The following list consists of formally accepted words, as well as slang in Singapore's four official and other minority languages, used to refer to gay men and lesbians. Terms for transgender and intersex people, while not strictly applicable to homosexual individuals, are also included in this section.
However, derogatory slang words initially referring specifically to transgender people in Singapore and Malaysia, for example "ah kua" (Hokkien), "bapok", "pondan", "kedik" (Malay), "kidi" (Tamil) and "muffadet" (Singlish), also came to be used as slurs on effeminate cisgender men because for the greater part of the twentieth century, there was confusion as to what the difference between gay and transgender was. In fact, in the revelatory Singapore's first newspaper articles on the LGBT community published in 1972, even after months of research, the investigative reporting team still lumped homosexual men together with transgender women into one large category with three subdivisions.
The article stated:
"Basically there are three main types of homosexual males:
- ONE: The transvestites, or drags, who dress as women.
- TWO: The effeminate males, who are very feminine in appearance or mannerism.
- THREE: The normal male, neither effeminate nor unlike other "straight" (non-homosexual) males in appearance."
It was probably not a deficiency in the thoroughness of the research undertaken by the journalists but the relative infancy of scientific knowledge regarding sexual orientation and gender identity in the 1970s. In fact, the acronym "LGBT" only began to be used by activists in the United States, the home of the worldwide gay rights movement, as late as in 1988 before finally managing to creep into cognisance in the Singaporean lexicon during the mid-2000s.
Moreover, in the non-English languages spoken in Singapore, there were traditionally no terms for non-effeminate homosexual men. These local languages had to borrow or translate directly from English - for example "homoseksual" and "gay" by Malay, "同性恋者" by Chinese and "ஓரினப்புணர்ச்சியாளர்" (ohrinappunartchiyaalar) by Tamil. Therefore, if one wanted to insult a masculine homosexual man about his sexuality, one would have to resort to using a slur that was meant for transgender women.
English/Singlish[edit | edit source]
PLU - acronym for People Like Us, the first Singaporean organisation involved in the struggle for gay equality. It is also used as a slang word for LGBT people, especially amongst the younger Internet-savvy generation. It has only been in fashion since the late 1990s, but has rapidly become the most popular, even spreading to neighbouring Malaysia.
Muffadet - the Singlish corruption of 'hermaphrodite', an individual with the reproductive organs of both sexes. The derogatory slang word probably first surfaced in the Eurasian communities of Singapore and Malaysia, especially those with British ancestry, since their command of English was the best of all the local ethnic groups in the Straits Settlements and privileged them to know the meaning of such a relatively difficult and uncommon word as 'hermaphrodite'. As most Eurasians were Catholic and sent their children to the Christian Brothers Schools such as Saint Patrick's School, Saint Stephen's School and Saint Joseph's Institution, the slur was gradually also picked up by the Chinese, Malay and Indian students in these educational establishments. It later spread to the better English-speaking schools such as the Anglo-Chinese School, Raffles Institution, Victoria School and Montfort School. In fact, some gay pupils in Montfort School (also Catholic but not a Christian Brothers School) used to jokingly refer to it as "Muffadet School". Alternatively, other-race students in secular English schools could have contemporaneously imbibed the term from their Eurasian classmates. Muffadet, as a derogatory slang word for transwomen and effeminate men, fell into disuse towards the later part of the twentieth century.
A.Q. or A.K. - acronym for Ah Kua or Ah Qua, the Hokkien word for transvestite (see below).
A.J. - a popular term probably derived from the Pig Latin word for "gay", i.e. "aygay", with the guttural "g" softened to a "j" to further disguise its form. It was initially used by English-educated schoolboys in the better schools but later spread to and is currently mainly used by the younger generation of local Chinese-educated gays. The term is often used as code, in situations where the speakers do not wish to allow outsiders to understand the conversation. Example: "Is he AJ or straight?", "My classmate is also AJ."
G - abbreviation of 'gay'. Example: "Is he a G?"
On - slang meaning 'gay'. Example: 'Is he on?'
Poon - little known code word for "gay" used in some circles of English-educated Singaporeans in the 1980s and 1990s.
302 - army slang for an effeminate soldier; derived from the Singapore Armed Forces' medical classification of mental disorders known as Category 302, a designation for both homosexual and transgender personnel.
