Oh My Gulay!

The Filipino language is rich in interesting idioms and expressions, that make our conversations more colorful. Like the expression, “isang bulate na lang ang hindi pumipirma,” which means near-death condition. It definitely sounds light-hearted on an otherwise grave predicament.

Anyways, since it’s summer here where I live, and we have planted some vegetables, I would like to showcase our use of vegetables (gulay) in our idioms and expressions, and their respective meaning.

1. Nagmumurang kamias.

This means an “old” individual acting like “young.” For instance, a grandma trying to dress-up like a teenager, perhaps with a hanging shirt and short mini-skirt. In other words, it is used to describe people who are not acting appropriately their age.

Example: Pare, ‘yung lolo mo nagmumurang kamyas, niyaya ba namang i-date niya ‘yung pinsan kong kolehiyala.

2. Pulis Patola

The term means a good-for-nothing cop. I think the term is use, as policeman usually carry a baton (batuta). But here it is described as the police carrying a patola instead of a baton. There’s even an action-comedy movie with that title in the 1990’s.

The expression of “sundalong-kanin” have a similar connotation, a useless soldier whose only contribution in the battle is to consume the rice ration.

Example: Sabi ni General Bato, ititiwalag niya lahat ng mga Pulis Patola.

3. Nangangamatis

This term is used to describe something that is swelled up and inflamed, like a tomato that is plump and red. But mostly the term is reserved for a complication after a boy’s circumcision. Definitely you don’t want that term to describe the you-know-what after being circumcised.

Example: Hijo, pagkatapus mong tuliin, langgasin mo araw-araw, para hindi mangamatis.

4. Nangangamote

Nangangamote means having difficulty or failing to do well. We also use the term kamote to describe somebody who is dim-wit or unintelligent. For sure, you don’t want to be called anak ng kamote. You don’t want to receive the kalabasa award either.

I am not sure why we use kamote as a derogatory term. Kamote for all I know is a highly nutritious food and don’t deserve to be treated with disdain.

Example: Nangamote ka naman sa exam, mas bobo ka pa sa row 4.

5. Mani-mani lang

This term is the opposite of nangangamote. Mani-mani lang means it was so easy that you breezed through it whatever it was. Again, I don’t know why we favor mani (peanut), but hate kamote.

Mani is also used as a slang term for a female’s anatomy. Yes, the counterpart of that thing I mentioned above that can become nangangamatis.

Example: Mana sa akin sa pagka-genius ‘yung pamangkin ko, kasi minani-mani lang niya ang Quantum Physics.

6. Giyera Patani

This is an old expression that means a fight or an argument without causing serious harm or consequences. As you know, a patani (lima bean), is a pod vegetable that has lightweight seeds. And even if you hit somebody with these seeds, it will not cause grave injury.

Example: Hanggang giyera patani lang naman ang away namin ng misis ko.

7. Pupulutin sa kangkungan

This term means a summary execution without having a trial. In other words it is extra judicial killing (EJK), which nowadays is a very hot topic of contention. The origin of the expression is that one way of hiding a “salvage” victim’s body is to dump it in the swamps or where there’s a heavy growth of kangkong (swamp cabbage).

Example: Kung hindi ka tumigil sa pagiging addict, baka pupulutin ka na lang sa kangkungan balang araw.

8. Mala-labanos ang kutis

This expression is comparing the complexion of someone’s skin to be like labanos (horse-radish), which is white and smooth. I am not sure though why we who are supposed to be proud to be lahing kayumanggi are so pre-occupied and trying so hard to be “white.” Just look around and we are so inundated with all those advertisements of whitening products.

Example: Gumagamit kasi ako ng mga Belo products kaya’t mala-labanos na ang kutis ko ngayon.

9. Parang luya

Unlike the expression mala-labanos which is mostly deemed as a compliment, the expression parang luya is far from being one. In fact it is an insult. The term is usually used to describe an ugly feet. This is due to the fact that luya (ginger) has crooked and contorted branching fingers.

Example: Kahit anong pa-pedicure mo, parang luya pa rin ang mga paa mo.

