From ‘Singapore Shiok, or just silly?’, 28 April 2013, article by Nicholas Yong, Sunday Times
First, Singapore was marketed as uniquely itself as a tourist destination. Then, it became yours. Now, it is “shiok” too. The Singapore Tourism Board’s (STB) latest marketing video on YouTube revolves around the Singlish expression – derived from the Malay word “syok”, which means nice – for extreme pleasure. Cold ice kacang on a hot day? Shiok. The adrenaline rush of sky-diving? Shiok! Being massaged at a posh spa? Shhh…iok.
…In the Singapore video, a Caucasian man struggling to pronounce “shiok” – defined helpfully on screen as “a Singaporean expression denoting extreme pleasure or the highest quality” – opens the clip. When he finally succeeds, his Singaporean friends applaud him…Branding expert Tim Clark, a Briton in his 60s, thinks “using the local language to help visitors to connect with a country is a good thing”.
…Professor Gemma Calvert, a British professor at NTU’s Institute for Asian Consumer Studies, agrees with Mr Clark that the video makes the featured foreigner struggling to pronounce “shiok” look “a bit of a shmuck“. She says: “The phrase isn’t particularly difficult to pronounce and therefore may come across as slightly patronising to outsiders. As a Caucasian myself, I admit I cringed to some extent at the representation portrayed by this particular individual.”
…Creative director Hanson Ho, in his 30s, of H55 studio also notes: “‘Shiok’ is sometimes expressed somewhat artificially in certain scenes, making it seem quite unnatural.” For instance, having a little boy whisper “shiok” at the sight of zoo animals at the Night Safari seemed to be stretching it a little.
…Lawyer Samantha Ong, 31, wonders if the video could have varied its local vocabulary a little. “There’s a serious overuse of the word ‘shiok’ that’s kind of cheesy and annoying,” she says of the yelled, purred and breathed incarnations in the video.
“Aren’t there other ‘uniquely Singapore’ words or ways to express pleasure, such as ‘sedap’ or ‘ho chiak’ (delicious in Malay and Hokkien)?”
By attempting to globalise the word and sell it to visitors, ‘Shiok’ has become as problematic as ‘Lah’: Both also ‘ANYHOW use one’. If a kid exclaimed to me that watching animals in a zoo is ‘shiok!’ I would instantly correct him that he should have used the more generic ‘Wahh’ instead. I may even tolerate the Americanised ‘Awesome’ or ‘Whoa!’. Other scenes where the use of shiok is exaggerated and unnatural include Singaporeans showing off their shopping haul, ‘shioking’ at a club, or marvelling at the LV island in MBS. A simple ‘Wow’ or ‘Niiice’ wouldn’t stick as well, but these poor examples of shiok are as misplaced as getting locals to yell ‘Yahoo’ or ‘Yippee’ while exhibiting ‘extreme pleasure’, though ‘yahoo’ is something I often say in my head with an imaginary fist-pump whenever I manage to board an MRT train during peak hour.
Singaporeans also tend to be bad teachers of their own beloved lingo. When UK boyband The Wanted popped by to perform, fans cheered when they said ‘Singaporean girls are SHIOK’. Totally wrong and even demeaning in today’s context, but the fans don’t care, and this mistake will be perpetuated to every celebrity the world over, who’ll pepper their concerts with forced Singlish like ‘You’re such a SHIOK audience, LAH’. Ugh.
When singer Demi Lovato was in town, DJ Divian Nair decided to teach her how to use shiok (like ‘awesome’) as a warm-up during an interview, with the superstar obliging with ‘I’m feeling shiok right now’. Lucky Divian. Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine says Singapore is ‘like, TOTALLY SHIOK’. Neither of these Caucasians has difficulty pronouncing the word, which is like replacing the C in Coke with Sh- (unless you want to be picky and insist that there should be a ‘-yee-ok’ sound). We seem to have an obsession with trying to get foreigners to speak Singlish with the same sadistic enthusiasm as teasing a kitten with a laser pointer. It may well be pride on our part to promote Singlish, but it does make a sporting goon out of non-Singaporeans when they mutilate it, be it shiok, lah or ‘Ho-Say’.
The worst abuse of shiok, however, comes from our Board of Censors. In 1999, when they found the use of ‘Shagged’ in the movie title Austin Powers:The Spy who Shagged Me objectionable, they proposed to replace the offensive word to the verb-form ‘SHIOKED’, as in The Spy who SHIOKED me, which would suggest to those unfamiliar with Singlish that shiok is a euphemism for the F-word. Thanks to our authorities, IMDB now thinks that shioked means ‘to be treated nicely’. If they had really pulled the title edit off, this ad, with the zoo kid whispering a potentially foul word into Daddy’s ear, wouldn’t exist. Max George from the Wanted would have said: ‘I’m here to Shiok some Singapore Girls’. To some cheers still.
Yet, it’s not so simple defining when exactly shiok should be used. It’s like trying to teach someone when to use ‘lah’, ‘leh’ and ‘lor’. We have been known to use it in various contexts outside of food from which I believe it originally evolved (Humorist Paik Choo described ‘shiok’ mee rebus in a 1979 ST article). Enjoying rainy weather, lying on a hard cold floor on a blistering hot day or even sprawling out on a king-size bed in a hotel room may qualify as ‘shiok’ activities today. It’s often an interjection ejaculated reflexively, like the opposite of ‘Ouch’, and preceded by a period of anticipation or suffering, specific to a relatively quick, pleasurable stimulus. Nobody goes to a club and yells ‘SHIOK’ while dancing, nor experiences shiok-ness after staring at a fancy floating building for minutes. A massage after a long day? Shiok. A hot bath after a marathon? Lagi shiok! But saying ‘Singapore is SHIOK’? GET LOST LAH.
Filed under: 1970s, 2013, Advertisements, Censors, Foul language, It Should Have Been.., Local food, Singlish/Broken english, Tourists | Tagged: Advertisements, Caucasian, censors, Foul language, local food, Singlish/Broken english, tourism, Tourists | Leave a Comment »