13 English Words And Phrases That Have Different Meanings When Used In The Philippines

The Philippines is often touted (mostly by Filipinos) as the third largest English-speaking country in the world, next only to the United States and the United Kingdom. It's a rather dubious claim because the statistics don't seem to support it at all. However, third largest English-speaking country or not, the fact remains that Filipinos are more adept in speaking English compared to most nationalities whose first language is not English. There's a reason why call centers that cater to English-speaking countries have been sprouting all over the archipelago in the last decade or so.

Filipinos are also known for hijacking English words and phrases. They hijack these words in the sense that they use them with new meanings. English-speaking visitors in the country often find themselves scratching their heads in trying to figure out what the word or phrase meant.

Below is a list of some of the English words and phrases that have new meanings when used in the Philippines. For sure, these just compose the tip of the iceberg. So if you have anything to add, feel free to chime in on the comments section.

1) Salvage - Outside of the Philippines, the word salvage is commonly used to describe the act of saving something from destruction or protecting it from further decay. For example, you salvage furniture from a burning building. Or you salvage precious metals from a ship that has sunk in the ocean. In short, to salvage is to save or protect. The word gets a whole new meaning when used in the Philippines wherein it has become synonymous to murder. To salvage is to kill. The word is often used by the media in referring to murder cases wherein the victims were put to death for being criminals. The victims are aptly called salvage victims.

So if you are reading this and you happen to be a non-Filipino, consider yourself warned. When a Filipino says he's going to salvage you, he's not going to save you, he's going to do just the opposite.
2) Duster - When you say duster in the Philippines, it's to refer to a simple house dress or a sun dress. You know those loose-fitting dresses often featuring floral designs that's a favorite house-wear for nanay or ate? Those are what they call in the Philippines as dusters. In the US, a duster can mean either of two things - a long Western coat (that has now went out of fashion) or an item used to remove dust and is often made of feathers.

3) Ref - Filipinos are rather fond of abbreviating words. Probably tired of pronouncing the whole five syllables of the word refrigerator, they cut it down to just one syllable so that it's now called a ref. When used in the outside world, ref has a different meaning. It's also an abbreviation of a word but that word is not refrigerator, it's referee. So when a Filipino asks you to go get a bottle of beer from the ref, don't go bothering a person. Bother the buzzing rectangular machine in the corner instead.

4) Gimmick - Gimik tayo mamayang gabi! This is something you'll often hear from Filipinos who love to party. Gimmick has become synonymous to saying "let's go party", or "let's go clubbing" or "let's go for a night-out". Or if you frequent the foot bridges in Quezon City, you'll often meet ladies asking you if "gusto mong gumimik". In the English world, gimmick refers to a trick or an item used to attract attention or publicity. For instance, an actor proposes to his co-star a week before their movie is released. This can be called a gimmick to bolster the publicity for their upcoming movie. It has a completely different meaning when compared to the Filipino version of the word.

5) Bold - Si Juan, mahilig manood ng bold!!! When you use the word "bold" in the Philippines, don't be surprised if you get laughs or giggles. The word after all is often used to refer to movies directed to a mature demographic. In America, they say "adult movie". In the Philippines, they say "bold movie". In the US and other English-speaking countries, usage of the word of course entails describing someone or something who is unafraid, full of confidence, or adventurous.

6) Busted - In the US, you've been busted if the police had you arrested or you were caught red-handed doing something wrong or otherwise. In the Philippines, you're busted if you've been rejected romance-wise. It's the same as "getting dumped" by somebody or having your romantic advances totally rejected by the one you're courting. When used in written form in the Philippines, the word is often spelled as basted.

7) High blood - This phrase is commonly used in the Philippines to describe a person who has anger management issues. One who gets angry or irritated so easily. It's often used to describe people in position like teachers, politicians, or professors whose feathers get ruffled even with the most minute things. In other countries, the phrase is merely used to refer to patients with high blood pressures. It has nothing to do with people's inability to contain their emotions.

