When in Manila, English is heard and read almost everywhere. It’s one of the country’s official languages, after all. When foreigners travel to the Philippines, however, they may be surprised to discover that some words commonly used in the English language can have a completely different meaning in the Philippines, depending on the context! English is considered a universal language, but its diversity implies many different adaptations and usages of its words.
I enlisted the help of my Cebuano-Canadian friend for brainstorming:
What are some of the English words that have alternative meanings when used in the Philippines? Here are just a few words with double lives (according to both Merriam-Webster and us). Enjoy!
Disclaimer: most of the English words are compared to common Canadian (Ontario) usages, but English words are used differently all over the world (and all over Canada, as well)! Neither English or Filipino usages of these words are conclusive or exclusionary. Alternative simply means an additional option.
10 English Words with Alternative Meanings in the Philippines
Merriam-Webster definition: a small piece of cloth or paper used during a meal to clean your lips and fingers and to protect your clothes.
Alternative Filipino meaning: a sanitary pad, used for feminine hygiene during regla (time o’ the month).
I learned this one the hard way. When I was still relatively new to Manila, I spilled some water and hesitantly asked the waiter, “do you have a napkin I can use???” which prompted the most terrified look I’ve ever seen.
Merriam-Webster definition: someone who is violent and mentally ill.
Alternative Filipino meaning: [manyak] a pervert.
While it’s quite possible for manyaks to also be maniacal, this type of maniac is quite specific.
Merriam-Webster definition: a girl who enjoys things that people think are more suited to boys.
Alternative Filipino meaning: a Lesbian.
“Tomboy” in the Philippines is commonly used for a homosexual female. In Canada, it could simply mean a girl who prefers action figures over dolls.
Merriam-Webster definition: a man who rides a horse and whose job is to take care of cows or horses especially in the western U.S.
Alternative Filipino meaning: [koboy] someone who is not fussy or nit-picky. Not MAARTE!
This one confused me once while I was chilling in my family friend’s home in Parañaque. “OK si Bail eh, koboy siya” — I pictured myself like this and felt like a boss:
Merriam-Webster definition: a lightweight implement that consists of a netting (as of nylon) stretched in a usually oval open frame with a handle attached and that is used for striking the ball or shuttlecock in various games.
Alternative Filipino meaning: [raket] a scheme or a plan, sometimes used for freelancing jobs.
While waiting around for a position on a TV show I was given, producers kept postponing the date. While this was happening, they would often text me things such as “OK lang, raket muna tayo” — I thought, “why do they want to play tennis with me all the time???”
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