BELOW THE LINE
By AMBASSADOR JOSE ABETO ZAIDE
Meaning what you say and saying what you mean may not always be the same.
Here’s a tip to visiting foreigners and to those unaccustomed to local flavor: The Filipino language is enigmatically colorful; and it sometimes defies translation. I received the following collection from a wordsmith, which I share with readers and especially for first-time visiting tourists with a prayer that it may give a short respite from the flavor of the month COVID-19 and related matters.
- 1. “Tapos na ang boksing!”Meaning: It is finished, doomed. and done.
Origin: This became a popular expression during the Japanese Occupation. Boxing was introduced by Americans in the 1920s. So, for the pro-Japanese quarters, the expression meant that America was finished. But for those who believed in America and MacArthur’s promise to return, it meant that Japan would ultimately fall.
- “Mabilis pa sa alas kwatro.”Meaning: To leave in a mad rush.
Origin: At the foot of the Quezon Bridge, the Insular Ice Plant had a loud siren that signaled the start of work at 7 a.m., lunch break at 12 noon, and dismissal of workers at 4 p.m.At the last siren signal, Insular workers headed to the exit gates and fell in line to log out. They dashed to be first in line — faster than the 4 p.m. siren!
- “Agua de Pataranta.”Meaning: Strong liquor.
Origin: In pre-war Manila, pharmacists sold medicinal waters with Spanish brand names. Botica Boie carried stock water-based remedies like Agua Fenicada (phenol water), Agua de Botot (a mouth rinse), Agua Boricada (boric acid solution eye drops) and Agua de Carabaña (mineral water). An imbiber’s bottle had earned the sobriquet, too — Agua de Pataranta, for liquor strong enough to addle his brains and put him in a state of stupor or “taranta.”
- 4. “Noong bata pa si Sabel.”Meaning: Something existing or practiced a long time ago.
Origin: “When Isabel was still a child,” i.e., when the world was younger. Spanish Queen Isabella II’s reign from 1843 to 1868 was rocked with internal palace intrigues, influence-peddling, and conspiracies, ending with her abdication and exile. Her profile appeared in local 1860’s coins; her bronze statue stands on Liwasang Bonifacio. National Artist Alejandro Roces said that Isabel’s detractors referred to her as “la perra” (the bitch), hence the coins that carried her profile became known as “perra” or “pera,” a term used today for money.
- 5. “Hanggang Pier.”Meaning: To be left behind, with an unkept promise.
Origin: American military servicemen in Clark, Subic, and Sangley Point in the 1900s spawned the entertainment industry which provided food, drinks, dancing, and women. In the ’30’s to the’60’s, Americans on furlough formed relationships with local girls in the bars and dance halls. Some affairs were for real; but others were only up to the departure area — hanggang pier. The expression came to mean that a person would not keep his promise, or that a Pinay would be left behind, often with a Fil-Am baby souvenir.
- “Natutulog sa pansitan.” Meaning: Sleeping on the job.
Origin: Pansit-pansitan (the bush Peperomia Pellucida Linn) is a common herb that grows quickly in cool, damp places, carpeting nooks with their soft, fleshy leaves.Workers took respite from work and the harsh sun by napping on a patch of pansit-pansitan. The moral of the story: Sleeping on the job can mean unfinished work — and missed opportunities.
- “Nineteen kopong-kopong.” Meaning: A long ago, which nobody recalls.
Origin: In the 1950s, the 1900s was considered a long time past. When people wanted to refer to an event in the forgotten past, they reckoned it in the “nineteen kopong-kopong.” (“Kopong” is an Indonesian word also used in the Philippines, meaning “no content, empty” — zilch or zero, as in 19 zero-zero!)
- “Lutong Makaw.” Meaning: A rigged decision; a pre-ordained result.
Origin: In the peacetime ’30’s, “makaw” (derived from Macau island, off the coast of Hong Kong), was a generic term for Chinese immigrants, especially, cooks. Their culinary creations were called “lutong makaw” — cooked Macau way. Macau cooks prepared their ingredients well ahead, even before a dish was ordered. A trademark dish was “pansit makaw,” a bestseller along with pancit canton.
Another more likely explanation is Macau’s long gaming history that dates back to more than three centuries, earning the cachet “Monte Carlo of the Orient.” In 1930, the Hou Heng Company won the concession to operate casino games. Game-fixing was a practice, “cooking” (i.e., tampering) the results of the game even before it is played — hence “lutong-makaw.”
- 9. “Walastik!” — An effusive praise for something new and modern.
Origin: This 1960s expression comes from the phrase “walang katigil-tigil” (unstoppable), contracted to “walastig,” and finally morphed to “Walastik!” If someone wears a new pair of shoes or pants, he will be greeted with “Walastik! Ang gara ng bihis natin…” — a compliment of his style. “Walastik” was often paired with another expression, “Walandyo!” (“Walang Joe!”).
- “Pupulutin sa kangkungan.” Summary execution without benefit of a trial. Slang: to “salvage.”
Origin: People killed by summary execution were hid under a dense growth of kangkong (swamp cabbage). The semi-aquatic plant grows in profusion on swampy fields and on the Pasig River, where victims’ cadavers were regularly fished out. Philippine media popularized this expression in reporting “salvaging” cases.
- “Keng leon, keng tigre, ECQ tatakot…ke ka pa!” Breast-beating Capampangan fighting words declaring no fear of lion, tiger or mortals.
Further affiant sayeth naught.
FEEDBACK: [email protected]