Singlish: Ang Mo (Who Am I?)
I am an Ang Mo. DH often reminds me about this when he nags me to hurry up – “Hey, Ang Mo!!!”
The Coxford Singlish Dictionary defines an Ang Mo as follows:
Hokkien for ‘red-hair’. A pejorative term used to describe Caucasians
Let’s look at this definition:
- Red hair
While not all Ang Mos have red hair, it is true that all those with natural red hair, must be an ang mo (aka. Caucasian). There is some discussion about this term being used because of the Scots that were apparently in the region a few hundred years ago.
- Pejorative: having a disparaging, derogatory, or belittling effect or force
Now I have spoken to a number of Singaporeans and they state that Ang Mo is not a derogatory term, but apparently to the hard core Singlish speaker it is. I’ve not personally encountered anyone who uses it that way, however I don’t speak Hokkein. At the same time, an insult only has power if you acknowledge the insult, and most Singaporeans I’ve met use it pretty much the same way that an Australian uses bastard (ie. a term of affection).
My step-son (SS12), currently has an expression that he likes to use when he’s being
a smartarse witty – I’m a caucasion, on occasion.
Comment posted by Justin Tan
at 10/1/2007 8:14:27 PM
The term ‘ang moh’ is very commonly used in Singapore, and is really just a descriptive term and has no pejorative meaning at all in most contexts and as used by the majority of Singaporeans. It is however, the shortened form of the definitely pejorative term ‘ang moh kwee’, which literally means ‘red-haired devil’ or ‘red-haired ghost’. So if you hear this original term, then you have been insulted; otherwise, ang moh is just a descriptive term.
I didn’t know that ‘bastard’ was a term of endearment in Ozland. I’m glad I read this post. Now, I won’t be upset if I meet an ‘ang moh’ who calls me a bastard.
Comment posted by ozlady
at 10/2/2007 12:25:36 AM
Hi Justin – When I lived in Hong Kong I was used to ‘gwai loh’ (or in my case it was ‘gwai moi’) – which is ghost or devil man (or woman in the case of gwai moi).
If you need more references on Australian slang, check out the Koala.net Australian slang dictionary or Aussie Slang. Tone is important here. I’m beginning to think that the Australian lexicon has its own tonal qualities, although perhaps not as strict as Chinese tones!