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Monday, January 07, 2008

Yessirman, Yarabi and A1 Toh Toh Sai

Remember those days when we loved playing our children's games and perhaps scooting off on our old bicycles to the shouts of "Yessirman", "wiserman", "wasserman".

"Yessirman" or "wasserman" was an expression many Malay and Chinese men would use when they were very happy with a decision made by a Colonial Officer. The origin could have been "I say, Man" often, an expression by an English Colonial Officer whenever he wanted to make a suggestion. It could also have been, "Yes, Sir, Man!" to mean "Done, as said."

The expression then became a little corrupted when the locals said, "Wiserman" to mean "how wonderful!"

I had used "Wasserman" whenever I got excited about an activity or perhaps when good food was laid on the table by my mother.

Today, another corruption of the expression is "What's up, man?"

And when we were told a tall tale, we would answer with, "Yarabi". My kampong friends would beginning any statement with Yarabi whenever they were excited.

Yarabi came from the Muslims who acknowledged the greatness of the Rabi or prophet. so Yarabi must have meant to one and all, "The Great Prophet, may his Name be praised!"

In our innocence, we just liked to shout Yarabi,Yarabi every where!!

To express our excitement over something good, we would say, "A1 toh toh sai!" for example,when we were asked how good the chendol was, we would give our thumbs up and say, "A1 Toh Toh Sai".

Al toh toh sai actually was a corruption of Al Topside Beef, the best meat a cold storage could sell to the Colonials living in Sibu at that time. The best would therefore be Al Topside. Now that was a little difficult for the shop keepers to say. And so it became very popular to say, A1 toh toh sai.

In our multi racial and colonial days, we assimilate a lot of words from each other. But these three remain the most remarkable.

Occasinally I would catch some of these phrases in books written by authors who remember the old exclamations of our childhood days. And I would just smile, thinking of those long ago days.

3 memories:

AlisonBuda said...

Yessirman is English in origin

Yarabi is arabic in origin. It is used by the Malays. Actually, it is in the Bible as well. It is Rabbi (the Chief Priest)

A1 Toh Toh Sai is Chinese or Hokkien in origin!

FrancisN said...

I can always remember road crews in Sibu shouting to the lorry drivers, "go-stan, go-stan" when guiding them in reversing the lorry into a position. Maybe that came from, "go a-stern"?

What about "go-hed, go-hed" to move forward, from "go-ahead"?

sarawakiana said...

yes it is most interesting to note that in our South East Asian usage of the English language we have actually a long list of corrupted but very interesting phrases which colour our lives and even history!!
Go stan - go backwards, gohag - go ahead, oromatik - automatic,pil for pills,brylcream for hair cream, kodak for film, and my aunts always say "Go and get my hanbak (handbag)for me.". Foochows like to eat giek (cake) and we also ping ke lin or icy clean (ice cream). Don't forget many elders like se-tot (stout) and biar (beer) too.

And so many other amusing words we use from English.....Enjoy!!

Sarawakiana

 

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