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. 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.”

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. 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)


Palawan: Photo Haiku

(The following photos were taken during our recent trip to Palawan, and also inspired these haikus, which are short poems, with traditional 17 syllables, in phrases of 5, 7, and 5.)




Hawak ko iyong kamay,

At ‘tong tsinelas.

(Shadow selfie with wifey at a beach in Sabang)




Hindi tataob,

Alon ma’y maligalig,

‘Pagkat may katig.

(In the sea of life, we also need “katig.”Photo taken at Honda Bay, in Puerto Princesa.)



Lulubog Lilitaw

Dito sa Luli,

Sa Lulubog-lilitaw,

Phone, nagtampisaw.

(The island was named so, as it will appear and disappear depending  on the tide. The water here was so inviting that even my cellphone tried to swim. It drowned.)




Mga bayawak,

Mayro’n sa gubat, at sa

Gobyerno’t syudad.

(Bayawak or monitor lizards are “cold-blooded animals” that prey on smaller creatures and their eggs, or their balikbayan box.)



Dagat at Gubat

Dagat at gubat,

Ng lupang pinagpala,

Ba’t ginahasa.

(Acres of virgin forest in Palawan are being ravaged due to mining.)




Likas na yaman,

Ngunit paraiso man,

Ay mayro’ng kulang.

(Part of our trip was a medical and dental mission in Narra. Here I observed the lack of health care for the people in this paradise island, especially the natives, known as “natibo.”)




Hindi si Batman,

Ang nakita sa kuweba,

Kun’di si Boatman.

(That is what our bangkero called himself, when we explored the Underground River, which is named one of the New 7 Wonders of the Natural World.)


Wayfaring Pinoy Transplant is Home

I find it hard to believe that it has been 7 years since I moved here in Iowa. After leaving Manila, which had been the cradle of my childhood, and after short stints in New Jersey, New York, California and Florida, I now have settled here in Iowa and have accepted to call it home.

Truly, my world have changed from the one I was reared into. I transitioned from the congested streets of Manila to the wide open fields of Iowa. Our neighborhood in Sampaloc was so crowded that if I open my window and ask our neighbor to lend me some salt, they can literally hand it to me through the window. Now, where I live, if I open my window and shout to my neighbor to pass the salt, he should have a very good arm to throw it that strong so I can catch it. That is if he can hear me shouting for the salt first.

Manila skyline (photo from the net)

Consider this: the state of Iowa (145,000 sq. km.) is bigger than the total land area of Luzon (105,000 sq. km.). But the population of Iowa is only 3 million. Yes, 3 million! That’s only the population of Quezon City! Can you imagine scattering the people from Quezon City alone, throughout the whole island of Luzon, and that will still be more dense than Iowa.

You may be able to drive for miles after miles here without seeing people. But you cannot go very far without seeing the handiwork of people, as stretches of cornfields, soybean fields, cattle and hog farms are the constant scenery here. Only a very small portion of produced corn here is used for human consumption, as most of them are for processing ethanol for fuel and other industrial use. There’s so much corn, that it is just considered cattle and hog feeds. The cattle population (almost 4 million) is more than its people. And hogs? We have 20 million. There is plenty of steak and pork chop to go around.

typical Iowa scene

(photo from here)

I remember when I told my friends that I will be moving from Florida to Iowa. Their first question was, “Where is Iowa?” The next question was, “Are you nuts?” And when I told my family in the Philippines that I will move to Iowa, their question was, “Is that still in the US?” Many people, even Americans cannot locate Iowa in the map. I admit that I had no idea where the heck Iowa was, or knew that it even exist, until a good friend of mine years ago invited me to consider moving here.

This friend is a classmate of mine from pre-med to medical school in Manila. Then we both did our post-graduate training in New York City. He moved to Iowa while I went to Florida, after our training. And for some reason he was very satisfied of the way of living and his practice in Iowa, while I was not in Florida. Besides, this is the man who was the best of our batch in medical school and was the top-notcher of the Philippines’ Medical Board of our time. If it was good enough for him, then there must be a very sound reason.

downtown Des Moines

(photo from here)

As a matter of fact, Des Moines, Iowa is always in the top 10 cities in the US for raising family, for business and career, and a place to relocate. (No, I’m not making those up, but perhaps I need to hear those reports to convince myself that I made the right decision.) But what I like most here is its people. They are friendly, laid-back, simple and are family oriented. Moreover, people here still like their doctors, as the rate of medical malpractice lawsuits is not that high compared to other states. (The states where I lived before were among the high risk states for malpractice lawsuits.)

