Swearing in different languages

Today’s topic is interesting as I’m not sure how much I should or shouldn’t say to ensure this essay sees the light of day in print.

A few weeks back I wrote about the different personalities we adopt when speaking different languages; I touched briefly about how nothing beats swearing in Bisaya. My thesis is that something so raw and wrong about saying it in vernacular; a weird combination of pleasure and guilt that I don’t get when I express it in English. But as much as I feel like a formidable war freak when I swear in bisaya, I would never consider using the vernacular for dirty talk…

Profanity is a very telling aspect of the culture–it is very interesting that all cultures have language–words that and a set of words that you really shouldn’t say. While profanity is universal, each language have their own regional quirks and peculiarities.Rude language represents a lot about what a culture likes and doesn’t like (e.g., sex and poop). Around the world, sex and genitalia is pretty much the universal focus of obscene language.

Blasphemy also plays a very important role in profanity; especially among cultures with Western religions. In Filipino, we often call out the devil, or Judas, include ‘sus’, a contraction of ‘Hesus’, or the more unique ‘Susmaryosep’, a contraction of ‘Jesus, Mary, Joseph’.

Sounds tame when juxtaposed with the Quebec French, whose swear words call out Catholic articles such as the tabernacle, chalice, host and baptism. Calling out the tabernacle, in Quebec, is just as bad than saying out the F-word in English.

In Tagalog, the most defining curse word is ‘putang ina’, or calling out one’s adulterous mother. This curse word is just as popular in Spain and other Spanish-speaking countries–‘hija de puta’ or ‘puta madre’. This stems from the patriarchal-dominated culture ingrained in our Spanish colonial roots.

What’s worthy of note is how very Catholic beliefs of shunning sexual immorality are juxtaposed with rampant prostitution in the streets; how women in our culture (or other Spain-colonized countries) are so internally conflicted on their views on love, sex and marriage. It’s also interesting to note that cultures who strongly swear about mothers tend to swear a lot about prostitutes, too.

In Cebuano, our swear vocabulary compose mostly on body parts (e.g. genitalia, liver); as well as religion-based (calling out the devil, Judas, etc.). Personally I think it’s not very creative, compared to other cultures. If you want to be offensive in Dutch, simply add ‘kanker’ to any word (which means cancer sufferer). Eastern Europeans also have swear words on cancer, typhus, cholera, or some very obscure diseases that date back to the middle ages. Other cultures also swear on animals they consider ‘dirty’–pigs and dogs are popular, but even turtle can be a bad word too, in the case of Mandarin.

Profanity is the effort of a feeble brain to express itself forcibly,” according to religious & civic leader Spencer KimballMost people believe that cursing / swearing is indicative of one’s lack of mental capability, education or grace; or being unable to think of the right word while in conversation and hence replacing certain words with curse words. As David Keuck puts it, profanity is the “common crutch of the conversational cripple.”

I beg to differ. This belief has long been proven invalid by several scientific studies. Expletive language can actually improve one’s self-confidence, release emotional tensions, and even strengthen bonds.

And personally, I think cursing can improve creativity, too. Profanity can be poetic; if released at the right place and at the right time–and as long as it’s kept in moderation.

What’s your favorite swear word?


The multilingual Filipino

I finished my phone conversation with a silly grin on my face when I caught Nico* looking at me without disguising his curiosity.

“What language was that?” he asked.

The conversation was with my girlfriend from back home. We were sat having sandwiches outside the Fisher Fine Arts library in UPenn, where my friend and I normally studied. 

Visayan.” I said. “Why?”

“It didn’t sound like the same language you speak with Ryan.” he said, referring to another Filipino classmate of ours.

“That’s Tagalog.”

“But this language Cebuano–it must be your first language, yes?”

I confirmed, and he shot a grin back in triumph.

He said he knew because everyone always sound angrier in their own language. He said I certainly sounded angry, but knew I wasn’t, because I was laughing after every sentence.