Prawn - code word applied to men who have attractive bodies but not handsome faces, i.e. good only from the neck down, like prawns. This term was concocted by Alfian Sa'at in his play "Asian Boys Vol. 3". It has unfortunately been used by Taiwanese gays when referring to their Singaporean counterparts.
Lebanese - code word for "lesbian" used by local lesbians in the 2010's, during the early Facebook generation.
Malay[edit | edit source]
Pondan - derogatory word for a male-to-female cross-dresser/transvestite or transgender woman. Also came to be used as a slur on an effeminate cisgender male; increasingly being employed by the Malaysian media to refer to non-effeminate gay men.
Kedi - derogatory word for a male-to-female cross-dresser/transvestite or transgender woman derived from the Ottoman Turkish word كدی (kädi) which means "cat". It is pronounced as "kedik", with a glottal stop at the end. the word was first used in the local English press in 1972 (see main article: Singapore's first newspaper articles on the LGBT community).
Homoseksual - derived from the English word homosexual.
Mak nyah - Transwoman. Formed from the combination of "mak" which is a colloquial contraction of "emak" (meaning "mother" in Malay), and "nyah" ( meaning "to run from", "to transition"),. The term "mak nyah" was coined by the Malaysian male transsexual community (in 1987 when they tried to set up a society but was denied by the Malaysian Registrar of Societies) as a preferred substitute for "pondan" or "bapok" which generally refers to men who are effeminate homosexual (and cisgender) males. Ponen - an effeminate male (less commonly used),.
Waria - an Indonesian contraction of 'wanita' meaning woman and 'pria' meaning man, thus coining a word for the "third sex", usually meaning transgender people. The Warias were the subject of a documentary by Kathy Huang entitled "Tales of the Waria".
Cunta - uncommonly used word for 'hermaphrodite'.
Mukhannis - an Arabic-derived term for a pre-operative transwomen; used by the Islamic Religious Department in Malaysia which forbids such a person from undergoing sex-reassignment surgery, cross-dress, wear make-up or even act effeminately.
Mukhannas - an Arabic-derived term for an effeminate male who does not want to change his physical sex; used by the Islamic Religious Department in Malaysia which forbids such a person to cross-dress, wear make-up or even act effeminately.
Kes cermin - literally means "mirror case"; prison slang for an inmate convicted for a homosexual crime.
Kunyit - a derogatory slang or code word mainly used in Malaysia since the early 2010s for a gay man who may or may not be effeminate. Kunyit is the Malay word for turmeric, a spice of the ginger family that comes in the form of a yellowish-orange powder. The metaphorical sense is that inserting the penis into someone’s anus may bring into into contact with stools, which for the locals resembles pasty kunyit. As a corollary, gay men are sometimes referred to as "geng kunyit" (turmeric gang),.
Sado - buff or muscular (not specifically a gay slang word; commonly used by Malaysian teenagers; nothing to do with sado-masochism). It originated from the expression "besar bodoh", meaning a big, dumb person. This evolved into "besar do" ("do" being a contraction of "bodoh") and ultimately into "sado".
Cenda - an alternative term for 'gender'.
Kelamin - sexual.
Patur (a contraction of patuh akur; "patuh" means "to obey" and "akur" means "in agreement with") - conforming.
Tancenda - agender.
Cenda darai - genderqueer.
Bukandua - non-binary.
Bena - fluid.
Kebenaan cenda - gender fluidity.
Cenda tak pakur - gender non-conforming.
Cenda sejadi - assigned-at-birth gender.
Melit - curious; a term of Indonesian origin.
Demelit - bicurious.
Pembedahan tukar kelamin - sex reassignment surgery.
Chinese[edit | edit source]
Mandarin[edit | edit source]
Tóng xìng lìan (同性恋) - literally "homosexual love".
Tóng xìng lìan zhe (同性恋者) - proper or scientific term for a homosexual. The suffix 者 zhe ('person' or 'one who') is frequently dropped - incorrectly according to grammar purists - in colloquial Mandarin usage in Singaporean (as well as in China).
Tóng xìng aì (同性爱) - homosexuality (lit. "homosexual love"); a more respectful term than 'tóng xìng lìan' (同性恋).
Bō li (玻璃) - (lit. "glass") slang for male homosexual. It draws an analogy between the opening or mouth of a glass bottle and the male anus.
Tóng zhì (同志) - properly meaning "comrade" and profusely used during the Cultural Revolution, but currently also used as slang for homosexual in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Not commonly used in Singapore but well known because of the massive influx of mainland Chinese workers.
