Jeproks and Other Strange Words

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The Pilipino language has a rich vocabulary that has evolved like a cauldron of mix words borrowed from different languages including Spanish, Chinese, Malay, Indonesian, English, Indian, Arabic, Japanese and more.

I highlighted some interesting words in this post. You may be surprised where these words originated.

1. Jack en Poy

I’m sure you have played Jack en Poy when you were a kid. Also known as “rock, paper, scissors” or “bato bato pick.” Or maybe you still play it today. You even know the chant that goes with it:

Jack en poy, hale hale hoy! Sinong matalo, s’yang unggoy!

But where does the word Jack en Poy came from? Who is Jack? And who is Poy? Are they the ones who invented the game? Well, no.

The game originated in China likely around the first century, according to some articles. But when the game was brought to Japan around 1700’s, it became very popular and was a hit there.

In Japanese, jan means a sort of start, ken means first, and pon means stone. So when the Japanese play rock, paper, scissors, they call it Janken Pon.

Now it is not far from imagination how we Filipinos call it Jack en Poy. So if you’re in Japan, and challenge someone to play Jack en Poy, they probably know exactly what you’re asking them to do.

2. Karaoke

Filipinos like karaoke. All of us know what karaoke is, I suppose. We use the word as a noun and as a verb.

Example: Hindi ako nakatulog kagabi, kasi nag-karaoke magdamag ‘yung aming kapitbahay.

Have you wonder where the word karaoke came from? If you said from Japan, then you are absolutely right! But is Karaoke the name of the inventor of this system? Not quite.

In Japanese, kara means empty, and okesutra means orchestra. Shortening the word for orchestra, and combining it with the word empty (since no real orchestra), then we have kara + oke = karaoke.

3. Tansan

As a kid, I used to collect metal crown caps, also called in our language as tansan. Street children go caroling during the Christmas season using tansan tambourines. But have you wonder where the word tansan came from?

In 1892, US inventor William Painter patented the crown cap, forever revolutionizing the sealing of the carbonated soda pop bottles or more known to Filipinos as soft drinks.

While in Kobe, Japan, an Englishman John Clifford Wilkinson established a company  at the end of 19th century, producing carbonated mineral water. While he was hunting near the mountains, he stumbled upon the Tansan Springs, which became the source of his mineral water. He then named his sparkling water as “Tansan” brand, and registered it as a trademark in Washington in 1896. Of course he sealed his water bottles with metal crown caps.

When the Americans came to the newly colonized Philippine Islands in 1902, the branded Tansan sparkling water sealed with the metal crown cap was brought to our shores. I guess we were enamored with the crown cap and wondered what to call them. So we called them tansan!

4. Jobos

When I was in high school, there was a craze to dye shirts, jeans and even canvas shoes. So I did it too, using jobos or the powdered coloring dye. But do you know where the term jobos came from?

Back in the 1940s, a certain American named Joe Bush put up a laundry cleaner at Plaza Santa Cruz. Other than cleaning and dyeing, he also provided tailoring and bleaching services. But what made his business well known was that he manufactured and sell powdered dyes in small packet. Of course it carried the brand name Joe Bush.

Perhaps we Filipinos didn’t pronounce the name right or perhaps we heard it differently? Anyway jobos became our own local term for the coloring dye.

5. Alaska

You know this word right? It means to annoy or pester.

Example: Ang lakas mang-alaska ng kaklase ko, kaya sinapak ko.

Where did we borrow this word from?

If you think it is borrowed from an English word, then you’re right. But perhaps not from the English word that you’re thinking of. For it has nothing to do with the word Alaska, which is a state in the United States, nor is it related to the milk brand with the name Alaska.

When someone is making fun of another person we say that he is harassing him. You might tell that person “nanghaharass ka,” which is just one mispronunciation away from being “nang-aalaska.”

6. Sirit

Even though this word sounds from a Hindu or a Chinese word, it is not. It came from a common phrase from a more common language than you think. Sirit na?

If someone gives you a puzzle and you have no idea what the answer is, you plead with him to share the answer. You may say “share it.” Or in Tagalog, “Sirit!”

We must have bad ears or bad tongue, corrupting a perfect English phrase. But this is just another prime example of how we Tagalize (tinatagalog) a foreign word and make it our own.

7. Taympers

Here’s another term that we use when we were kids. We use it mostly when we were playing. Sometimes we use this to our advantage, like when we’re playing tag and we want to escape being it.

Example: Taympers! Iba na muna ang habulin mo kasi pagod na ako.

But do you know where this term came from? If you say it came from the good ‘ole English language then you’re right. But is it “tampers” or “time first.” Well, neither of those.

It is actually “time freeze.” Now it make more sense, right?

8. Buwisit

Maybe you’re having a bad day, and feeling irritated. One Pilipino word can aptly described what you feel. Buwisit!

Example: Talo na naman ang manok ko, buwisit na buhay ito!

Do have any idea what’s the origin of the word buwisit?

If you say it sounds Chinese like the pansit, then you’re close. It actually came from the Fukien phrase bo ui sit, meaning no food or clothes. If you have no food to eat nor clothes to wear, that means bad luck. Buwisit!

I’m not sure if our word for tax, which is buwis, is related to this. Maybe our opinion towards taxes is similar to that feeling of bad luck.

9. Jeproks

This word is a slang for someone cool or laid back. It may also mean someone with loose morals or like a hippie.

The word was introduced by a Filipino rocker, Mike Hanopol in the 1970’s. He had a hit song with this word on it. He even explained the meaning of it in the song:

Laki sa layaw, laki sa layaw, Jeproks!

The word is actually a reverse of the word “projects.” I’m not sure why Filipinos like to speak backwards like Noy-pi, dehins, ermat, amats, and other more.

Anyway, young people hailing from government housing developments, also known as housing projects, like Project 6 or Project 8, are stereotype with shady character like those from the ghettos (thus, Jeproks!). Though this may not be true. When I was a kid, I used to stay and visit my lola, who lives in Project 7. Would I call my grandma as from “the hoods?”

Jeproks or jeprox is also used to mean the crispy dried salted fish. Now, that kind of jeproks, I really really like.


(*photo from the internet)


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