Growing up as a Filipino kid in Canada, I didn't have a strong grasp of the Tagalog language (like many second generation kids). The extent to which I understood Tagalog was limited to the silly swears, and the stuff your parents say to you when you’re in trouble and they’re angry (if you’ve ever been the brunt of someone showering you in angry Tagalog, the nightmares can keep you up for weeks).
But since travelling back and forth to the Philippines for the last two years, I’ve been trying to reconnect with my Tagalog. I realize more and more just how important language is to culture. The words we use say so much about who we are, what we value, and even how we are as a culture.
For example, there are SO many Tagalog words that have no English equivalent, and many of them are just to express emotions. Filipinos are an emotional bunch. Anyone whose caught a glimpse of Filipino cinema can attest to this, and there’s a reason we’ve got so many different ways to express emotions. But that’s why taking pride in your culture also means diving deep and taking pride in the language – it’s hard to have one without the other.
So forget the curses and silly words of your childhood. Here are 8 perfect words that are uniquely Filipino.
1. SINTA – an old-fashioned word for “love”
Filipinos are true romantics, and how lovely is it that they’ve got different ways to say the word “love”? No matter how far removed you are from your Filipino roots, you probably already know the word “mahal” and can say I love you in Tagalog. It’s still sweet and all, but I can’t tell you the number of times non-Filipinos (usually older men) have said the words “mahal kita” to me as an icebreaker (anyone else experienced this creepy phenomenon?). Needless to say, it’s lost a bit of magic for me.
But there’s something so beautiful about using a word from another lifetime. The word “sinta” just rolls off your tongue. Next time, call your partner “sinta ko” or “aking sinta” meaning “my love”. It gives all the feels.
2. LAMBING – intense tenderness and affection
While lambing could be translated to tenderness, it doesn’t really capture what this elusive word means. Filipiknow describes it as: “tenderness + sweetness + being affectionate + wanting to be caressed = lambing.” Usually, it’s the tactic sneaky kids employ against their helpless parents when they know they’re about to be scolded. Or how you want to be showered with affection after you’ve been neglected by your partner and you want them to make it up to you. That’s all lambing. Very Filipino, right?
3. HARANA – to woo someone by serenading them
Filipinos love two things: romance, and singing (karaoke session, anyone?). So it makes sense they came up with a term that captures both. Harana is to win someone over by serenading them with a love song. Filipinos are some of the best singers and entertainers, and I don’t think I’d be able to resist! I love this word and the simplicity of it. It also makes me think of the classic Parokya ni Edgar song of the same name which was one of the only Filipino songs I knew as a kid.
4. MAARTE – To be overly nitpicky or fussy
I know the meaning of maarte well, because it’s the word my mom used most to refer to me and my sisters when we were kids. The term usually applies to a girl with very specific tastes and whom is difficult to please. Originally in Tagalog however, it meant “artful” or “artsy” which would be interesting to look into how it morphed into its more common meaning. But it looks like the original meaning is making a revival. Every year, there’s a big handmade fashion fair called Maarte organized in Manila where conscious, homegrown fashion brands show up in droves to showcase their beautiful Filipino designs.
5. KILIG – To have butterflies in one’s stomach, to be on cloud 9
Filipinos love to be in love, which perhaps explains why there are so many words to describe the feeling. Kilig can loosely be translated to having butterflies in your stomach, but it’s really so much more. It’s about having an electricity that dives deep down into your bones and fills you with nervous excitement and a feeling of ecstasy. Like the first time someone you like holds your hand, or your very first kiss. Kilig is happiness and exhilaration and being on cloud 9, all rolled into one and multiplied by a thousand. Just thinking about it fills me with butterflies!
6. Gigil – Uncontrollable urge to pinch or squeeze someone
Ever looked at a little baby or puppy that was so cute your reaction bordered on violence? In English, it’s kind of like “You’re so cute, I could eat you up!” But this is SO much more. Gigil is when you want to give them the biggest squeeze and can’t let them go, or pinch their cheeks so hard they cry. Yep, we’ve all experienced it except Filipinos were smart enough to coin a term. Gigil can also refer to wanting to pinch or squeeze someone aggressively, but not because they’re cute. So use this word subjectively!
7. Pambahay – Home clothes
Okay, this word isn’t as pretty or evocative as all the other ones on this list, but I just love it. There’s nothing like lounging around at home in your comfiest clothes, not giving a damn what you look like. Pambahay are casual clothes meant only to be worn at home – usually your torn tees, raggedy pants, ugly shorts that are uber comfy but god awful ugly that you would never be seen with them in public –none of it matters as long as its comfy! And I can dig that. Pajamas are a type of pambahay, but don’t be fooled. The possibilities with pambahay here are endless!
8. Diskarte – To pull something off with all sorts of means
Purportedly, this Tagalog word is associated with the philosopher Descartes, which is why it refers to ingenuity. Something I’ve come to admire time and again is just how innovative and resourceful Filipinos are, and this is true of the people I’ve met in my own family, as well as entrepreneurs in cities like Manila or artisans and farmers in the provinces. Filipino ingenuity and talent is what keeps Cambio Market in business, so it’s no surprise there’s a Filipino word for it.
What Tagalog words would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments.