Sources of Slang

New meanings of
Tagalog words

Re-shaping Words


Back to Tagalog Slang

anabnr2.gif (15492 bytes)

According to R. David Zorc (1993), Filipinos derive their slang words by borrowing from other languages, by giving new meanings to pre-existing words, by coining or creating original forms, or by using numbers as a kind of "in-group" codes. (p. xii)



The most common place for derivation of Tagalog slang words involves borrowing from different languages through significant changing of meaning or grammar, which renders these words rather unintelligible to native speakers of the language from where the word was borrowed.  The major sources of Tagalog slang words are English (38%), Spanish (17%), Visayan (2%), Chinese (0.6%), Japanese (0.5%), Ilokano (0.1%), Kapampangan (0.1%).  

jas-jas taken for granted, cheap (from English just)
toxic loaded with work (from English toxic)
minus one give someone the finger (from English minus one)
promdi hick, unsophisticated person (from English from the [province])
basyo caught in the act (from Spanish vacio, empty)
de kahon bookish (from Spanish de, of + cajon, box)
kontrabida villain, bad guy (from Spanish contra, against + vida, life)
pumapel make advances to; try to please (from Spanish papel, paper)
bayot homosexual (from Cebuano bayot, homosexual, effeminate)
gurang old, aged (from Waray gurang, ripe, old, aged)
sibat scram, split (from Cebuano sibat, leave without permission)
bakya poor, tacky (from Hokien bak, wood + khiaq, slippers)
buwisit unlucky, inxed (from Hokien bo, no + ui, clothes + sit, food)
tong bribe, illegal collection (from Chinese tong, money put up in mahjong)
asoka yes (from Japanese a soo ka, I see)
dorobo trouble-maker (from Japanese dorobo, thief)
sayonara goodbye (from Japanese sayonara, goodbye)
awanti none, have no "x" (from Ilocano awan, none + ti [case marker])
baset girl (from Ilocano bassit, little, small)
buldet anus (from Pampango buldit, buttocks)
utol brother, sister (from Pampango kaputul, sibling)
yabang proud, boastful (from Pampango yabang, arrogance)

New Meaning of Tagalog Words

The second area of slang incorporation according to Zorc involves the attribution of new or innovative meaning to a pre-existing Tagalog word.  They are derived from the large collection of inherited vocabulary, but take on a major change in semantics. These innovations of pre-existing Tagalog words comprise about 15% of the Tagalog slang words. (p. xv)

aswang mother-in-law (from Tagalog for evil spirit)
bawang fat person (from Tagalog for garlic, based on the shape of a bulb of garlic)
ipis bum (from Tagalog for cockroach)
luto' game-fixing or cheating (from Tagalog for cook)
nagladlad ng kapa showed one's true colors (from Tagalog literal: unfolded the cloak)
pagong slow (from Tagalog for turtle)
pako' ugly (from Tagalog for fern)
ube one hundred pesos (from Tagalog purple yam [based on color of the 100 peso bill])


The third area of slang derivation is composed of coined vocabulary (0.5%).  It involves the creation of new words and are hardly recognizable even though they may be based at times on other words.
(p. xv)

harurot fast, speeding (based on sound of a broken muffler)
palpak failure or failed attempt (from Tagalog lagpak, fall or fail)
syota girlfriend, boyfriend (from Tagalog sinta)
tigidig pimple, zit


The last area of slang derivation is based on the use of numbers (0.5%) in various innovative ways. (p. xvi)

4 aces wake (refers to card game played at wakes)
1-4-3 I love you (based on number of letters in each word of the phrase)
1-4-3-2 I love you too, except 2=too
5-2-5-4 I love you very much (from Tagalog mahal na mahal kita)
6-6-6 bad, evil (from Biblical reference to anti-Christ)
d2 here (from dito, with last syllable made into 2)

back to top


There are several ways in which Tagalog slang words are re-shaped, mostly based on the talent of the speakers for inventing words.   Essentially, according to Zorc, words get re-shaped through wordplay, metathesis, reduction, abbreviations, and "mix-mix".

Word Play (31%)

Playing with words basically involves the re-ordering of sounds.  Specifically, this is done through dropping or adding sounds or syllables to the words from any language, which seems to be the most most common.


alvarado wrist watch (from Alba and Rado, which are local brands of wrist watches; and also a movie actor named Max Alvarado)
bayawak brother-in-law (from Tagalog bayaw = brother-in-law, and Tagalog bayawak = monitor lizard)
bimay female house help (from Tagalog slang chimay and English be my [girl])

Metathesis (10%)

This process of slang derivation pertains to the switching of sounds within a word, either through inversion of syllables or by a complicated re-arrangement of the letters.  This process can happen to native Tagalog words or borrowed words.

  • Syllable switching

    astig = tough, unfeeling (from matigas, hard)
    bigtu= water (from Tagalog tubig, water)
    gasti = bum, loafer (from tigas, hard)

  • Full reversal

    This involves reading the words backwards:

    adarit = woman lover (from Spanish tirada, aimed at)
    adnagam = beautiful (from Tagalog maganda, beautiful)
    atab = girlfriend (from Tagalog bata', child or youngster)
    atik = money (from Tagalog kita, income or profit)

Reduction (9%)

This process involves the shortening or truncation of words.

amboy = American boy (from English Am[erican] + boy)
syano = provincial, hic (from Spanish [provin]ciano)
yosi = cigarette (from Spanish ci[garri]llo, with syllable switching)

Abbreviations or Acronyms (5%)

Most of these words are understood only by an "insider" in a group.  Some of them are brilliant puns on well-known acronyms (like CIA or KGB).

AIDS suffering from stress due to studies (from Acquired Insanity Due to Studies)
CIA Imelda Marcos sycophant (from Certified Imelda Admirer)
KGB closet gay (from Tagalog Kung Gabi Bakla)
PWU whorehouse (from Tagalog Prostitutes Waiting Upstairs)

"Mix-Mix" (5%)

This process involves the blending of two or more languages within a given word, phrase or sentence.

anong say mo What do you think? (from Tagalog ano, what? + -ng [linker] + English say + Tagalog mo, you)
baw lang agree (from English bow + Tagalog lang, only or just)
labnat needing love (from English love + Tagalog lagnat, fever)


Zorc, R. David and Rachel San Miguel, Tagalog Slang Dictionary. Manila: De La Salle University, 1993.

Back to Top
Back to Tagalog Slang
Back to TagalogHomepage