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Even More Irritating Pinoy Expressions by Butch Dalisay

23 January 2009 2 CommentsEmail This Post Email This Post

by the “Penman” Butch Dalisay

LAST WEEK’S piece on “The 10 Most Irritating Pinoy Expressions in English” unleashed a torrent of responses, many of them contributions to a further listing of words and phrases that sound like fingernails on a blackboard. I’d clearly forgotten many more of these expressions, so let me take note of the choicest ones on my readers’ lists, as well as add a couple more of my own.

1. Actually, basically, honestly, as a matter of fact. Favorite opening lines, no matter what follows. I suspect that “actually” is the Pinoy’s translation of another phrase revered in showbiz, “sa totoo lang,” mouthing which is supposed to instantly enhance the truthfulness of one’s statement. “Basically” sounds more educated than “uhmmm” and “duhhh,” so it fills those gaps just nicely, like so much starch in a sausage. And don’t you just love it when someone says, “As a matter of fact…” followed by an opinion?

2. Stuffs, equipments, jewelries, evidences, baggages, luggages. Who said we didn’t know our grammar? Add “s” to form the plural, right?

3. As in, as if. These, to some Pinoys, are complete—albeit elliptical—sentences, as in “As in!” or “As if!” For the full explanation, grab someone below 25 off the street and torture him or her for the answer. That person will probably be dead before you’re satisfied.

4. “I want to be clarified.” Unless you happen to be a vat of syrup, fruit juice, butter, or petroleum, clarifying you will be difficult, even lethal. Some matters may need to be clarified, but not people, as dense or as confused as they may be.

5. “Like what you said….” What’s with the what? Like last week’s “wherein,” “what” has insinuated itself into our English in this very strange way: “As what the Golden Rule says, do unto others….” or “Independents can sometimes win, like what the last elections proved.” What? Not!

letters_typewriterNot all Filipinisms are or should be annoying—although “annoying” depends on who’s getting annoyed. I don’t see myself ever using such words as “presidentiable” or “Imeldific,” but I can’t take them away from Filipinos for whom they’ve acquired a very clear and precise meaning. (My abhorrence for “multiawarded” stems from the crudeness of its construction, but I’m resigned to hearing it until I croak.)

We have as much a right to contribute to the ever-growing vocabulary and usage of English as other people who use the language. If we have to bend over backwards to understand what the British mean by “dressed to the nines” or what young Americans do when they “diss” someone, then it can’t be too much to expect them to figure out what we mean by “for a while” (which some of my readers roundly scored, but which I’ve come to appreciate for its certain charm).

Of course, things get tricky when we invent words, fully expecting others to understand and to accept them the way we do. Reader Peter Stitt suggested that “fiscalize” is Pinoy news-speak, and I had to Google the word to see that he was right (or nearly so—it’s used in an even larger sense by the Portuguese, who, asserts one article, have fiscals for everything, from college exams to food and drink and taxes).

If we banned the word “votation”—the ultimate solution to every argument in this country, next to knives and guns—no one would ever get elected, and nothing would ever get done (considering where “votation” has taken us, maybe that’s not too bad). And how can anyone tell the Aggrupation of Advocates for Environmental Protection (AGAP) or the Pagadian-based Baganian Aggrupation for Development (BAD) that they have no right to exist, because… there’s no such word? (Their defense will be to fall back on the precedent of the Concerned Citizens Aggrupation, which won many votes in Zamboanga in the early 1980s.)

As I’ve said in this corner many times before, the important thing is for those who use English to deal with the outside world to be aware of the difference between our English and theirs. Otherwise, whatever works, works. (And sometimes, English among the non-English can be marvelously mangled and crystal clear all at once, as when we were haggling with a seller of T-shirts in Shanghai last month and were told by the fat lady, “This one, that one, same-same!”)

How boring life would be if we all spoke like a BBC announcer (or, as they would say over there, “presenter”) or wrote like Henry James; tuxedos are silly when we should be wearing jeans. But to those for whom language is as important as clothing on the job, appropriateness is everything, and we should know when to put on that “grammar Nazi” helmet and when to let our hair down (or whatever’s left of it).

My friend and fellow English major Marlu Balmaceda wrote in to submit her pet peeve, which is the way “enjoin” is used by most people these days, as a synonym for “encourage”—“I enjoin you to support this project, etc.” Ernie Hizon of Unilab also disliked the word, reading it as so much corporate gobbledygook. Marlu’s objection came from the fact that “enjoin” originally meant the opposite: to prohibit (“I enjoin you from returning to these shores”).

