A cousin recently shifted. She also offered to bank my dividend cheque that was posted to her old address into Maybank for me. She’d been very helpful so I promised that I would buy her dinner or maybe take her out for tea. I said I’d call her on her handphone when I arrived next week.

I quickly wrote that paragraph as I thought about “unique Malaysian English words”. What I mean by the term (and I’m pretty sure there’s a better expression out there, but I’m just too lazy to find out) is that these are the words commonly used in Malaysia but may not be understood by non-Malaysians. The seed for this post is because a relative told me she had just “shifted” house.

No doubt you’ll already know that:

1. To shift means to move house.
2. To bank my dividend cheque means to deposit my dividend cheque.
3. Dinner may mean lunch and tea may mean dinner in the UK and Australia.
4. Handphone, of course, means mobile phone (UK and Australia) and cell phone (US)

I wonder why we have these unique Malaysian English words. Some, I’m sure, must be due to out colonial past.

I believe, rightly or wrongly, that dinner is used by the English upper classes to refer to the night time meal but used by common folk to mean the noonday meal. Since the early colonials probably came from the upper classes this was the nomenclature passed on to Malaysians.

I wonder if “shifted” comes from the colonial past as well. I’m guessing that the officials in the civil service had to shift positions which usually meant shifting posts to another town. So this meant moving house. It’s just a guess but you folk may know better.

“Handphone”, I understand, is a literal translation of the Chinese word for mobile phone.

I’m sure there are a lot more unique Malaysian English words out there. Do you know of any?

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