Sunday 5 June 2016

Petition to remove derogatory Singlish term 'sotong' from Oxford dictionary

Hi, will you sign my petition?

I am writing one to have a derogatory term removed from the Oxford English Dictionary (OED).

The term “sotong” uses seafood to tease blur people in Singapore.

It is highly disrespectful to tentacled marine life and if it stays in the dictionary, it will give the impression that it is an acceptable term.

It is actually insensitive and will hurt millions of blur citizens of all ages.

It will pollute the language learning of young generations of Singaporeans and turn them into sotong.

Oh, what hath OED wrought?

Who could've guessed that when a bunch of new Singapore English terms were added to OED in March, we would still be talking about it three months later?

And I’m not the only one petitioning for a derogatory Singapore English term to be removed from OED.

Two weeks ago, someone started an online petition to shoot down “Chinese helicopter”, defined as “a Singaporean whose schooling was conducted in Mandarin Chinese and who has limited knowledge of English”.

The petition has over 450 supporters.

Yes, “Chinese helicopter” was the controversial term I wrote about in this column last month when it was reported that many Singaporeans had never heard of it.

Now the issue is that some Singaporeans — at least 450 of them — don’t want to hear the term any more.

Supporters of the anti-”Chinese helicopter” petition describe the term as “discriminatory”, “humiliating” and “does not sound nice”.

One commented:
“Chinese-educated people are better than English-educated ones because their lessons incorporate moral values and principles, as well as their culture and history. I would think that Chinese who can only speak English should be shamefully called ‘bananas’.”
So one derogatory term is not okay, but another one is?

Maybe this commenter should start a petition to include this definition of Amos Yee’s favourite fruit in OED.

To quote Gwen Stefani, that’s “B, A, N, A, N, A, S.”

Speaking of Stefani, who is ang moh, I’m surprised there isn’t a petition to remove another Singapore English term that some also consider derogatory — “ang moh”.

Wikipedia straight up describes it as a racial epithet.

So shouldn’t there be a petition to change “Ang Mo Kio” to “Caucasian Kio”?

Even Urban Dictionary says “ang moh” is racist.

But then Urban Dictionary also defines “Chinese helicopter” as “When a woman pulls a bloody tampon out and whips it around above her head, spewing red blood all over the walls in a circular fashion.”

Now why hasn’t anyone petitioned to remove that from Urban Dictionary?

At least in the OED, “Chinese helicopter” is flagged as derogatory.

But “ang moh”, defined as “a light-skinned person, especially of Western origin or descent”, isn’t.

Neither is “sotong”, when “used to denote a stereotypically stupid, clumsy, or ignorant person”.

But “sotong” is clearly a derogatory term.

And I know at least one person who would agree with me and I don't mean SpongeBob SquarePants’ neigbour, Squidward Tentacles.

I’m talking about none other than the Prime Minister’s wife, Ms Ho Ching — although sadly for me, it’s “Chinese helicopter” she feels should be removed from OED.

But not because it’s derogatory.

She wrote on Facebook last week:
“I was so surprised to read that the OED had just included the term ‘Chinese helicopter’ as part of their new Singlish entries.

“I had only heard this being used in my late teens in the early 1970s, listening in on the chatter of NS boys from English-stream schools explaining this term they had learnt during their BMT about their NS mates from Chinese-stream schools.

“They had also told stories about being scolded by their sergeants for being ‘blur like sotong’ too...

“Most if not all of the younger generation of Singaporeans would not have heard of ‘Chinese helicopters’, while ‘blur sotongs’ remain alive and current in their vocabulary (even though we now know better that sotongs are actually quite smart and not at all blur)...

“Unlike blur sotongs, the Chinese helicopter has obviously fallen into disuse for decades...

“Given its lack of currency in the Singlish lexicon today, I would support the petition to remove this term from the OED entry.”
So it seems unlikely Ms Ho will sign my petition to remove “sotong” from OED.

Not that I think it will do any good if she does.

The Oxford Dictionaries website says that its policy is “to include informal, slang, or offensive words on the basis of their currency of use”.

Meaning it doesn’t matter if you’re offended by a word — it’s still in.

The OED website also says that as a “historical dictionary”, it is a “guide to the meaning, history, and pronunciation of 600,000 words — past and present”.

Meaning it doesn’t matter if a word has “fallen into disuse for decades” — it’s still in.

So why are we bothering with all these petitions?

Because we’re blur like sotong.

No offence to the squid or cuttlefish.

- Published in The New Paper, 5 June 2016

EARLIER: New Singapore words in Oxford English Dictionary: Get to the (Chinese) chopper!