What Does “Ang Moh” Mean? A Question Of Racism, Or Not!

Uncle, even an Ang Moh would know this not shortest way.” Say this to your cab driver in Singapore when you are sure he’s giving you a little extra sightseeing tour and wait if he finds a good answer to this one, i believe not, especially if you are an Ang Moh

Angry … What??

When I started my blog and spread the word overseas to my friends and family, the first question always was “What??? How do you spell that and what does it mean, angry … what?”.
Even in Singapore I still meet people, expats (Ang Mohs to be precise) that haven’t heard of the term yet or if I drop it during one of my Singlish attempts, look at me as if I just called them Nazi.

Without question the term “Ang Moh” lies somewhere in the Grey zone and is discussable, however I have the feeling that I need to do some “cleanup” work for the term “Ang Moh” as it is used mainly in Singapore and Malaysia and too few people really know its meaning.

Ang Mo(h) – A Definition

Plain and simple translated “Ang Moh” doesn’t mean more or less then “Red hair(ed)”.

When and where it appeared for the first time stays unclear but since the term “Ang Moh” is used to describe a white or Caucasian person in general, drawing a connection to the 18th century, British sailors exploring the island Singapore for the first time sound more then reasonable.
(Read: What You Must Know About Singapore’s History)

  • • Ang Mo(h) – Means translated “Red hair(ed)”
  • • Originated most probably from the 18th century british settlers arriving in Singapore for the first time
  • • Is widely accepted and used as a simple term to describe Caucasian / White people

The translation “Red haired” might be confusing in the beginning since it is used as a general term for all Caucasians, regardless of their hair color, but it starts to make sense later when learning that Asians like to cut short their words, and “Ang Moh” (two syllables) is definitely shorter and easier to pronounce then “Caucasian” (three syllables).

The Big Question: Racism?

Since I can remember the question of “racism” hovers over the term “Ang Moh”. Is it used in a racist and negative way or is it really just a plain term for a Caucasian in Asia?

The question must probably be answered on a personal level, where I can speak for myself that I have no problems what so ever with the “Ang Moh” term. I use it myself with my local friends and as you can see it was an inspiration (although meant provocative) for this webpage as well.

I know of people who don’t like being called Ang Moh (same as you wouldn’t call an African American friend just simple the “black haired guy”), and I know of situations where it really was used and meant only in a racist way.
“He’s a bloody stuck up ang-moh” or “Hey Ang-Moh, you wanna get out of the way lah?”.

Ang Mo Red hair In SingaporePhoto by Wendy.Arhol

A friend worked in an office as the only white person and whenever the secretary wanted something from her, she just shouted “Ang Moh!!” as loud as she can… not nice lah and definately different to funny chatting between friends.

As a little side mark, both online dictionaries, Wikipedia and Urban Dictionary list “Ang Moh” as a racist term…

Ang Moh … Gui? Dan? Kao?

There are however some terms you should try to remember, that are clearly racist.
Ang Moh Gui or Ang Moh Kao adds a nice “Devil” to the term, making you a “Red Haired Devil”… which probably isn’t in your favor of joking around then anymore.

It happened to me once, and the culprit was a maybe 5 year old kid sitting in the MRT next to me with his mum, the kid was obviously not the real culprit here, but having an official law against “Racism” in Singapore, you shouldn’t expect this kind of insult anymore.

Another theory of the origin of the term “Ang Moh” actually comes from the word “Ang Moh Dan”, which is the local “Rambutan” fruit, red hairy skin on the outside, white fruit flesh on the inside. If that doesn’t fit, then what?

Ang Mohs In The Mainstream

Regardless of the racist accusations the term “Ang Moh” is widely seen as a simple way of describing a Caucasian person these days.

You will hear the term in local TV and Movie productions, Radio shows and read it in the Magazines or books.

There is even a landmark in Singapore which is officially called “Ang Mo Kio”, referring to a bridge that was build by Westerners in that area providing the prominent name and a reason for me to tell my local friends “I’m back in my hood” whenever we cross “Ang Mo Kio’ with the car.

How Do You Feel About The Term “Ang Moh”?

Please let us know in the comments below if you think Ang Moh still connects to a racist term or if you believe that ‘Ang Moh” is just another part of the Singaporean pop culture and general understanding.

comments

19 Comments

woonwee

When my friends and i speak Angmo, there is totally no rascist intend.

“Wah, that angmo guy is quite cool hor?”

Thot in the first place its not a demeaning term… Go to Hong Kong, they probably call you Kuai Lo -> Ghost Guy.

Mark

its not really racist… since there’s no non-racist hokkien word that can be used either.

sometimes it can be used in a racist way though… oh the pleasures of singlish ambiguity

ProFire

I would say the term Ang Mo has no link to racism. In my community, it is used as an identification. As far as I know, there isn’t any negative associations to this term when my community speaks of it.

Rather, it’s used as a shortcut. Simply because it’s easier to speak. My workplace involves Ang Mohs and their job scope differs from us Singaporeans. So we often use Ang Moh’s Job and Ang Moh’s Responsibility as a way to seperate the overseas task and inland task.

Mark

My staff joked with me about it from when I first came to Singapore 6 years ago. I had no idea that it had any negative connotation apart from when a good friend apologised to me for using the term after complaining about his ‘Ang Moh boss’ (“so lousy leh”) in front of me. Singapore is one of the most welcoming countries that I’ve ever lived in, they’re entitled to blow off a little steam at the expense of foreigners.