10. Balat-sibuyas

This term is used to describe a person that is easily hurt or sensitive to criticisms. This idiom is due to the fact that the onion has very thin skin. I am not sure if the added fact that peeling and cutting onion makes one cry, contributes to the meaning of the term.

Example: Balat-sibuyas naman itong si Dagul, sinabihan lang na malakas pa siya sa balyena kung kumain, ay umiyak na.


That’s all for now folks. I know there’s still a lot of vegetables mentioned in the song Bahay Kubo that we have not covered here. So if you know more vegetable expressions, please drop me a comment. Thank you for reading.


I’m Fine Thank You

As I did not grow-up here and I came from a different culture, there is one question that I still don’t know how to answer truthfully even after two decades of being in the US.  I am being asked this question several times a day too. I don’t think many people answer this question right as well. And it is a question that we may be asking people to lie.

You might be thinking it must be some kind of a difficult question or a complicated one. What is the question?

The question is the run-of-the-mill, perfunctory “How are you?”

Yes, we are being asked “How are you” several times a day. When we walk down the street, or down the hallway, or as we enter our workplace, or just about anywhere, people greet us with “How are you?”

I know most of the times we ask this question just to be polite. I know as well that there’s some variances in the question in some parts of the country, like “how ‘s it going” or “what’s up” or “howdy” or “hey’all.”

When I was still living in New York City, I don’t think people ask “how are you” that often, or greet that much for that matter. Or perhaps they just mind their own business. I would admit though that since I moved to the Midwest, I am being asked this question more everyday, even by people who I don’t know.

So how do you answer this question?

Do you answer also with the perfunctory “good” or “fine?” Or maybe you are really doing well so you can answer “great!” Or do you give a more honest answer, like “not good” if you’re really not feeling fine. But I don’t think people are expecting an answer different from “I’m good.” Besides we don’t want to burden other people of our own problems, right?

What would happen if a person whom you barely know, would answer you “I feel awful,” or “I feel bad.” You may think they are whiny or a grouch. But you asked them “how are you,” and they just gave you a truthful answer. Perhaps if you really don’t want to know, then don’t ask.

This is the reason, I really don’t ask this perfunctory question that much. If I want to greet someone, or be polite, or exchange pleasantries, I greet them with “good morning,” or “good afternoon,” or “good evening.” Though I may be lying with that greeting too, as it may not be really a “good” morning or evening. But at least I’m not forcing anybody to say “I’m good” when they may not be feeling good.

However due to my work, I still ask this question every day. But when I ask this question to my patients, especially in the hospital, I expect them to give me an honest answer. In fact I would be surprise if they say “I’m fine.” For if they are fine, they would not be seeing a doctor in the hospital in the first place.

So I can truthfully say that when I asked this question, I really meant to know how you are doing.

Or perhaps I am just so cynical, thinking people ask “how are you” or “how do you do” without really meaning it. Maybe they really do care to know how you feel.

In the song “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong, it says:

The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky,
Are also on the faces of people going by,
I see friends shaking hands saying, “How do you do?”
But they’re really saying, “I love you.”…….

And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.

Maybe I got it all wrong. And maybe this is really a wonderful world.

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.

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 Pinterest.com)

Lost in Spelling

Last week, when news from my country is making the rounds on the news networks, I even saw Stephen Colbert, host of The Late Show, made some digs at the Philippines. Of course he also made fun of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, but that’s already old news.

In one of Colbert’s monologue, he questioned why is it that the Philippines is spelled with a Ph, while the word Filipinos, is spelled with an F? He then added, it is so Ph-up!

I have to admit, I also laughed at the joke. For I agree it does not make sense.

However, I would like to try to give an explanation for something that is totally not our own doing.

The Philippines was named after King Phillip II of Spain. The Spanish explorer Ruy Lopez Villalobos named our archipelago Los Islas Filipinas in 1543. After all, Phillip is Felipe in Spanish.

So the original name of our country is Filipinas. And that’s spelled with an F. So it makes more sense that we are Filipinos, at least by what we are called by our first colonizers, the Spaniards.

Thus it is the English language and the translation of our country’s name that made the confusion of why Ph is use in one, and F in the other. Blame it on the English-speaking people.

I think we can blame other things to the English language.

