Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Hokkien is Chinese for Yiddish

Yiddish has given the English language some great words. Who hasn't admired someone's chutzpah, been called a klutz, kvetched about work, aspired to be a mensch or watched a schmaltzy movie? We sprinkle our thoughts with these strange words whatever our religious persuasion, partly because of their evocative, onomatopoeic charm and sometimes they are just the bon mot.

Singaporeans use Hokkien in the same way, as raisins in a linguistic scone. And there is a saying that the 5 'k's define the Hokkien character:

  1. Kiasu: afraid of losing, being beaten
  2. Kiasi: afraid of dying
  3. Kiabo: afraid of having nothing
  4. Kiabor: afraid of the wife
  5. Kia Chenghu: afraid of the government

There's a couple of others that spring up. Kaygao means to be very calculative, scheming, Ke kiang means trying to be smart while Kiamsap means stingy.

I am bemused by the tension between kiasu and kiasi when applied to stocks and investments. They correspond to bull and bear sentiments and for a Hokkien holding stock, it must be a sort of personal hell trying to avoid either losing out or losing the lot. Oy vey!