Xiǎo bái tù (小白兔) - (lit. "little white rabbit") code word for "gay man". Used initially by students in Singapore's Chinese junior colleges, it is probably derived from the legend of the Chinese Rabbit God, Tu Er Shen (兔儿神), who was originally a man called Hu Tianbao (胡天保),,,,. Another plausible etymology is the similarity between the rabbit's forward-bending position with its back arched and the one adopted by a "bottom" during anal sex, or the rabbit's flexed paws and the stereotypical limp writs of gay men. Therefore, it also has a derogatory connotation.
- Other terms used in ancient and modern China but not commonly in Singapore are "dùan xīu zhī pì" (斷袖之癖) or 'the passion of the cut sleeve' and "dùan bēi" (断背) after popularity of the Hollywood movie "Brokeback Mountain".
Chū guì (出柜) - to come out of the closet; to reveal one's sexual orientation.
Yī hào/líng hào/líng dǐan wǔ (一号/0号/0.5) - (literally one/zero/half) "top/bottom/flex", the active/passive/flexible partner in gay male anal sex. Commonly used in Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Xǐao gōng (小攻), or simply gong (攻) as the previous term may be regarded as too diminutive - (literally "to attack") "top", the active partner in gay male anal sex. This term originated from Chinese gay romance novels and Japanese gay anime,. More commonly used in mainland China.
Xǐao shòu (小受) - (literally "to be subjected to") "bottom", the passive partner in gay male anal sex. This term can also be used to refer to the male partner who is more effeminate and needs to be taken care of in a relationship. More commonly used in mainland China,.
- Other less commonly used slang words for "top/bottom/flex" are "骑士/马/人马" , "剑/鞘/剑和鞘都有", "倚天剑/血滴子", "楼上/楼下" and "上面/下面".
Jǐe mèi (姐妹) - literally meaning "sisters"; a term of endearment used between transwomen, or even effeminate gay men, to address each other.
Yīn yáng rén (陰陽人) - an intersex person; literally meaning "a person with feminine and masculine qualities".
Rén yāo (人妖) - a term for transgender people who usually perform on stage; literally meaning "human monster" or more euphemistically, "enchanting person". It is the Mandarin version of the Hokkien A koaⁿ (see below). This term is regarded as offensive amongst Chinese speakers and is mainly applied to Southeast Asian transgender people, especially Thai kathoey or ladyboys. Ethnic-Chinese transgender people themselves almost universally avoid the term, favoring less deprecatory descriptions.
Bàn zhūang húang hòu (扮裝皇后) - cross-dressing queen; drag queen.
Yì zhūang pì (異裝癖) - literally meaning "obsession with the opposite (sex's) attire"; cross-dressing.
Zhōng xìng rén (中性人) - an intersex person; lit. "neutral" or "middle sex person".
Kùa xìng rén (跨性人) - recently coined term for a transgender individual; it has a somewhat scientific/technical ring.
Níang (娘) - adj. sissy or effeminate. e.g., "He's cute, but he's gone a bit heavy on the eyeliner. A bit 'niang' for my taste."
Lālā (拉拉) - lesbian. A phonetic adaptation of the English term. Used mainly in mainland China.
Kōng (控) - it means fetish in mainland Chinese gay subculture. It can be combined with almost anything. Call someone “Dashu [uncle] Kong," and it means someone who's into older men; “Xiong [bear] Kong” means someone who's into chubby and hairy “bears”.
Chī tǔ dòu de (吃土豆的) - literally meaning 'eats potatoes', this term refers to a gay Chinese person who has a case of white boy/girl fever, and thus tends to only date Caucasians. There are also 'rice eaters,' 'sushi eaters' and more, depending on one's cuisine of choice.
Hokkien[edit | edit source]
A koaⁿ (commonly spelt phonetically as "ah kua", or less often as "ah qua") - a male-to-female cross-dresser/transvestite, or more recently, with sex reassignment surgery becoming more available, also a transsexual woman; a transgender woman. Used in the past to refer to male cross-dressers who performed in Chinese operas or 'wayangs' as they are locally called.
O͘ a - literally meaning 'black crow', it is used as a covert form of "a koaⁿ", referring to the cackle that crows make, which sounds like a contracted form of "a koaⁿ". Not widespread.