For instance, why is it that the French drinks a lot more alcohol, but their incidence of stroke is not as bad as the English people and the Americans. Also, why is it that the Japanese works much harder, but their rate of heart attack is not as high as the English and the Americans. And why is that the Filipinos eat more salty foods but again the prevalence of cardiovascular disease is not as high as the English and the Americans. Therefore, speaking English is the one that can kill you.

Sorry I digress. Back to the Ph and F.

To make it more confusing, in our native language, Tagalog or also now known as Pilipino, we spell our country’s name or the name of our people with neither Ph or F. Now that’s really Ph-up!

In our original alphabet, which has only 20 letters, we don’t even have the letter F, as it not needed in the phonology of our language. Though recently F has been added in the modern Filipino alphabet, with other letters, like C, J, Q, V, X and Z. We also have the letters Ñ and Ng in our alphabet, making for a 28-letter alphabet.

Therefore, when we speak in our native tongue, the name of our country is Pilipinas. And we the people are known as Pilipino. And both of them is spelled with a P!

Many times we confuse and interchange the use as well as the pronunciation of F and P. This has been a butt of jokes for us Filipinos. It hurts our peelings. We should not peel inferior just because we don’t speak ferpect English.

By the way, “Put@ng-ina,” our beloved president’s favorite battle cry, is also spelled with a P.

Strange Language

A foreigner arrived in the Philippines and was observing how the locals talk.

After she checked-in in her hotel room, she planned to go outside, so she headed to the elevator. While waiting, a mother and her toddler son were also waiting for the elevator.

The toddler tugged on his mother and said:

Child: Dede!

Mother: Dedede?

Child: Dede.

Then the mother handed his son the milk bottle.

When the elevator door opened the mother asked the lady inside the elevator?

Mother: Bababa ba?

Lady: Bababa.

So the mother and her child hopped inside the elevator. The foreigner hopped in too.

After a couple of floors down, the elevator stopped and the doors opened. A man outside asked:

Man: Bababa ba?

Bababa.” The two ladies inside chimed.

What a fascinating language theses locals speak, the foreigner thought to herself. How can they understand each other with just repeating one syllable?

As the elevator doors closed, the toddler tugged again on his mother and whispered:

Son: Pupupu po.

Mother: Pupupu?

Son: Pupu.

The elevator reached the ground floor, and as the elevator doors opened the foreigner tried to break the ice with the locals. She said to them with an amusing smile:

Foreigner: Dadadada.

The locals looked at her baffled? Of course they did not understand her. They just shook their heads and under their breath they uttered: Gaga.

(*Dedicated to all who speak this strange language. Para sa Buwan ng Wika.)


Foul Mouth

I would like to start this post with this presupposition: It is not our fault.

As a nation, we Filipinos pride ourselves that we are an English-speaking people. Or at least we think we are. Even though English is not our primary language.

But I know when we speak, we Filipinos are misunderstood sometimes. Alright, many times. And we have even been mocked for our English diction. But hear us out first.

In our mother tongue, we enunciate our vowels in only one way. Like e is always eh, and no other way it is pronounced. We don’t differentiate into short e, or long e, or short i.

Though some regions in the Philippines tend to interchange the pronunciation of e and i, but that’s another subject of its own.

Of course there are other quirky mistakes that we Filipinos are prone to make when we talk in English, like interchanging he and she, or his and her. Sorry if we confuse you, and you wonder if the person we are talking about suddenly got a sex transplant. But this is due to the fact that in our language our pronoun has no gender. It is the same for male or female.

Regarding our queer pronunciation, not too long ago, a friend of ours told us that when she first arrived here in the US, while they were driving in the midst of hundreds of acres of Iowa farm lands, she commented:

“I did not know that there are sheep here.”

She got a funny look and was told, “Honey, we are in a land lot. The ocean is thousands of miles away. We don’t have ships here.”

Learning to distinctively pronounce between a short i and a long e as ee when we speak in English is something we need to familiarize with. There’s nothing akin to this in our native language.

Consider this example:

What we said: There are lots of beautiful beaches in the Philippines.

What they heard: There are lots of beautiful bitches in the Philippines.

Can you imagine the glaring stares we got and the misconceptions we caused, stating a fact that we are proud of. Or so we thought.

