29 December 2010

Words That Gnaw at You

It’s not as though I’m running out of things to write about. It is just that, when something gnaws at you, one of the best ways to get this something out of your system is to simply write about it.

I learned a couple of new Tagalog words today, and I will not even jump to the conclusion that the words are native to the province. No, it was not my ignorance of these words before today that gnawed at me; instead, it was hearing the words from a Filipino-Austrian who has lived the better part of the last decade in Vienna and is back in the country for a short holiday.

And never mind that the Filipino-Austrian in question spent his formative years in this country living in a house along a side street that was never formally christened but is, nevertheless, universally referred to as Bulate Avenue…

So, a difficult start to the work week was brightened by a text message from Allen, one of my former players, saying that he was on his way to see me in school. He wanted to know last Saturday if I wanted to go out for dinner. I said I did not; had a league match to rise up early for.

Lunch today, therefore, was a given… Driving around the rotunda in front of McDo to head into Rob, a rusty blue van tried to cut into our path. Although Allen first learned to drive in this country, he has since become accustomed, as can be expected, to the totally different Viennese road ethics.

So, whilst the driver of the van was simply doing what any Pinoy driver can be expected to do under the same circumstance, to Allen the driver was barubal. Now, what the hell kind of word was that?

I was later told that balasubas is a synonym. I still say… What the hell kind of word was that?

Allen, honest as ever, simply found it incredible that I have lived practically all my life in this province and never heard the word before. And that is another thing that gnaws at me…

Is the word generally known among fellow Batangueños, but for some inexplicable reason simply escaped my ears? Perhaps, it is one of those obscure words known in certain pockets of Batangueño society but, otherwise, as alien as Cantonese to others? Or, maybe, it is just a coined word that some hippie somewhere invented and it just caught on?

Before lunch was over, and without having arrived at a resolution, Allen was at it again. Describing an extremely tiring night out with friends over the weekend, he referred to himself as ngarag. Everyone, repeat after me… What the hell…

I was told that it means windang… Now, I have lived quite a few more years than many of you; so I am reasonably certain that windang is a coined term. I mean, I was a kid in the sixties and a teenager in the seventies, and this was when words like erpat, ermat or even walastik hit the mainstream. And I never heard the word windang until of late…

Which leads me to the conclusion that it was recently coined… And thus, by deduction, ditto the word ngarag

I am fascinated no end by how some words seem to come from out of nowhere to become part of mainstream language. Sometimes, even by how words take on different meanings. Take the word hanip.

Anyone who has been anywhere near a poultry farm knows that hanip is a tiny insect that infests feathered animals. When I was in college late in the seventies, I would go home weekends and hear my kid brother Roy and his mates use the word – albeit, with a slightly different inflection, as in hanneppp!!! – as though an expression of awe over something.

I swear the word was not used that way in the Big City!!!

It did not take long for everyone to catch on, though! The expression must have been carried into the Big City by the thousands of Batangueños who – then – migrated to Metro Manila each year for their college education. This assumption, of course, is not backed by scholarly research.

But then again, who the devil cares? These words are often fun; and, pardon me, they can also be a source of frustration. Now, to the linguistic debate…

It begins right here…

[This story was first published on Facebook on 10 August 2009.]

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