“Unless, you laugh in anger in your culture,” he mused.

I thought about what he said for a while. He made a pretty good point. We are always nicer and more respectful in another language, saying everything in a more gentle, question manner, unsure of ourselves; like we become children conversing to adults once again.

Come to think of it, I do tend to take up different personalities in the different languages I speak. I feel more professional in English, more gentle in Tagalog and Hiligaynon, and I’m a foul-mouthed, warfreak, drunken sailor in Cebuano.

Being Filipino, I grew up to hearing different tongues–sometimes simultaneously–that it was the only kind of world I knew of. In my hometown, we spoke both Visayan, and our Muslim brothers Maranao; my father’s side spoke Hiligaynon, and my mother’s side Tagalog. You know my grandfather’s temper is on the upside when you hear cussing in Spanish, English is taught in our schools from prep to college, and French…simplyfrom dating a few of them.

Sounds impressive, but not really. This is not unusual in a typical Filipino household. The country, after all, has 7,000+ islands, 300+ dialects, with frequent movement and diaspora; long colonial Spanish history, and then raised by Hollywood and 80’s love ballads. With this hodge-podge history, it is already given for every Filipino-born to be multilingual (or bilingual at the least).

We don’t really think about the multilingual aptitude much. But when you go abroad and realize that most people speak only one language.

Some weren’t granted the opportunity or exposure to other foreign tongues and cultures. Some by choice and refuse to learn any other language. And some are just simply crippled by the convenience of being born spoilt into a culture that didn’t have the necessity (I’m looking at you, America).

Foreign peers compliment me at how ‘good my English is’, like I’m not supposed to get my v’s and f’s right. And then revel at how easily I can switch from one language to another. It’s kinda nice to show off once in a while, pretending it’s some sort of superpower.

The truth is, you don’t really need to be fluent in the languages–you just need to know enough. You only need to know ‘hi, nice to meet you’, ‘beer’ and ‘cheers’ in a dozen languages for them to look at you like black sorcery. Kanpai!

Nico, being European, was also multilingual.

And so I played around with the topic and shot back a question: “Nico, what language do you think?”

His blue eyes danced, like he had been expecting the discourse. “The German language is made perfectly for a thinking mind, I believe. The vocabulary is just so exact and concise, there’s little room for error.”

I shot back the question to myself. What language do I think? What language do I feel?

On formal and professional scenarios, English seemed the default. It was my rationalizing language. But in the social and emotional aspects, Cebuano is my preference. 

Especially when it came to bodily feelings, I feel I could better explain myself in my dialect. How can you translate gigil? Kilig? Binhod? Panuhot? Pasmo? Alimungawan? How do you translate them to English in one word, without giving people the context or comparison? The nuances of languages tell us how the people and culture are characteristically; and on this–it seems like Cebuanos are very attuned to their bodies and feelings.

Nothing is more satisfying than swearing in Cebuano. I would write some of my favorites down, but they might not make it out on print. Sometimes, the F-word just don’t cut it, you know? There’s just more meat in our dialect, it’s just so wrong , dirty and crude.Especially the B-words…

Ah, nothing beats the B-words.

Now that I think of it, when I need to make more rational and moral decisions, I should probably not process my thought processes in Cebuano.

What’s in a (Filipino) name?

This post was written on 2015.

One of the questions I shudder about getting asked is, ‘What’s the story behind your baby’s name?

Naming is probably one of the most challenging tasks set forth by man–whether it’s naming a person, a pet, a business, a blog handle or a newly discovered animal species. It should probably be taken more seriously, but it really just took me thirty minutes, tops. What kind of mother.

Back in the olden times, infant mortality rate was very high and thus it was customary for babies to have no name for the first few years of their life. Why name a babe if they’re least likely to reach childhood, lest adulthood? Thanks to developments in science and modern medicine in the past century, infant and toddler health has vastly improved (This has not always been the case for most of the history of humankind). Parents nowadays choose their baby’s name way before their babies are out of the womb.

