Jeproks and Other Strange Words

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)

Pilipino Idioms of Nineteen Kopong-kopong

Recently a friend of ours has been posting article links in his Facebook about expressions that we grew up with. I find it quite interesting.

Our vernacular is rich with idiomatic expressions that would confuse the uninitiated to our native language. Or maybe even us who grew up speaking Pilipino, have no idea where these expressions came from.

Here are some of them.

1. Pahanon pa ni Limahong. Or pahanon pa ni Mahoma. Or since Nineteen Kopong-kopong.

All those expressions mean that they are from such a long time ago. Example: Iyong mga damit mo, old-style na, panahon pa ‘yan ni Mahoma. 

But who is Limahong? Or Mahoma? Or who or what is Kopong-kopong?

Limahong or Lim Ah Hong is a Chinese pirate who invaded the northern part of the Philippines and tried to seize the city of Manila from the Spaniard in 1574. So he was a real person from such a long time ago. Definitely before our time.

While Mahoma is actually Masaharu Homma, a Japanese Imperial Army general.  He was well-remembered for his role in the invasion and occupation of the Philippines during World War II. What may endeared General Homma to our people is that he ordered his troops to treat the Filipinos not as enemies but as friends, and respect their customs and religion. Thus we still say his name in our idioms.

Another possible explanation is that the name Mahoma is the Spanish form for Mohammed, which then will be referring to the long-ago era of Muslim conquest.

What about Kopong-kopong? Is that a person?

Kopong is actually an old Tagalog word and also an Indonesian word that means empty, or nothing, or zero. So kopong-kopong is coined from the year 1900 which has two zero (00), thus Nineteen kopong-kopong.

2. Pagputi ng uwak

Literal translation means “when the crow turns white.” This just expresses something that will never happen. The idiom is similar to English expressions like “when pigs fly,” or “when hell freezes over.”

To use this expression in a sentence: Babayaran ko ang utang ko sa iyo pagputi ng uwak.

By the way, there’s a film that was entitled, “Pagputi ng uwak, pag-itim ng tagak” release in 1978, starring now governor of Batangas, Vilma Santos, and Bembol Roco. I did not see that film nor do I know the story plot of the movie. But during that time who knew that Vilma Santos will someday be a governor? So can we say “pumuti ang uwak?”

3. Aabutin ng siyam-siyam

Siyam-siyam (or literally nine-nine) is a term used for the annual prolonged rains brought about by the southwest monsoon or “habagat” weather system in the Philippines during the months of May to September.

The old folks believe that this rain system takes nine days and nine nights and is what they are waiting for. Especially farmers, as it makes the fields soft, and therefore easier to plow and to plant rice.

It also used to mean a long wait.

To use this idiom in a sentence: Inabot ako ng siyam-siyam sa kakahintay para makasakay ng jeep.

4. Mabilis pa sa alas quatro

This means to leave in a mad rush.

In the old Manila, in Lawton at the foot of Quezon bridge, there was a huge factory, the Insular Ice Plant. It had an imposing 10-storey chimney. It also had a loud siren. The siren goes off at 7 AM to indicate start of work, at 12 noon to indicate lunch break, and at 4 PM to indicate end of work.

Insular Ice Plant

So at the sound of the siren at 4 PM, you can just imagine the dash of the workers too eager to leave work.

To use in a sentence: Nang dumating ‘yung naniningil ng utang, umalis siyang mabilis pa sa alas quatro.

5. Wala kahit sinkong duling

This has something to do with the 5-centavo coin, which is the lowest value coin besides the 1-centavo. The 5-centavo coin back in the days was much larger (20 mm in diameter in the 1960’s) and can buy you something, unlike today, it is much smaller (15.5 mm) and practically has no value.

Singkong duling literally means a “cross-eyed 5-centavo.” A person who is cross-eyed sees a double image of the 5-centavo coin. One image is real, but the other image is not. Thus sinkong duling is a non-existent 5-centavo coin. It’s a mirage.

So if a 5-centavo has very little value, how much less is an imaginary image of it.

Use in a sentence: Hindi man lang ako binigyan ng balato, kahit sinkong duling.

6. Magsunog ng kilay

This means to study hard or staying late up night studying.

This idiom came from the fact that during the olden times, when there’s no electricity yet, people use only gas lamp (gasera), oil lamps, or candles to read when it is dark. It is then understandable that when a person is reading for a long time near an open flame, there’s a possibility that his/her eyebrows will be singed or get burned. Thus “nagsusunog ng kilay.”

I can just envision that the most studious students during those times have no eyebrows left. Whoever invented the eyebrow pencil must be a very good student!

7. Kalapating mababa ang lipad

The term is a euphemism for a prostitute.

During the American occupation, there is a place in Tondo Manila, which is a red-light district called Palomar. So before Malate, Ermita, P. Burgos, and EDSA of today came about, there was Palomar in Tondo.

The word paloma means dove or pigeon in Spanish, while Palomar means a pigeon-house. So the women offering their leisure service were called palomas de bajo vuelo or low-class birds. Thus the expression “kalapating mababa ang lipad.”


So there you have it folks. I hope you have learned something, as I did, looking up these interesting history and facts of our colorful language.

(*photo from