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.


My grade school teachers have taught me to mind my spelling. And over the years I would say that I became good at it, and I am particular that I don’t miss any misspelled words in my writings. My grammar may not be perfect (English is a second language to me), but my spelling is exemplary.

However, nowadays we have auto-correct and spell-check built-in in our computer programs, so it is not that hard to have a perfect spelling. Besides we are turned off reading an article if we see any misspelled words, and it is a poor reflection for the writer too.

But I have read a study from Cambridge University a few years ago that perfect spelling may not be that important to get our message across. In fact, according to the study, our brain can read jumbled words as long as the first and last letter are in the right place. Our brain interpret words not letter by letter, but by context. You don’t believe me?

I konw yuo’re cnotiniung to raed tihs aritcle and yuo’re now raednig jmubeld wrods. Preahps you cnanot beleive taht you are scnannig trhough tihs wtih esee, and undrestnading it wihtout mcuh prboelm too. It is qiute amzanig, rihgt?  Our brian can prefcetly decihper the msesage from this pargaraph even if it is a mses.

How can tihs mkae sesne wehn the wrods deos not mkae any sesne? I am not cetrain thoguh if tihs carzy phenmoneon is unviesral to all lagnuages. Waht if the wrtiten lagnuage deos not sepll wrods wtih letetrs, but uses chraatcers, lkie in Chniese? Deos any bdoy konw?


I geuss spelilng may not be taht importnat afetr all. My taechres in elmenetray shcool will be upest wtih me, tleling you taht. But tihs is sceinitfcially porven. And myabe by now, I aslo mdae a beleievr out of you.


I am not syaing taht we sohuld not mnid our seplling anyomre wehn we wirte. I am jsut   prvoing a fcat on how our brian fnuctoin. So nxet time, dno’t feel so bad if you hvae wrods speelld incroretcly, lkie it is the end of the wrold. We can stlil udnersatnd you.

Hvae a graet day!

(*I have to turn off the auto-correct function in my computer to write this article.)