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Living With A Living Language

Filipino through the years



Isko Moreno (Photo by Ali Vicoy)

Isko Moreno (Photo by Ali Vicoy)

Everybody’s new lodi (idol), rock star Yorme (Mayor) Kois (Isko) Moreno is concrete proof of how important it is to communicate in the language the masses identify with. Social media is now dotted with lists of words the mayor uses, complete with their meanings and origins. Thousands follow, like, and share these in order to keep up with events and not feel left out.

Among the most frequently uttered by the city chief are : tolonges (lazy), etneb (bente), and other words with inverted syllables, such as lespu (pulis), gayla (lagay), and dehins (hindi).

Filipino, the Tagalog-based national language, continues to be enriched with the addition—and obsolescence—of new words. The Filipino language is rife with words invented and used by different generations.

Hardly anyone these days uses or even remembers those words, which came and went like women’s fashion fads.

American goods, including the bra, were first sold by department stores along Escolta. Men referred to bra-enhanced women’s chests as “unnatural, just Escolta.”

Padonker-donker came from the Americans’ attitude of “I don’t care.”

The now-Filipinized word istambay is from the English stand by, meaning “to hang around and do nothing.” It now also means jobless or a bum.

Filipino has had many words for a gay man, starting with the very mild binabae, literally meaning effeminate. Another word for gay, bakla, evolved to become syoki and syokla, and combined to become today’s beki. There was a period in the 1960s when it was fashionable to replace first syllables with jo-, and thus was born the new word for gay—jokla.

The gay community is credited for making up new words using different formulas, one of which is utilizing famous names to mean similar sounding equivalents. Luz Valdez now means to lose something or to lose in a competition. Mahalia Jackson means expensive. Dakota Harrison (a popular jeepney signboard) means big, as in the Visayan ako.

The hippies and drug users of the 1960s and early 1970s had their own lingo. Marijuana was damo and shabu was bato, and to be high on drugs was basag, durog, or bangag.

The permissive “free love” era produced bagets (for young), hagip (to catch or ensnare), and hagipera (one who catches or ensnares).

Tagalog purists could commit serious mistakes, such as my nationalistic grandfather who did not allow English and other foreign words in his home. He did not realize that suecos (wooden shoes), casa fuego (box of matches), carajay (frying pan), and many other words he used daily were Spanish.

To keep up with today’s national developments, it is important to keep our ears to the ground and listen for new words which may tell us where we are going.

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