The Fascinating History Behind Filipino Slang

ILLUSTRATOR Jasrelle Serrano

Language evolves over time and every year, new words are added to our vernacularwhether it's the Oxford-accepted "binge-watch" or novel slang like "lodi," "werpa," and "petmalu." The latter set reaches an all-time high level of propagation thanks to social media, so it's hard to believe that it's a practice that dates back to the 19th century.

In an interview with CNN Philippines, University of the Philippines Linguistics professor Jay-ar Igno described this way of minting words as 'tadbalik.' Roy Cagalingan of the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino said that this was a method used by revolutionaries to hide their identities. Writer Marcelo H. del Pilar, for example, used the pseudonym “Plaridel," which is a jumbled-up version of his surname.

Tadbalik words like erpat (father), ermat (mother) were also widely used in the ‘70s.

Other Pinoy slang is derived from the figure of speech onomatopoeia, basing it on the sound created  by the object. "Chugi," a term for "to die, was taken from the tsug sound of someone being stabbed to death. "Nyek" or "ngeh," the local version of "yikes," came from the sound of a game show buzzer after an incorrect answer.   

Sometimes, Filipinos would take inspiration from foreign terms. "Chibog" is a portmanteau of "chi" (from the Chinese word "to eat") and "bog" from "busog." "Tong" in kotong (bribery) comes from another Chinese word "tong" or the money put up in mahjong. 

According to Cagalingan and Igno, words invented during a certain era capture the spirit of the times and defines subgroups in the Filipino culture. One can see this in the vast vocabulary of Filipino gay lingo or swardspeak. Ronald Baytan in his essay “Language, Sex, and Insults: Notes on Garcia and Remoto’s The Gay Dict” describes the creation of gay lingo as “gays turning the source of their oppression, their desires, into the very source of their self-affirmation.”


In another essay, “Gayspeak in the Nineties”, Murphy Red observes that there are no rules for gay lingo structure, but notes how its evolution and permutation are rapid, “like the ‘queens’ who have started to break the walls of the subculture.” He cited the example chaka which means “ugly” or “cheap,” and how it evolved from “chapter, champaka, chapacola, or chararat to champorado, chapluk, chapa, chop suey, and champola.”

It is expected that in the future, Filipinos will come up with other ways to invent more words but for the meantime, here are some Filipino words that have interesting etymologies.

It's a shortened version of “short time,” which means booking a hotel or motel for two hoursa euphemism for sex. Others theorize that “short time” may also refer to a short-term relationship.

Ironically, during the Vietnam War, call girls in Saigon would utter the phrase “Me love you long time,” as an invitation of sexual favors. Some say that the American GIs who were based in Subic sort of carried the “long time” and “short time” phrases as indicators of sexual activities. This is not surprising, given that there are reports suggesting that there were as many as 500 brothels in Olongapo that time, as well as around 15,000 prostitutes.

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An example of tadbalik, jeproks comes from “project,” which refers to the housing programs of the government in Quezon City. There were Projects 2, 3, 4, et cetera. In the ‘60s, young people who lived in these projects were called jeproks and in the ‘70s, a Mike Hanopol song called “Laki sa Layaw (Jeproks)” became popular. In the song, he talked about how the children who live in these communities, the jeproks, are “laki sa layaw” or spoiled and often get embroiled in drugs. Indeed, there were reports during those days that these areas became hotbeds for drug dealing.

In the ‘80s and ‘90s, Filipina performers who went to Japan were called “japayukis.” “Japa” of course came from “Japan” and while “yuki” really means “snow” in Nihongo or the Japanese language, the “yuki” in “Japayuki” actually comes from the term “Karayuki-san.” This translates to “Ms. Gone to China” which refers to incidents in Japan where Japanese peasant girls are trafficked to go work as prostitutes in China. Similarly, the Japayukis that come from the Philippines front as dancers or singers but it is an open secret that some of them also offer sexual favors.


There are theories suggesting that “jologs” came from “Jolens,” which is how fans called '90s teen icon Jolina Magdangal. Her followers were supposedly called “jologs” which eventually became associated with the term “baduy” or “bakya,” meaning cheap.

Apparently, though, the word actually comes from the word “diyolog” which is a combination of the words “dilis” + “tuyo” + “itloga staple dish enjoyed by the masses. It's also why the term is often associated with the masa.


Though originally an English word that means “to save” or “to rescue” cargo from a shipwreck, the term “salvage” took on a completely opposite meaning in the Philippines during the Marcos era. “Salvage” victims referred to people who were inhumanely caught and killed. Their bodies would sometimes turn up in empty lots or not at all. The Filipino interpretation of “salvage” was later included in the Oxford English Dictionary.

They say “bagets” comes from the word “bagito” or "inexperienced." Of course, the term is most popularly associated with the ‘80s movie starring matinee idols William Martinez, Herbert Bautista, Raymond Lauchengco, JC Bonnin, and Aga Muhlach. The coming-of-age film discussed each character’s transition into adulthood and how they dealt with their respective problems.

There are also sources saying that bagets is the opposite of the term “forgets” which refers to old people who are ulyanin, or forgetful. 

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Nicai de Guzman
Nicai de Guzman is the Head of Marketing of Rising Tide, one of the fastest-growing mobile and digital advertising technology companies in the Philippines. She also writes for and
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