DURING his National Service days, a colleague remarked to Mr Jack Tsen-Ta Lee: 'Aiyoh, why are the tables all senget today?'
'I was like, senget, what's that?' recalled Mr Lee of the incident 20 years ago.
Senget is a Malay word for slanting or crooked.
Intrigued, he began jotting down interesting examples of his army buddies' speech in a notebook.
'Half the time I didn't know what they were talking about,' said Mr Lee, now 38 and a graduate student, who spoke both English and Mandarin at home, but was unfamiliar with dialects and other languages such as Malay.
He has been tracking the use of Singlish in the mainstream media for the past four years.
There are now 1,183 entries and counting on his website: www.singlishdictionary.com .
On average, he finds two or three Singlish terms in the newspapers each week, a figure which has remained constant over the years.
'They were largely quotations from people being interviewed,' he said.
One recent example, for instance, was the word 'goondu' which means idiot or moron in Malay.
Mr Lee's work has attracted much interest.
A company which produces electronic dictionaries has even contacted him to discuss producing a Singlish dictionary.
A humorous version already exists - The Coxford Singlish Dictionary by Colin Goh and Woo Yen Yen.
This article was first published in The Straits Times on 9 Dec, 2008.