‘s’?

And why is it capitalized?!

Downstairs vs under

When my husband took me to a squinchy Japanese restaurant that had high chairs at a bar-style counter, the server laconically instructed me to put my bag “downstairs”, which meant “on the shelf under the seat of the chair”.

I have heard English teachers eager to hold students accountable for their spoken language deride this common Singlish use of “downstairs”, but it’s wonderful (and typical) in its succinctness.

If you use the preposition “under”, you have to include a noun for the preposition to be, well, positioned in front of. If you use the adverb “downstairs”, you’re just saying something needs to go below something else, and letting context do the work of indicating what the something else is.

Chinese has a phrase approximately meaning “down side” which can be used the way the server was using “downstairs” to adverbially indicate “under something”. It also has phrases meaning “up side”, “behind side”, “opposite side”, etc., and you can say “located opposite side” without needing to say “located opposite the hotel”, for example, the way we can say in English that “the receipt is in the bag” or just “the receipt is inside”.

I get the sense that Chinese relies on context more than English, or at least relies on context in ways that English doesn’t, since a large proportion communication in any language is always shared context.

Spot the homophone (plus a lesson in contest statistics)

This advertisement (which was designed to be hung on a horizontal pole on a bus or a train) says:

West My Golden Ticket?

The idea for this jokey name is that the word “west” in Singlish has the exact same three sounds as the word “where’s” in Singlish.

Yep. They’re both pronounced “wes”.

Below is some explanation of what the advertisement wants you to do (spend money, duh) and how the math works.

Continue reading Spot the homophone (plus a lesson in contest statistics)