10 Filipino Words That Just Can't Be Translated Properly

Try explaining usog to someone who doesn't speak the language.


(SPOT.ph) Language is amazing. It can tell you a lot about the people who use it: from the way they understand concepts, what ideas they give importance to, and even how they think. Filipino is no exception, of course. You can get a lot of insights about the way we work just by looking at the language. We’ve got a dozen or so words to describe rice—each stage, from harvesting (palay), cooking (bigas), eating (kanin), and even leftovers (bahaw), gets a specific name. Plus, have you ever noticed that we don’t have gendered pronouns? And don’t even get us started on the age-old conundrum of trying to translate "Pang-ilang Presidente ng Pilipinas si Rodrigo Duterte?" into English. We’ve got a lot of words that are specific to our experience, so for this list, we take a look at 10 words that are truly Pinoy.


Here are 10 words that just don’t precisely match up to any single English word:

Timplado (Tim·plá·do)


Anyone who’s ever been taught to drive a manual car knows this word very well, or anybody who’s ever tried to get the perfect creamer-sugar-coffee ratio just right, or even that work-friends-family-love balance we all aspire for. Timpládo can pretty much refer to anything that needs a perfect mixture, according to preference, of all the parts to create a balance.

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Tampo (Tam·pó)

Hands up, people with significant others (or touchy friends and family members)! We’re sure you know this one a little too well. Tampó is similar to having someone give you the cold shoulder, or the like, except it’s for the express purpose of getting your attention. Tampó has two parts in order to work: the person whose feelings have been hurt, and the other person (the source of the pain—usually superficial) who is morally obligated to soothe the wild beast.

Kilig (Ki·líg)


You know those weird uncontrollable shivers you get when you’re incredibly happy, or just watching an extra-cheesy romantic movie? We suppose English-speakers would call this feeling giddiness, but that’s usually associated with dizziness, too. Kilíg is more like a feeling so positive you can’t contain it, and it comes out in squeals and—admit it—weird arm-flailing (depending on the degree).

Pagpag (Pag·pág)

No, it’s not just what your parents ask you to do with the dirty floor rags at home: pagpág refers to stopping anywhere else before heading home after visiting the dead, in an effort to "shake off" whatever bad mojo might be following you. Convenience stores and fast-food chains are the usual haunts of those who’ve just come from a wake, but we hardly think those places make for good hauntings so this sounds like a good plan to us.


Gigil (Gí·gil)


This one’s like an angry version of kilíg. Usually, it’s reserved for that quiet, shivering kind of anger, but it could also refer to that less-than-innocent desire to squeeze that adorable, helpless puppy in your arms, happily licking away at your face. BTW, scientists have also coined an English term for that specific meaning of gígil: they call it "cute aggression" and, no worries, it’s completely normal.


Pasalubong (Pa·sa·lú·bong)

The best part about having someone come back to you, whether from work, a trip abroad, or just some time apart (aside from their being safe and sound, of course) is the little gift they bring you. A pasalúbong—whose root word can’t even be translated properly either—can range from a favorite snack, personalized trinkets, or even some pricey bags or clothes, but its main purpose is really just a sweet reminder of the fact that they were thinking of you.

Usog (U·sóg)


This one’s really complicated to explain. Usóg is a folk belief where people, usually babies or toddlers, develop a sickness, or just some sort of discomfort, after having been greeted by a visitor or stranger—similar to a hex, but without the intent. It could be brought about by an evil wind (masamang hangin) or an evil eye (masamang mata), but is easily countered by the stranger saying "pwera usog," licking their thumb, then applying the saliva in a cross over the afflicted’s forehead and abdomen. 

Papak (Pa·pák)

How can you explain the concept of papák to someone who doesn't live, breathe, and eat rice? A meal just isn't a meal without our heavenly staple (or maybe some pan de sal). While we can't imagine eating sinigang, tinola, caldereta, or the like without rice—we won't judge if you can—papák usually refers to eating palaman (peanut butter, cheese, liver spread, whatever-you-want) by itself, or maybe even wolfing down a spoonful of milk or chocolate drink powder, if you’re feeling cheeky.


Lihi (Li·hí)


Pregnant moms all over the world have their own weird and oddly specific cravings, and lihí just takes that to another level. A lot of your current, um, characteristics, are usually attributed to whatever your mom craved while carrying baby-you in her tummy. So if she had lots of seafood, you're probably a great swimmer; if she liked chicos, that could explain your deodorant-dependency; or if she watched a lot of FPJ films, then maybe you’ve got a penchant of popping up your collar while taking down bad guys. The logic doesn’t have to make sense, and that’s what makes lihí so unique.


Sayang (Sá·yang)

Nothing makes you wonder more than the question of "what if?" It could translate to "wasted chances" but the term doesn't quite capture the gravity, plus super-wide range, of things that could be considered sáyang. It could be a missed skip train on the MRT, the leftover slice of shame in the pizza box, a one-number-off winning lotto ticket, and yes, we have to mention the biggest “what if?” of all: the one that got away.

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