A name is permanent, and once it’s been named, it’s stuck forever. I don’t blame my childhood friend whose dad and four other brothers were all named ‘Mark’. Better safe than sorry, right? Although calling him on their landline was awkward and confusing back then. (Still is).

So my criteria for naming my baby was pretty basic: that it’s easy to remember, it’s easy to spell, and a nice sound to the name.

‘Easy to Remember’

I have friends with lovable and unique names: Poopie, Chatline, Jim Beam, Pepper, Gaga, (a man), just to name a few.Even I am not spared. My senior high classmates still call me ‘Snoopy’ ten years later for some inside story I can no longer remember. I hated that nickname.

Where else in the world could we find a cardinal named ‘Sin’, a politician named ‘Joker’, and a matinee idol named ‘Dingdong’? It’s more fun in the Philippines!


Names can range from mildly funny to wildly unflattering. We once had an employee named ‘Windshield’. I met a girl in an outreach named ‘Virgin’. And then there was the infamous man who passed the 2014 bar exam named ‘Habeas Corpuz’. An ex-seminarian I know was quirkily named ‘Van Go’, but upon further prodding I was disappointed to know that he doesn’t paint.

I want my son to stand out, but not too much to become the target to future school bullies.

‘Easy to Spell’

I have a fairly common name, ‘Rachel’, which I use in my email and social media accounts. Still, my name still gets butchered on a daily basis. I now know that my name can be spelled in at least seven different ways: Rachell, Rachelle, Reychel, Raychelle, Richelle, Ritcil, Rashel, among other variations.

Filipinos like names that are Western-sounding but also hate giving their kids a ‘common’ name. To remedy this, some parents choose to make ‘alternative spellings and names morph like mutant X-men: ‘Jessica’ would become ‘Jyssikah’, ‘Caitlyn’ becomes ‘Kaetlynn’, or ‘Adrian’ becomes ‘Aedryanne’.

While I laud the creativity, I feel bad for the kid for problems they’ll encounter in the future on the butchered name department. It will be annoying filling up those government forms, or ordering a venti cup from Starbucks. Teaching them their Alpha-Bravo-Charlies early will definitely come in handy.


‘The Art of the Name…’

How do parents come up with their baby’s name–particularly, Filipino parents? Filipinos are known to have really quirky naming skills. No one seems to flinch about peculiar names in this country because we grew up to all the weirdness all our lives. You only realize how weird the names are when taken from a foreigner’s perspective (such as by Matthew Sutherland).

During the Spanish times, it was customary to name children based on the feasts of saints celebrated during that day. That is why it’s not uncommon for our grandparents to have names such as Natividad, Asuncion, Concepcion, Lourdes, and even Circumcision (there is a thing known as The Feast of the Circumcision of our Lord back in the day!)

My son Caleb was born on Christmas day, to which people in the Philippines would often respond ‘You should have named him ‘Emmanuel’. Ironically, both my brother and father are named ‘Noel’, but neither were even born during Christmas season.

Other odd naming practices in the country: If you come from a Filipino family, we all have an uncle or male relative named ‘Boy’–and a tita named ‘Girlie‘, ‘Baby‘ or ‘Babes‘. The Filipino-Chinese have the preference of putting the suffix ‘-son’ in their names. Names such as ‘Benson’, ‘Harrison’ or ‘Johnson’ are popular among the Filipino-Chinese community. My personal favorite is the ‘themed families’; who name their children after fruits, seasons, virtues, superheroes, desserts or Beatles band members. So if you know a guy named ‘Newton’, he probably also has a sister named ‘Marie Curie’. I am saying this with a straight face.

‘…And Nicknames’

Nicknames are an integral part of the Filipino culture. Have you ever had a friend who everyone refers to by their nickname that no one really knows what their real name really was? I have a good friend named ‘Poopie‘ whom I met back in college– but seriously didn’t know her real name for years until she added me on Facebook. (I remember proclaiming ‘Who the hell is Michelle?’ when I got her friend request.

