Tracing roots of odd Pinoy expressions
YOU must have heard some unusual expressions from the old folks and may have wondered about their meanings and origins. The list below lifted from our Pinoy ’55 chat group on Viber as prepared by brod Ernie Salas sheds some light on them.
1. “Tapos na ang boksing!”
Meaning: It is finished. It is doomed and it’s done.
Origin: During the Japanese Occupation, “tapos na ang boksing” was a favorite expression of teenagers. Boxing was a sport promoted by Americans in the 1920s. So, for pro-Japanese elements, the expression meant that America was finished and that Gen. Douglas MacArthur would never return to the Philippines. But those who continued to believe in America’s promise used the phrase to denote that Japan would ultimately be defeated.
2. “Mabilis pa sa alas kwatro.”
Meaning: To leave in a mad rush.
Origin: At Plaza Lawton (now Liwasang Bonifacio) at the southern foot of Puente Colgante (now Quezon Bridge) once stood the imposing Insular Ice and Cold Storage Plant with its 10-floor chimney. Designed by Edgar Bourne, it was built in 1902 and operated by San Miguel Brewery.
It had a siren that sounded off loudly three times in a day to indicate the start of work at 7 a.m., lunch break at 12 noon, and dismissal of workers at 4 p.m. At the day’s last siren signal, Insular workers would head for the exit gates, where they fell in line to log out. There was so much anticipation for the dismissal time that workers rushed to be at the head of the line — faster than the 4 p.m. siren.
3. “Agua de Pataranta.”
Meaning: Euphemism for hard liquor.
Origin: Medicinal waters sold by boticas and pharmacists in the ’20s and ’30s carried Spanish brand names. For example, Botica Boie on the Escolta listed in its stock water-based remedies like Agua Fenicada (phenol water) Agua de Botot ( a mouth rinse), Agua Boricada (boric acid solution for the eyes) and Agua de Carabaña (mineral water).
A drinking man’s bottle was disguised as medicine too — Agua de Pataranta — liquor strong enough to addle his brains and put him in a confused stupor, or “taranta.”
When Botica Boie folded up, the famous soda fountain moved to the Round Table restaurant at Manila Doctor’s and, much later, to the Floating Restaurant at Makati Medical.
4. “Noong bata pa si Sabel.”
Meaning: A descriptor for something that has been in existence or in practice a long time ago.
Origin: This expression pays tribute to Queen Isabella II of Spain, who reigned from 1833 to 1868. “Noong bata pa si Sabel” literally means “when Isabel was but a child,” hence when the world was younger.
Queen Isabel’s reign was rocked by internal palace intrigues, influence-peddling, and conspiracies, which ended with her exile and abdication. Isabel’s profile appeared on local 1860’s coins. The late National Artist Alejandro Roces contends that Isabel’s enemies referred to her as “la perra” (the bitch), hence the coins that bore her profile became known as “perra” or “pera,” a term used today for all forms of money.
Her bronze statue has been moved from Liwasang Bonifacio (erstwhile Lawton), her space taken over by the Great Plebian, to the front of Puerta Isabel II in Intramuros near the Bureau of Immigration.
5. “Hanggang Pier.”
Meaning: To be left behind with an unkept promise.
Origin: The assignment of American military personnel in Clark Field, Subic Bay and Sangley Point since the 1900s spawned a “good time” industry in the adjoining R&R (rest and recreation) liberty towns that included food, drinks, dancing, and damsels!
Through the ’30s-’60s, relationships developed between GIs on furlough and local girls, many of them from the bars and cabarets. Some affairs were for real, but many others ended at the departure area when the ships had to sail out — hence “hanggang pier”. The expression has come to refer to a person’s not keeping his promise, as experienced by a Pinay left behind by a ‘Kano, often with a FilAm child, at the pier.
6. “Natutulog sa pansitan.”
Meaning: Failure to grab an opportunity because of laziness or negligence.
Origin: Pansit-pansitan (Shiny bush, Peperomia pellucida Linn) is a common herb that grows abundantly in cool, damp places, carpeting nooks and yards with its soft, fleshy leaves.
Workers in the field often took a respite from the harsh sun by napping on a patch of pansit-pansitan — hence, “natutulog sa pansitan.” It may have happened that a few took their naps too long, and thus sleeping on the job resulting in unfinished work and lost opportunities.
7. “Lutong Makaw.”
Meaning: A decision or deal that has been rigged; a pre-arranged victory or success.
Origin: In the “peacetime” of the ’30s, “makaw” (derived from Macau, now a special administrative region of China that used to be a Portuguese colony) was an unofficial generic term used by Manilans for a Chinese immigrant, especially a cook. Their culinary creations were called “lutong makaw” or cooked Macau-style.
Macau Chinese chefs were noted for their pre-arranging their ingredients in advance, even before a dish was ordered. A trademark dish was “pansit makaw”, always a bestseller along with pancit canton.
Macau’s gaming history dates back to more than three centuries, earning the title “Monte Carlo of the Orient” and now “Vegas of China”. In 1930, “Hou Heng Company” won the monopoly concession for operating casino games. Game-fixing was one of the hazards of the business, including “cooking” (i.e. tampering with) the outcome of the game even before it is played — hence “lutong makaw.”
8. “Nineteen kopong-kopong.”
Meaning: Refers to a time so long ago that nobody remembers anymore.
Origin: By the 1950s, the decade of the 1900s was considered a long time ago. When people wanted to refer to an event in the forgotten past, they reckoned that it happened sometime in the 1900s, hence “nineteen kopong-kopong.”
“Kopong” is an Indonesian word also used in the Philippines, meaning “no content, empty” — thus, zilch or zero, as in 19 zero-zero!
Meaning: An effusive expression of praise when one notices something new and improved.
Origin: This popular expression from the 1960s comes from “walang katigil-tigil” (unstoppable). This was contracted to “walastig,” which morphed to “Walastik!”
Thus, if somebody is seen wearing a new pair of shoes or pants, he will be greeted with “Walastik! Ang gara ng bihis natin…” — a compliment of his unstoppable improvement of style. “Walastik” was often paired with another expression, “Walandyo!” (“Walang Joe!”).
10. “Pupulutin sa kangkungan.”
Meaning: Summary execution of a person who has committed an offense or crime without the benefit of a trial, akin to what is now referred to as “EJK” or extrajudicial killing. Slang: to “salvage.”
Origin: A way of disposing of the bodies of victims of summary execution is to hide it under a dense growth of kangkong (swamp cabbage). The semi-aquatic plant grows in profusion in swampy fields and bodies of water like the Pasig River, where cadavers are regularly fished out. Philippine media have popularized this expression in their reportage of “salvaging” cases.