A póng - 'pong' is the Hokkien translation of 'pump'; used to refer to a straight man who enjoys being the passive partner in anal intercourse, i.e. getting 'pumped'.
Mo· tàu-hù - literally 'to knead soyabean/tofu'; lesbian sex. By extension, it may also refer to sex between two 'bottoms' or effeminate/passive gay men, where their soft, limp penises do not respond to each other's fondling, and sex is an exercise in futility.
K'am - literally 'to suck'; to perform oral sex on someone.
Lang poh - butch lesbian.
Tua khong - butch Lesbian.
Ch'io bu / Ch'io chee - femme lesbian.
Hay ko· - butch lesbian. It literally means "lobster" because butch lesbians are reputed to be crabby, quiet, sulking, solitary creatures that pinch and clamp down hard on people who reach out to them. Also, when their femme type arrives, they always like to put their pincers or arms around their tsa bo·.
Hay poh - femme lesbian.
Yan toon - young, femme lesbian.
Ko· poh - old, femme lesbian.
Pau hee - femme lesbian. It literally means "abalone".
Pau hee ko· - butch lesbian.
Cantonese[edit | edit source]
Bō lei (玻璃) - Cantonese version of the Mandarin "bō li" (see above); a gay man. Uncommon in Cantonese.
Gēi (基) - Cantonese transliteration of the English word 'gay'.
Gēi lóu (基佬) - a gay person/fellow.
Gáau gēi (搞基)- to indulge in homosexuality.
Sí fāt gwái (屎忽鬼) - literally meaning "bottom devil"; derogatory and offensive term for a gay man.
Tùhng seng lihn (同性戀) - Cantonese version of the Mandarin "tóng xìng lìan zhe".
Indian[edit | edit source]
Tamil[edit | edit source]
கிடி (kidi) - Singapore Tamil slang word for a transvestite or effeminate male. Derived from the derogatory Malay slang word "kedi" (see above), which in turn originated from the Ottoman Turkish word كدی (kädi) which means "cat".
9 (onbathu; onbohthu) - Singapore Tamil code word for a gay man.
சுத்தடி (sutthadi) - male prostitute. It literally means "to beat the anus".
அக்கா (akkaa) - literally meaning "elder sister", it is a Singaporean slang word for a male-to-female transgender person or cross-dresser.
தம்பி (thambi) - literally meaning "brother", it is more used in India than in Singapore as a code word for a gay man.
நங்கை (thangai) - literally meaning "younger sister" it is more used in India than in Singapore as a code word for "lesbian".
திருநம்பி (thirunambi) - polite and official word for a female-to-male transgender person.
மாற்றுடை அணிபவர் (maatrudai annibavar) - cross-dresser.
திருநர் (thirangar) - all-inclusive name for transgender people.
பால் (paal) - sex.
பாலீர்ப்பு (paaliirppu) - sexuality.
பாலுணர்வு நடத்தை (paalunnarvu nadatthai) - sexual behavior.
பாலுணர்வு அடையாளம் (paalunnarvu adaiyaallam) - sexual identity.
ஓரினப்புணர்ச்சியாளர் (ohrinappunartchiyaalar) - homosexual, used most often by the Singapore media .
தன்பாலீர்ப்பு/ஒருபாலீர்ப்பு (thanpaaliirppu/ohrupaaliirppu) - homosexuality.
எதிர்பாலீர்ப்பு (ethirpaaliirppu) - heterosexuality.
ஈரர் (iirar) - bisexual.
இருபாலீர்ப்பு (irupaaliirppu) - bisexuality.
வெளியே வருதல் (velliyae varuthal) - coming out.
மாறுபட்ட பால் அடையாளம் (maatrupadtu paal adaiyaalam) - alternate gender identity.
மாறுபட்ட பாலீர்ப்பு (maatrubadta paaliirppu) - alternate sexuality.
Malayalam[edit | edit source]
Swawarga bhogi - scientific word for homosexual; "swa" meaning "self", "warga" meaning "type" and "bhogi" meaning "a person who has sex".
Flute - one who likes oral sex.
Vadanasuratham - oral sex.
Telugu[edit | edit source]
Kannada[edit | edit source]
Hindi[edit | edit source]
Amraprasand - scientific word for homosexual.
Maasti- sexual play between men who are not necessarily homosexual, mainly to relieve sexual tension.
Samlaingik- scientific word for homosexual.