Seven years and counting. So far I have no regrets. Except when I am freezing while shoveling snow in my driveway, that moving somewhere warm (like the Bahamas) crosses my mind. But winter is almost gone now and spring is on its way. I will soon forget about the bone-chilling cold, at least until the next winter.

Will I stay here for good? Only time can tell. But for now, this wayfaring Pinoy transplant has found his home.

Suwail sa Pamahiin: Unang Banat

Ang ating lahi ay mayaman sa mga pamahiin at mga kasabihan ng matatanda. Kalimitan ito ang humuhubog sa ating paniniwala, tradisyon at kultura. Ngunit marami sa mga pamahiing ito ay walang katotohanan (mawalang galang na lang po sa ating matatanda). At ipagpaumanhin ninyo ang aking kapangahasan sa pagsuway sa mga ito. Ang mga sumusunod ay  ilan sa aking nakalakihan:

1. Kapag kayo’y kumakain, at may nahulog na kutsara, kayo’y magkakabisita ng babae. Kapag tinidor ang nahulog, ang magiging bisita ay lalaki.

Ang katotohanan: kapag lagi kang nakakahulog ng kubyertos, siguro’y pasmado lang ang iyong mga kamay. Kaya mag-kamay ka na lang sa pag-kain para walang bisita. Kapag sandok ang nahulog? Ang magiging bisita ay matakaw na babae!

2. Kung gusto mong umalis kaagad ang mga bisitang hindi kanais-nais sa iyong bahay, patago kang magsabog ng asin sa palibot ng iyong bahay.

Hindi ito epektibo. Mas epektibo kung bubuhusan mo ng asin ang pagkain ng iyong bisita, o mas epektibo pa kung mukha nila ang sasabuyan mo ng asin.

3. Huwag matutulog ng basa ang buhok, at baka ikaw ay mabulag o mabaliw.

Walang scientific at medical na dahilan sa likod nito. Ang masamang mangyayari lang ay mababasa ang iyong unan, at hindi mo malalaman kung nabasa ang iyong unan ng iyong basang buhok o ng iyong tumulong laway.

4. Kapag kumakati ang iyong kamay, ikaw ay magkakapera.

Hindi ito totoo. Kapag nangangati ang iyong kamay, marahil ang iyong kamay ay may eksema o kurikong. Ang mga makakating kamay lang na nagkakapera ay mga mandurukot, pero dahil din dito kaya sila napuputulan ng kamay!

5. Huwag magwawalis ng sahig sa gabi, dahil lalabas ang lahat ng suwerte.

Totoo lamang ito kung ang nakakalat sa inyong sahig ay pera at mga alahas.

6. Huwag maliligo sa unang Biyernes ng buwan, o sa araw ng Biyernes Santo, o sa piyesta ni San Lazaro, o sa ika-labingtatlong araw ng buwan, o kapag ikaw ay gutom, o pagkatapos kumain, o kapag ikaw ay pagod, o pagkatapos magsimba, o kapag may bahag-hari, o kapag bilog ang buwan (at iba’t iba pang dahilan).

Hindi rin ito totoo. Dahil kung iyong susundin lahat ng ito, hindi ka na maliligo at lalo kang mamalasin dahil sa sama ng iyong putok!

7. Tumalon kapag sumapit ang Bagong Taon o Pasko ng Pagkabuhay, para ikaw ay tumangkad.

Walang katotohanan ito. Marami akong kilalang tao na talon ng talon kapag hating gabi ng bagong taon, pero pandak pa rin sila hanggang ngayon. Kaya itulog mo na lang at baka sakali pang lumaki ka.

Guni-guni Lang Pala

Nakaupo ako sa harap ng aming bahay kahapon ng hapon ng may dumaang naka bisikleta. Tumunog yung kanyang bell na busina. Bigla akong namalikmata na parang ako’y nasa Pilipinas at akala ko’y nagtitinda ng binatog yung mama. Anak ng tipaklong, guni-guni ko lang pala.