8) Chancing - In America, this word would usually mean a chance encounter, a meeting by coincidence. In the Philippines, it's a mild form of sexual harassment. It describes an act wherein a person slyly tries to touch another person's restricted body parts without the latter's consent. The act is often done in places or in circumstances wherein if the culprit is caught touching someone, he/she can blame the place or the circumstance. A great example is the MRT in Manila. The trains get so packed that a man may find his arms in touching distance of a woman's breasts. So he does the tsansing act. When confronted, he has the chance of getting away with the act by exclaiming, "Ikaw naman ate. Masyado kang judging. I mean, look at this place. It's sardinas in here. Blame the train, not me."

9) Dirty ice cream - In the US, this phrase is used by a woman to refer to a guy whom she dated but isn't interested in dating again because he can't stop calling her. A partially related phrase would be "a turn-off". The girl is turned off by the fact that the guy keeps on calling her on the phone every minute of every day. In the Philippines, dirty ice cream actually refers to real ice cream. These are the ice cream products being sold in the streets by vendors with their movable karitons.
An ice cream vendor in the Philippines. Photo by Patrick Jude Ilagan via Flickr.
10) Bedspace - In the US, bedspace means bed space. A space in the bed. For example, if a wife sleeps on the right side of the bed, then that's her bed space. The left side of the bed would be her husband's bed space. In the Philippines, bedspace is synonymous to a room. It's a very common term among property owners who are renting out rooms. A bedspace room is different from other rental units in that it's occupied by several people sleeping on several bunk beds. The occupants are called bedspacers. The rooms are also often cheap so bedspacers are usually students studying in nearby colleges or universities.

11) Dirty kitchen - Again, in the US, you need to take this phrase literally. It's just a kitchen that is dirty. In the Philippines, however, it has a rather different meaning. In fact, it's used in different instances. One, it's used to refer to a common kitchen in any rental establishment who has several rooms and occupants but a single kitchen. For example, a boarding house may have only one kitchen which the boarders use. This is referred to as the dirty kitchen. The phrase is also used to refer to makeshift kitchens like the ones set up in road construction sites. The particular area where the workers cook and eat is called a dirty kitchen.

12) Kinder - If you read or hear this word outside of the Philippines, it's used as an adjective to describe a person who is generous, humane, warm-hearted, charitable, etc. To be fair, it has two meanings in the Philippines and the first one is the same as the adjective just described. However, the word is also commonly used by Filipinos to refer to a class or school of very young children - the kindergarten class. So it's an abbreviation and as far as we know, it's only here in the Philippines that the word kindergarten is being abbreviated to kinder. To an outsider who is unaware of this, he'll be scratching his head trying to figure out what a Filipino means when he says he attended kinder when he was a kid.

13) Arbor - According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, the word "arbor" has three possible meanings. It's either a shelter of vines, a spindle of a wheel, or a branching anatomical structure resembling a tree. All three meanings have zero hint of relevance to how the word is used in the Philippines. The word "arbor" is used by Filipinos to refer to the act of getting an item from someone for free. You could ask nicely or you could grab the item. It's often done among friends, families, or co-workers so usually there's no harm done. For instance, a man may ask a friend, "Ayos yang sombrero mo ah, pa-arbor naman niyan." The origin of the word and how it came to be used as such is still unknown.

So there you go. Thirteen English words and phrases that have very different meanings when used in the Philippines. Did we miss something? If you have anything to add, feel free to drop us a message in the comments section below. Thanks.

1. Philippine English Vocabulary: A Semantic Study, Louise Anne P. Porciuncula: (http://www.academia.edu/3997144/Philippine_English_Vocabulary_A_Semantic_Study)
2. Wikipedia Talk Page on Philippine English: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk%3APhilippine_English)
3. BBC News, The Philippines: The World's Budget Teacher, Kate McGeown: (http://www.bbc.com/news/business-20066890)
4. Urban Dictionay, online repository of definitions that are often funny: (http://www.urbandictionary.com/)