JD

its racist plain and simple. It doesn’t matter what the intention of the speaker is, it is how it is received that is important.

Ang Moh is often used is a condescending and derogatory manner, and also in anger. Its clearly a pejorative term most of the time it is used.

How would locals like to be ‘playfully’ called chink or nip? both, in different times in the past, have been labelled ‘non offensive’ the same way ‘boy’ was vigourously defended as appropriate in the American south in the early part of the 20th century.

The term has racist root: ang moh gui (forgot that part); it means red-hair DEVIL. Even if you drop the ‘gui’ part, it still has its roots in a negative, pejorative and derogatory phrase and is STILL TO THIS DAY used as a racist insult on a daily basis by many ah beng singaporeans.

Peace.

Nutella

If I remember correctly, Ang Moh is the term usually used for the caucasian sailors that came to Singapore. Thus among the malays, Ang Moh = Mat Saleh (Mat Sailor). Even then, it is used as a warning and an insult because of the mindset then.
“They come down to plunder the culture, have no manners, stealing girls and drinking on the streets, causing a nuisance of themselves.” Or something like that.
It was at that time where conservative society was the norm. Now that there’s slight freedom, I guess the term became just another label for Caucasians, though still quite racist.
Have you seen any Singaporean not being racist? >D

A.I

to nutella, mat saleh is a corruption of the word mad sailors. i dont know how it came up. the mat saleh is used as often as orang putih (literally translated as white man/men). i dont know whether to categorize mat saleh/ang moh/orang putih as racist. i think it is just another way to identify a group of people who are different than melayu, cina, india, boyan, jawa, bugis etc etc. if u ever do meet a malay in singapore, ask them how many sub groups are there in the malay race. you would be surprised. trust me!

lihai

actually singaporeans in particular, and asians in general, are just racist – the very term ‘ang moh’ is already a classification by race first, and individual identity later. between asian singaporeans, we are equally racist, just think ‘manja’, ‘kelingkia’ etc. what makes such terms racist or derogatory is that they are not used by the cultural group, but were rather given by another group who derived the name based on external characteristics, such as the colour of the skin. that said, i still can’t get out of using angmoh.

bloggerrrzzz

but i don’t understand one thing, why do Singaporeans (locals i mean) worship white-skinned people? If ang moh is used as a racist term, why do these locals still want to get married to them and live with them and work under them? Is it because they associate white skin with money and power and prestige??? pretty materialistic lah!

Harker

I was regularly called ‘Whitey’ and ‘Ang moh’…and I’m in UK! Had flatmates from H-K, KL and China. Irony is, I do have red hair. But I still feel a bit annoyed…I’d never call anyone a ‘chinky’…why they pick on me, leh?

Emily

Its kinda racist to call europeans and caucasians ‘ang moh’. But i guess Singaporeans had a habit of calling them that. I was at Macdonalds today and a secondary guy said “WOW i didn’t know (this secondary school) got ang moh leh!” right infront of the caucasian. Its kinda rude. Peace. Haha but white guys are really hot :) HEHEHEHE :)

despic

Hi, to my understanding the term ang moh is a hokkien term for the dutch actually. Because the state of fujian, a coastal area saw much fighting against the dutch and as they were probably one of the first few westerners they saw and they tend to have reddish hair, the name stuck. And as most of Singapore’s Chinese population were from Fujian, thus the term was brought here yup.

Singaporean in Oz

All the western expats posting here , I’d suggest that you try not to whine too much about being addressed as ”angmohs”. I was once called a black bastard by some white Aussies on account the fact that I’m an Indian Singaporean, but I chose to accept it as an inevitable part of living in a country where I stick out as a member of a very visible minority community. Maybe you should take a leaf from my book instead of whinging about supposedly racist Singaporeans.

Doug

Ang Mo literally means ‘red haired’ it’s a Mandarin derivative of the Cantonese term ‘Gweilo’ In this context the red hair is not because some Europeans have red hair, but because Devil’s have red hair, this term did not originate in Singapore.

And to the guy above, please pick a nationality, you cannot be both an Indian and a Singaporean as they are both Nationalities, not races.

angryChinaman

phucking a, who gives a pluck! I live in Kalifornia, I aint from China, and mofos call me chinaman, is that racist? is it racist for me to despises all crackers … oh wait, yeah i guess it is. j/k. only dummas angmohs who are racists. cool blog, yo!

Frankie Balls

Whenever some Stinkaporean uses that term I immediately start calling him or her “Chink” “Slant-Eye” “Rice Dick” “Zipper Head” “Gook” etc…to give them a taste of their own racist bullshit. Stinkapore is 100% racist, ESPECIALLY the little Chinese Chinamen! Hahahahahaha

Mike

I have mixed ancestory – half chinese and half caucasian. I have only been in singapore 2 years. Most people cant recognise im mixed and see me as pure caucasian. I get called ang moh plenty of times – and as far as i can tell, never in a ‘racist’ way. However, i do know some caucasians who don’t like the term – and i can completely understand where they are coming from… In Australia for example, if we were to call asians – yellow people, there would be an uproar. Likewise with aboriginals or african americans being called black. A slight double standard does exist… it seems that in current society, its much more acceptable to use racist comments with caucasians eg. cracker, ang moh, guai loh.. So although it is socially acceptable to call caucasians ‘ang moh’ here in Singapore – it would be nice if everybody thought of the double standard.. especially the fact that they use it on tv and radio… – imagine using the term ‘yellows’ or ‘blacks’ on tv or radio in the US or Australia – they would be dealt with severely….

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