31 August 2015

From Coño to Konyo: How a Swearword Defines a Social Class


I was amused if still slightly taken aback to hear Vice Ganda use the word ‘coño’ a few months back while in the middle of a live segment of the popular noontime show ‘It’s Showtime!’ To be fair, in context there was nothing vulgar or sexual in the usage; and the word he probably had in mind was more the contemporary Tagalog slang ‘konyo.’

Still, the show is broadcast not only nationwide but also to an international audience; and who knows how many native Spanish speakers were tuned in at the time via The Filipino Channel.

This is a tricky one even for the MTRCB. Contemporary users of the word konyo likely refer to the uppity English speaking stratum of Philippine society, they who went to schools and universities where the tuitions they paid for their education were so much more than what the man on the street can hope to make in an entire lifetime.

The term seems somewhat synonymous with the eighties’ ‘sosyal,’ probably coined to mean a person of high society. In the seventies, the term used was ‘burgis,’ probably a local take on the Franco-English ‘bourgeois’ and thus inaccurate because the word refers to the middle class.

In light of these, Vice Ganda’s usage of the word ‘konyo’ on live television was, therefore, innocuous. However, the Spanish word from which it was adopted means, in fact, the part of the female anatomy that James Clavell in his famous novel ‘Taipan’ claimed the Chinese euphemistically referred to as the ‘Jade Gate.’

The anatomical sense apart, the word is actually vulgarly used in many Spanish-speaking countries as a swearword or to convey a wide range of emotions the same way English-speakers use the ‘F’ word.

How one came to mean the other, I will subsequently attempt to explain.

When I first went to university in the mid-seventies, I started hearing of these so-called ‘Coño Kids.’ In the strictest sense, or so I understood it from my peers, these ‘Coño Kids’ were Spanish mestizos who, although they were English speaking, liked to highlight speech every now and again with the Spanish invective ‘coño.’

We had a few of these in the university football team for which I played, and the word’s usage could go something like this, “Pass the ball, coño!” Or, it could be something like this, “Coño! I should have scored if only I had shot harder!”

Sometimes, the word was used in tandem with ‘joder,’ the Spanish equivalent of the ‘F’ word. Thus, if one of the Coño Kids missed a sitting duck, one could expect him to cuss ‘Joder! Coño!”

Of course, before long, even those of us who were brown-skinned flat-nosed Indios were learning to cuss just as venomously in Spanish, even if in reality our most eloquent knowledge of the language could be expressed in no more than three words, “No tengo dinero.”

‘Coño’ and ‘joder’ made it five. Wink. Smiley.

Well there you are. The modern ‘konyo’ is probably a simplification of what used to be the ‘Coño Kids’ and now meant to include even those not of Spanish descent but who went to the same schools with them and move in the same social circles that they do.

I have the suspicion that the word ‘konyo’ in its modern connotation started to gain popularity among people often in ignorance of what the Spanish word means. That is just language for you and it is always evolving.

I end this article with a direct quote from Wiktionary on the subject:
In the Philippines, coño (Tagalog: konyo) refers to a wealthy Anglophone person raised and/or living in a gated community, though the term originally referred to insular Spaniards, regardless of socioeconomic status. However, it is also likely that the term was used by people of high society to denote mestizos or half-breeds, particularly when in the olden times the natives, formerly called indios, were taunted as being children of women who marry peninsulares or insulares in order to elevate their social status. The word Coño therefore became slang for harlotry. The variety of English that these konyos informally speak among themselves is termed Konyo English, or simply Konyo, which is comparable but not similar to Valley Speak. Furthermore, the term coño in the southern part of the country, Zamboanga City, is a vulgar term for cunt, or the entirety of the female genitalia.



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