“Enjoin” happens to be one of those words whose meanings have doubled or even reversed over time, so that today, curiously enough, it can mean both things, depending on the particular usage, although its older sense is largely forgotten. “Cleave,” “awful” and “fulsome” are three other such words. To cleave is to split something apart, but it also means to hold fast to something (“the ax cleaved the dry wood” but also “the child cleaved to its mother”); “awful” used to mean “awe-inspiring” in the reign of Henry VIII, but now means something considerably different; and “fulsome” doesn’t just mean “a lot,” but also—and more correctly, today—“excessive.”

Reader Jun Mongcopa enlightened (clarified?) me about the origins of the phrase “at this point in time,” which he traces back to the early ‘70s, when “every Tom, Dick, Harry and Jane of an American speaker/lecturer visiting our country started using the phrase. There was an article in Time magazine about it and it would seem that the phrase was coined by a Harvard professor. Locally, by the mid-‘70s, the phrase was picked up and popularized by the Asian Institute of Management. Every Juan, Tomas, and Maria who ever set foot upon the hallowed grounds of AIM, be it by attending lectures, seminars or taking up an MBA, had to use the phrase when asked to speak. It became the badge of distinction; when you used the phrase it meant you had some intellectual enlightenment from AIM, which was a really big deal at that time, AIM being touted as the Harvard of the Philippines and equally expensive as hell to enroll in.”

Durnit, I knew I missed something by not going to Harvard or AIM! Many thanks, Jun, and to all the others who sent in their contributions. I have a feeling we’re not done yet. I’ll get back to this topic one of these days—oh, I almost forgot another of your/our favorite expressions, the perfect way to end a Pinoy conversation: “Promise!”

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What a great post from a great writer I admire, Jose Dalisay Jr., aka Butch Dalisay. His writings as the “Penman” appears every Monday in the Lifestyle Section of the Philippine Star where this particular article also appeared. This post is now distributed as a viral email all over the internet without proper attribution to Mr. Dalisay. I searched on it online and that’s how I found out he wrote it! If you want to re-distribute this article, please give due credit to the original author- Mr. Butch Dalisay.


  • Jose A. Carillo said:

    She teaches English punctuation with a Gothic touch!

    June 30, 2009

    Dear Fellow Communicators in English,

    You must have thought that it was the British sports columnist Lynne Truss who started the big English punctuation rush with her best-selling Eats, Shoots & Leaves. I thought so, too, until I stumbled on The New Well-Tempered Sentence: A Punctuation Handbook for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed by Karen Elizabeth Gordon, an American who used to teach English and a consummate grammarian with a Gothic touch. It turns out that Karen Gordon had come up with her delightfully instructive punctuation handbook 21 years before Lynne Truss did, and had actually released an expanded and illustrated edition of it in 2003—at least a year before Eats, Shoots & Leaves hit the London bookstores!

    This is just one of the exciting and provocative features lined up this week by Jose Carillo’s English Forum for your enjoyment before, after, or in-between your English shoptalks inside the Forum. Look at the full story lineup to see what I mean:

    THIS WEEK IN THE FORUM (June 27-July 3, 2009):
    • Advice and Dissent: Who Really Started the Great English Punctuation Rush? (It’s an American former English teacher with a Gothic touch!)
    • My Media English Watch: Grammatically, Semantically Troublesome Threesome (Front-page leads trip over commas, a wrong conjunction, and a misplaced modifier!)
    • Essays by Jose Carillo: When Even the Passive Voice Isn’t Enough (Dare to cleave single-clause sentences for semantic emphasis!)
    • Going Deeper into English: A Huge Treasure Trove of Great Short Stories (The very best from Miguel Cervantes to John Updike!)
    • News and Commentary: Philippines Warned to Boost English Skills or Risk Ending Its Current BPO boom (But do we really need an Australian to tell us that?)
    • Getting to Know English: Lesson #9 – Getting to Know the Prepositional Phrases (Some verbs and adjectives are so picky with their partner prepositions!)
    • Time Out from English Grammar: Twixt Mathematics, Technology, and Ancient Religious Belief (Is mathematics a human invention or a cosmic—and possibly divine—order?)

    I know that you couldn’t wait to read these stories, so come on over now without delay. See you at the Forum!

    With my best wishes,

    Joe Carillo

  • Victor said:

    Good morning. Very good article. I liked it.

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