Filipinos like to make nicknames out of everything. Repeating syllables is a form of endearment, so common Filipino nicknames include ‘Len-len’, ‘Bam-bam’, ‘Dan-dan’, ‘Mik-mik’, the list goes on. Our current president is better known to the public as ‘Noynoy’. And even if you have a short name like ‘Seth’, your friends will call you by a longer nickname, ‘Set-Set’.

And then we also see the trend of ‘combining’ names to make up new names. Jomari is the offspring of Jose and Maria, and Gracniel’s parents were probably named ‘Grace’ and ‘Daniel’. My former school principal was called Luzviminda after Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. How else did current Vice President Jejomar Binay get his name but by combining Jesus, Joseph and Mary together?

President Noynoy and VP Jejomar

A two-syllable name that’s short, concise and unnickname-able–that’s what I wanted for my baby. Unfortunately some of his cheeky ninongs have started calling him ‘Leb-leb’ and even ‘Taleb‘.

He’ll probably acquire a few more nicknames from family and friends as he grows older.

(P.S., I don’t hate unique names. I love them! Like what Sutherland said, imagine if we live in a world full of John Smiths, life would be so boring, won’t it?) 😄

Old-school gangsta pirates in the Philippine islands

It is amazing how the Spanish walls, made from stone or quicklime with egg whites as mortar still survive centuries after, despite constant visiting typhoons and earthquakes. Cebu International Convention Center (CICC) wasn’t as lucky.

Old Spanish forts like Fort San Pedro and this one in Kota Park, Madridejos, Bantayan (pictured) might look like ruins to most people, but they served an important purpose centuries ago.



The old Spanish forts and churches were built so sturdily to protect the natives from kidnapping. Muslim raiders / pirates used to come at night and steal girls and boys to be sold off to slavery. Slavery was the biggest and most profitable industry during its hay days. If it weren’t for these forts our folks might have ended up in Slaver’s Bay and be one of Khaleesi’s Unsullied.

Speaking of pirates, the more famous pirates are those in the Caribbean Sea, such as the Blackbeard, Capt. Henry Morgan and Jack Sparrow, and that drink that destroyed my friends last Valentines eve.

My knowledge on pirates is still a bit limited, but I have read somewhere that pirates then rarely get gold and other valuable treasures in their expeditions. Pirate booty mostly comprised of items from trade ships: barrels of cotton, sugar, animal hides, rice and spices. Imagine that, Blackbeard the King of Sugar Smuggling. Not so gangsta after all.

Although pirates are now romanticized by movies and media, pirates are still just low life robbers stealing off from honest traders and merchants at sea.

(This is a reblog from my old blog in Tumblr blog back in 2012)

When life throws you egg yolks, make leche flan

Anyone who knows me know how much I love leche flan. Who doesn’t love leche flan? I am an avid fan and still think that the creme brulee still pales in comparison, especially our Nanay Juaning’s leche flan.


Origins of many of our favorite desserts in the Philippines started with the basic concept of supply and demand. Egg whites were used to make mortar back then for constructing Spanish baroque churches and forts. When mixed with quicklime, it is a very strong adhesive for construction.

What would you do with the surplus of egg yolks? Make desserts of course! You know that famous saying, ‘when life throws you egg yolks, make flans’? That’s exactly what they did. Thanks to them well-loved desserts such as the leche flan, brazo de mercedes, etc. were born. Seriously I’m just using ‘etc.’ cause it makes me sound smarter but I can’t think of any other dessert on top of my mind.

There are so many things I blame the Spanish for: such as the evil Spanish Inquisition, our mañana habit and our financial ruin. But there are some things to be thankful for, such as the flan.

(This is a reblog from my old blog in Tumblr blog back in 2012)