Monday, January 07, 2008


(updated 9 January 2008)

Are there any Tagalog expletives? Im talking about the words you utter when, say, you hit your thumb with a hammer, or when traveling in your car at 120 kph and finding yourself about to crash into a tree. Or the kind you use as punctuation, or as a filler, as in "Fuck, yeah" or "Hell, no."

We do have words for those occasions but theyre not pure Tagalog; putang ina, anak ng puta, tang ina (whore-mother or spawn of a whore) for instance, but theyre based on the Spanish puta. Our pucha, naknampucha, anaknampatola, anaknantokwa, etc., are all euphemisms derived from anak ng puta. I remember growing up hearing puki ng ina, or puking ina (mother's vagina), and theyre pure Tagalog, but I figured they were derived from putang ina as well. If they werent, then they have fallen into disuse, at least from where I am. [In fact, there is evidence that it is a Tagalog expletive that predates putang ina since there are expletives in other Filipino languages that mean the same thing and sound different from puta. The Ilokano ukininam, for instance.] What did the Tagalogs use before the Spanish gave us puta? Im sure they had something. Expletives come from a different part of the brain than everyday spoken language, and since I assume Tagalogs also have this part of the brain (the limbic system), I assume our ancestors also let out a blue streak when, say, their fishing nets snagged a rock and all the fishes they caught got away. Our ancestors also had those times when they knew they were fucked, and Im sure they didnt say Ay, gumamela! Alas, our authentic Tagalog expletives are gone forever. The only one that survived is the wimpy and tame walanghiya (shameless) used as a filler (not an expletive per se). Walanghiya is used like 'God damn!' when impressed by something, for instance. Walanghiya, ang galing!

The Visayans were more successful in preserving theirs. They continue to use yawa, or hindot as their substitute for hell (devil) and fuck. Ditto for the aforementioned Ilokanos. Ukininam is vulgar--a profaning of our mother's most secret place--and it's easy to say, which makes it perfect as an expletive. Perhaps the Tagalog word for fuck, kantot, doesnt lend itself well to being used as an expletive. It doesnt flow as easily as fuck, or hindot. Remember, Im talking about expletives and not those curse words that are actually directed at someone. Fuck is different from 'Fuck you' which has a lot of hostility. In that department, the directed curse word, Tagalogs can hold their own.

I dont think we have an equivalent in any Filipino language of the expletive shit, but we recognized that we needed one. So much so that we adopted shit, much the same way that we adopted puta from Spanish, but changed its pronunciation a bit, pronouncing it as shet. I dont know about you, but that small change in pronunciation emasculated it. Tae would have been perfect, and I suspect it was used as an expletive before the Conquistadores, the Inquisition still fresh in their minds and swords, gave the natives a new religion where words had power, and oaths meant something. Understandable, since in this new religion they brought, the Word is central to the faith. As a result, as the Tagalogs became the Vatican's most loyal subjects, Tagalog suffered the loss of their expletives since the Spaniards decided Luzon, especially Manila, would be their capital. We had to make do with hybrids to satisfy a primitive impulse. Anak ng puta!

P.S. It just occurred to me that a Tagalog expletive did indeed survive. And that's puki (vagina). But as far as I can tell, it's only used by women. Somehow, I dont see that fisherman ancestor who snagged his fishing net on a rock saying, "Ay, puki!"

Update (08 January 2008): I just thought of another Tagalog expletive: buwisit (jinx). How could I have missed this one? It was a favorite of my father's, just second to putang ina. Is this all the Tagalogs really had? Walanghiya and buwisit? Somehow I dont believe they were that prudish. I wish some professor at the U.P. (Happy centennial, oblates!) would do some research on pre-Hispanic profanity in the Philippine islands.

If I needed any proof that expletives and profanity come from a different part of the brain than everyday language, all I have to do is recall my experience with my father. He was in a car accident when I was nine and was in a coma for a month. At one point, we thought he wouldnt make it when all his vital signs crashed. A priest had to give him the last rites. Anyway, he survived that night and eventually got out of his coma, but with the entire left side of his body paralyzed and his speech hopelessly slurred... except for when he cursed.

Dad: Brrsw drwdweebld.
Me: Huh?
Dad: Brrsw drwdweebld.
Me: I dont understand. Can you repeat that?
Dad: Brrsw drwdWEEBLD!
Me: I really have no idea what you want.
Dad: BRRSW DRWDWEEBLD!!. Poo-ooo-ootang INA!

Rest in peace, dad.

Update (09 January 2008): Buwisit might not be Tagalog after all. It could be Chinese (Fujian). Another Tagalog expletive is lintik (lightning).

Bicol also has its version of puki ng ina, which is buray ni apo (grandmother's vagina), and this lends credence to the theory that puki ng ina is an expletive that predates putang ina. Notice that there are no expletives using the male genitalia here. That is probably because there is nothing sacred about the male genitalia, at least in the Philippine setting, and its impact on being profaned verbally is minimal. In other cultures, they do use the male genitalia as expletive; the British bollocks for example, or the American nuts. Both these cultures have phallic monuments copied from ancient Egypt -- Washington monument, for example -- which means they inherited a culture where the male genitalia is sacred, therefore fair game for expletives. (Which reminds me... Howie Severino once had a documentary on the Lukayo, a religious ritual somewhere in Laguna where the women paraded wooden penises. Perhaps if one were to do research on pre-Hispanic expletives and profanity, this would be a good place to start.) We inherited a European culture from the Spaniards, that's why classical monuments here are phallic as well, such as the Rizal and Bonifacio monuments. But we were never a patriarchal society before the coming of Islam, then Christianity, which probably explains why we dont use bayag as an expletive.


Y. Riskas said...


"Ay, puke!" is a favorite of badings too.

Jego said...

I just thought of another Tagalog expletive: buwisit. How could I have missed this one? It was a favorite of my father's, just second to putang ina.

I wish someone from the academe would do a study on Tagalog (and Filipino) expletives.

cvj said...

Isn't 'buwisit' just tagalized 'bullshit'?

Also, i thought all along that 'puki' was breast (not vagina).

How about 'lintek'?

Jego said...

Hmmmm... I have to look into that. As far as I know 'buwisit' is Tagalog. Or at least a word of Chinese origin (Hokkien?)

Lintek, that's right. But again it just means lightning. I dont believe the pre-Hispanic Tagalogs were that prudish. Or maybe they were. Maybe buwisit, lintek, and walanghiya were all that the men could muster. But the women had puki. The men didnt go 'Ay, titi!' Were the Tagalogs ander-de-saya by nature?

Also, i thought all along that 'puki' was breast (not vagina).

Cvj, I hope to God, for the sake of your wife (or girlfriend) that you think in English. :-)

(Just got back from that compendium of human knowledge, Wikipedia, and it says 'buwisit' is indeed of Chinese origin )

cvj said...

Thanks for clearing that up Jeg. I'm sure you have just saved me from some future [embarrasing] trouble.

cvj said...

I have a hunch on why there is no known pre-hispanic expletive that references the male genitalia. I think that such references are reserved for honorifics. Case in point is 'Maharlika' which is supposed to be a derivation of the Sanskrit 'maha' (great) and 'lingam' or 'ligam' (phallus). Unless of course the historians got it wrong and Maharlika was actually an expletive (a doubtful proposition).

Jego said...

What an apt description. Maharlika, Head Dick, dickhead.

stevie said...

I like your profile pic. I'm a big fan of Steely Dan and Gaucho is one of their greatest.

fionski said...

Asapo ke eng bola keng lalam ng tete.

fionski said...

Bwisit is either of Chinese or Indian origin I think.