Back to our friend here in Iowa, one day while at home, shortly from her arrival from the Philippines, she asked, “Where can I find clean (bed) sheet.”

To this she was told that there was no such thing. That’s not clean at all!

They must have thought she has a foul mouth or just plain crazy. By now, you must have deduced what they thought they heard.

Holy clean sh*t!

The Language of Grief

I was sitting in a consultation room of our ICU. I was having a discussion with the family members of one of our patients in the ICU who was not doing well. Not doing well is an understatement. On the brink of death may be more like it. With me were the cardiologist, our senior ICU resident, and the patient’s nurse.

There were several family members in attendance there in that room. Most of them don’t speak English, or understand very little of it, if at all. We were talking through the patient’s grandniece who speaks English, albeit with a distinct accent.

Our patient was a Cambodian man who collapsed at his home. When the emergency responders arrived he had no pulse and was not breathing. After gallant efforts to resuscitate him, which took them almost 30 minutes, they were able establish a heart rhythm. He was then brought to the hospital and eventually was admitted to our ICU.

We placed him on hypothermia protocol to try to preserve whatever brain function he have. This intervention is used in out-of-hospital cardiac arrest survivors as studies showed that this improves mortality and neurologic outcomes. The intervention entails lowering the patient body core temperature to 33-34 Celsius through cooling blanket and infusion of cold IV fluids.It also involves deeply sedating them and medically paralyzing them, while placing them on life support. This process is an effort to slow the metabolism of the body and thus prevent further ischemic injury especially to the brain. After 24 hours of cooling them, they are rewarmed, and sedation and paralytics are weaned off.

The moment of truth comes after the patient’s body is rewarmed. If the patient will show signs of recovery, they will wake up. If not, they will remain unresponsive or show signs of brain injury from hypoxia(low oxygen supply) stemming from the cardiac arrest. And that will be a very poor prognosis.

Sadly to say, our patient did not wake up. After rewarming, he remained comatose and he was even having seizure-like activity, a tell-tale sign of severe hypoxic brain injury. And that was what brought us to this consultation room. To tell the family the heart-breaking news and help them decide further direction of care.

After we presented the bleak situation to them, the grandniece interpreted for the whole family what we have said. What followed was back and forth discussions among the family members in their native tongue. Some spoke animatedly. Some in whispering tones. No doubt I was lost in their discussion as I have no idea what they were saying.

After anxious moments, one by one the family members started crying, some softly, some more loudly. I don’t have to guess what they were saying anymore. I don’t comprehend their words, but tears is a universal language. I understand it loud and clear.

After more minutes, the grandniece spoke to us, and stated that the family was in agreement, that they just want to have a Buddhist monk come and say a prayer for the patient, and then they will take him off all life support.

Not too long after we left the consultation room, a Buddhist monk garb in a traditional orange robe came. There were about 20 people who came and crammed in that small patient’s room. Usually our ICU regulation only allows 2 to 3 visitors at a time, but this was loosely followed to accommodate family’s needs. I heard incantations and prayers through the closed-door. Then this was followed by sobs and weeping.

Grief. It transcends cultures, religions, and language.

Postscript: The above article was published in Manila Standard Today on July 1, 2012.

I Don’t Understand English

The English language remains strange to me. Aside from my difficulty in understanding correct grammar, and me using “he” when I mean “she” and vice versa (apparently it’s a Filipino thing?), there are other things in this language that I just don’t have a clue. Here are some case in point:

awe: feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder

some: at least a small amount or number

full: not lacking; complete

I know that full is much more than some; but why is awesome so much better than awful?

park: bring a vehicle to a halt and leave it temporarily

drive: operate and control the direction and speed of a motor vehicle

way: a road, track, path, or street for traveling along

Then why the heck we park in the driveway and drive in the parkway?

pretty: attractive

ugly: unpleasant or repulsive

little: small in size, amount, or degree

big: considerable size, extent, or intensity

So what does pretty ugly (eg. She’s pretty ugly.) or little big (eg. This shoe is a little big.) means?

But I have a feeling I’m not alone.

If English made any sense, a catastrophe would be an apostrophe with fur” — Doug Larson.