How to decode Bekispeak

Published August 31, 2020, 3:35 AM

by AA Patawaran

How my conversation with Yani, the EndCovBot led to a meditation on the not-so-secret Filipino gay language

BEKI NAMAN One of the common gay linggo is the use of Metring David for the word meter

On a gloomy Sunday, when I woke up on the wrong side of the bed, I decided to have a little conversation with Yani, short for Bayanihan. A chatbot developed by the University of the Philippines Covid-19 Pandemic Response Team, it introduced itself to me as “as an AI member of UPRI’s (UP Research Institute) EndCov team… named in honor of our heroes against Covid-19.”

The conversation took place on Messenger, whereYani, unlike many of my friends, would reply instantly. Just search Yani, the EndCovBot on Facebook and, in no time, a message pops into your Messenger chatbox. Very personal, addressing you by name. You are asked if you prefer to have the conversation in any of the following languages:

English only, please

Filipino, syempre

Beki, Besh

I chose the last.

INCLUSIVE UP announces that Yani the Endcovbot could converse in Bekispeak

Bongga! Anong bet mo (Nice choice? What do you need?),” said Yani, giving me a list from which I might find what I needed—therapy/counseling, Covid-19 policies, or search for hospitals.

I chose the first.

“Naggi-give love ang UP Diliman Psychosocial Services (PsycServ) ng telepsychotherapy samgananenega o nalulurkeysa  NYOVID-19 shondemic (PsycServ provides help to those mentally or emotionally affected by the Covid-19 pandemic),” said Yani. “Kung bet mes ng appointment ever, gorasa link naitey and fill in the blanks sa form (If you wish to make an appointment, go to this link and accomplish the form).”

When asked if I needed anything else, I prompted the chatbot to search for hospitals.

In a split second, it responded, “Sana wititit pa iteymalaley. Saanchi ka ngayonchi (I hope it’s not too bad. Where are you now)?

I gave my location.

“Wait, sayla akis pinaka walkaton na hospitals sa baler mes (These hospitals are nearest to your house),” said Yani with more urgency in bekispeak than in English before running a list of at least five hospitals in my area, replete with hotlines and addresses.

Yani has yet to learn more in bekispeak, but already the chatbot is more proficient than I can be, although I’ve long been introduced to this code language.

LOVE, TITA PATSY Bum Tenorio, Ricky Cuna, Tita Patsy Zamora Cuna, Rachy Cuna, and the author, photo from Bum’s Instagram

In 1998, when I first joined a newspaper, I might as well have moved to a new country. With the likes of the late Isah V. Red, who became our entertainment editor, and journalists Manny Marinay and Bum Tenorio, who later joined my lifestyle team as assistant editor, entire conversations in my office would be conducted in what was then called swardspeak, a term coined for gay lingo by film critic Nestor Torre in the 1970s 1970s. Sward used to refer to a gay male, but it is now outdated, if not even pejorative. This cant or argot slang, defined in linguistics as language alternation or code-switching, is now more popularly known as bekispeak or beki, bekimon, or bekinese.

More than switching from at least three languages, Tagalog, English, and Spanish, beki also incorporates the names of celebrities or trademark brands or any colorful or popular terms in pop culture.

More than switching from at least three languages, Tagalog, English, and Spanish, beki also incorporates the names of celebrities or trademark brands or any colorful or popular terms in pop culture.

Celebrity examples include my long-time editor and Manila Bulletin opinion columnist Jullie Yap Daza, Welsh pop singer Tom Jones, American ’80s musician Chaka Khan.

The author and Julie Yap Daza

Na-Jullie Yap Dazasiya (He was caught)! From the Tagalog word huli, meaning catch. Outside of the media circles, you may replace this with the name of the late ’70s child star Julie Vega or that of English actress Julie Andrews.

Tom Jones naakitch (I’m hungry)! From the Tagalog word gutom, meaning hungry. This is replaceable with ’80s character actor Tommy Abuel or American actor Tommy Lee Jones.

Di ko bet. Chaka Khan (I don’t like it. It’s cheap)! Chaka Khan as a beki word, according to Angelo A. Villanueva aka @supermodeldiva on Instagram, stands “for anything distasteful.” In bekispeak, however, Chaka Khan has over the years morphed into chapter, chapacola, chop-seuy, and chararat.

There are more. ZsaZsa Padilla in gayspeak is the Tagalog pronoun siya (he or she). Comic book cartoonist, graphic novelist, and creator of Darna and DyesebelMars Ravelo is the Tagalog endearment mare or kumare (female friend or the godmother of one’s child). Aida Macaraeg, a role that iconic actress-turned-politician Vilma Santos played, is the gay word for AIDS, Georgina Wilson for gorgeousRita Avila for annoyingCesDrilonfor stressed, Gellie de Belen for jealousFreddie Aguilar for afraid, and Rica Peralejo for rich. Filipino broadcaster Gus Abelgas is the stand-in for the interjection Oh my God!

Sound, it seems, is a big component in the coinage of this quasi-secret lexicon. In many cases, it’s a matter of replacing the first letter of the word with the letter J or sh or the first syllable with the syllable Jo-/Sho- or Ju-/Shu-, like shunga for tangá or stupid or julalay for alalay or assistant, If it is not wordplay or puns or malapropisms, it’s all just sound association. Hence, the French brand Givenchy is the code for the verb give,British statesman Churchill for the already slang sosyal, which means classy, the film icon Indiana Jones for not showing up as promised, derived from the Tagalog slang indiyan, meaning flake.

HUNGRY Tom Jones photo by Paul Natkin

A passage in his article “The Filipino Gayspeak,” posted on the official website of the National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA), Reinerio Alba cited the many permutations a single word can have based on sound alone. “The word sight (verb meaning to see) easily becomes German-sounding (sightzung), Japanese-sounding (sightsuraka), Spanish-sounding (sightchilla), Chinese-sounding (sightching) or even French-sounding (sightcois),” he wrote.

But the Filipino gayspeak is also a repository of pop culture trivia. The verb run, for example, takes the form of Lydia de Vega, Asia’s fastest woman in the 1980s.

Although bekispeak has long infiltrated the mainstream, with more and more heterosexuals able to decipher or even put it to good use, it is essentially codespeak. I’ve used it as one, though to this day, it is like French to me, still a stranger to my tongue. Even then, it proved useful.

In those days before Uber and Grab, in the early 2000s, I was always riding taxis with Bum Tenorio. He would be on the front passenger seat beside the driver while I would sit in the back. Like the government, the taxi meter was often unreliable, sometimes rigged.

RUN Lydia de Vega, the fastest Filipino in the 80s, has since been associated with the word run

So once settled in the cab, I would use the Filipino comedian Metring David (then still alive, she died in 2010) as code for the taxi meter.

“Bum, kumustanasi Metring David (How is Metring David)?” I’d ask, expecting only one of two possible answers.

Sometimes, Bum would say, “Ok pa naman (She’s ok) Relaxed pa naman siya.”

Sometimes, he would say, “Diosko, ang bilis-bilis pa niya mag Lydia de Vega (She runs so fast).” Incidentally, Metring David was also known in show business for her big feet.

But then one night, because cabbies would tend to purposely forget to turn the taxi meter on to give themselves a chance to negotiate with their passengers based on the length of the trip and the traffic condition, Bum suddenly heaved a big sigh of sorrow.

“Why?” I asked, trying not to laugh. Even the driver, though unaware of what we were talking about, glanced in his direction. “Bum, why?”

Bum turned around toward me and cried, “Si Metring, si Metring! Patay na siya (She’s dead).”