Tuloy naalala ko ang mga inaabangan kong tinitinda sa kalye ng Maynila. Puto’t kutchinta, taho, fishballs, sorbetes, nilagang mane, nilagang mais, balut (ayoko pala ng balut!), binatog, ice drop, ice candy, mangga na may bagoong, banana que, kamote que, snow cone, cotton candy at buko. Sana nga may dumaan dito sa aming kalye………mangangarap na lang ako.


Andres Bonifacio. Matapang na tao.

Nakatayo sa bato. May hawak na bolo.

Naghinintay ng………….buko!

‘Di Ko Miss

May mga panahon na talagang naho-homesick ako, at para bang ang kaluluwa ko’y naglulungkab sa Pilipinas.  At pagdumarating ang mga pagkakataong ito ay iniisip ko na lang ang mga bagay na hindi ko na mi-miss sa Pilipinas. Tapos nuon, nawawala na ang aking lungkot.

Ito ang aking Top 10 List ng mga bagay na hindi ko na mi-miss sa Pilipinas:

1o. Itim na kulangot

9. Pulis na mahilig sa lagay (Akin na ang lisensya mo….yung may litrato ni Ninoy.)

8. Bukas na manhole. Naghihintay ng mahuhulog na nilalang.

7. Hindi umuusad na traffic. Buti pang maglakad ka na lang.

6. Sangkatutak na basura na hindi kinokolekta. Tuwing pasko lang yata ang dating, kasama na ang kolekta ng pamasko ninyo.

5. “That’s Entertainment” (which is not)

4. Si Mando at si Manda. Mandurukot, mandurugas, mandaraya at mandarambang.

3. Mga taong mahilig sumingit sa pila. Dapat sa kanila kurutin sa singit!

2. Mapanghing pader (Hoy! Bawal umihi dito!)

1. Lumilipad na ipis (Nanang ko po!)

Our Daily Rice

Rice. Many Filipinos will not survive a day without it. A meal is not a meal without it. And this is true in our household. Yes, we have even brought our reliable electric rice cooker when we go camping. And in campgrounds that has no electric outlets, we cook our rice in the public shower where there is electric outlets (of course we could have cook rice in the campfire, but that is too much of a hassle).

Our American friends just don’t understand why we eat rice in all our meals. I told them that this is so engrained in our culture that we even have different words in our language for the different phases of rice. When rice crop is grown in the fields, we call it palay. When it is harvested and milled, we call it bigas. When we cook it and is ready to eat, we call it kanin. The leftover is called bahaw. Compare that to the English language that has only 1 term – rice.

For Filipinos, even our prayer is different…… Lord, give us this day, our daily…rice.

Mais con yelo

Naalala ko pa ng ako’y lumalaki sa isang sulok ng Manila, isa sa aking paboritong panghimagas na pamatid sa init ay mais con yelo. Mga butil ng mais (kahit galing lang sa lata), dadagdagan ng bagong kaskas na yelo, tapos bubuhusan ng gatas na evaporada, at aking namang pupunuan ng sampung kutsarang asukal. Hmmm…sarap.

Ngayong, ako’y napadpad na sa Amerika, sa isang lupalop ng Iowa, ay kakaibang mais con yelo naman ang pumalibot sa akin. Mais at yelo (snow). Marami niyan dito sa Iowa.

Milya-milya ng lupa dito ay taniman ng mais. Iowa is the number one producer of corn in the US. Halos pagbatuhan lang ang mais dito sa Iowa. Sa katunayan may isa akong playground na napuntahan, na sa halip buhangin ang linagay sa sandbox, butil ng mais ang ipinuno dito. Malaking bahagi ng inaaning mais ay hindi para kainin ng tao ngunit para lang ipakain sa mga baka at baboy.

At pagdating naman ng winter, ay magsasawa ka sa kakapala at hukay ng snow. Oo nga’t magandang tignan pag puti na lahat ang kapaligiran dahil sa snow. Huwag ka lang lalabas ng bahay at manginginig ang boong kalamnan mo sa lamig kahit balot na balot ka na, na para ka nang Michelin man. Pati tulo ng sipon mo magiging ice. Sang tambak ang yelo, pero hindi siguro mabebenta ang halo-halo o mais con yelo dito.

Mais at yelo, kulang na lang gatas at asukal. Teka, dahil marami ring bakahan, pwede mo na lang gatasan yung mga baka doon sa parang. Asukal? Bili ka na lang ng kalahating kilo sa tindahan ni Aling Poleng.