I had a bad fall a few days ago and my doctors ordered bed rest—two very bad words for me. I was probably Calvinist in a previous life, and my take on a bed is that if you’re not going to sleep then you should be doing something fruitful on it (oops, I didn’t mean literally fruitful, but productive), but not resting (you know, not doing anything).
So the times I did agree to stay in bed, my brain went into high gear, first thinking about the language of falls. It started out when people would ask why I was limping and I’d say, “Nadapa ako.” Inevitably, there would be a follow-up question: “Paano?”
In English mode, my brain directs me to say, “I fell; a fall is a fall.” But in Filipino, we do have to explain what kind of fall we had, including why we fell.
Languages are fascinating in the way they describe and classify things and events and the world around us. Thinking about “fall” got me thinking of Felipe Landa Jocano, who in his classic work on folk medicine, devoted several pages to describing how we distinguish different types of wounds depending on how they are inflicted. Puncture wounds will go from tusok (small punctures caused by anything from a pin to a stick, which reminds me of how we used to make fun of convent school girls describing how they make “tusok-tusok the fishballs”) all the way up to saksak (caused by a forceful stabbing).
From ‘tulo’ to ‘hulog’
If there’s tusok for puncture wounds, the lightest of falling movements would be tulo, or dripping. Of course, we would never describe a falling person as nagtutulo, but we do talk about persons, usually male, who have tulo, which means they might have gonorrhea or chlamydia, both sexually transmitted illnesses.
I recently had to have a urine test and the clinic staff kept telling me to delay urinating until my bladder was really full. It got to the point where I had to tell them it was getting really bad, and I knew I couldn’t say I was having tulo so I switched to English and said, “Nurse, nurse, I’m leaking.”
Which is what tulo can also be—a faucet leaking. Tulo, patak—both are falling movements, very slow and minute. When the waterfall Hinulugang Taktak deteriorated to the point of dribbling (which is another form of tulo), it was given the moniker Hinulugang Patak (drops).
Like tulo, lagas describes the falling of something, but in this case it falls because it’s spent, wilted. Lagas is the term for falling hair, which causes so much dismay because it has so many meanings: something gone wrong, or age taking over.
We also have natapon, spilled, but not necessarily liquids. You’re greedy in a buffet, filling your plate to the brim, and some of the food drops from the plate. Sayang, what a waste, it was like throwing something away, which is also what natapon means.
When we get to people, while still including things, the most common word for a fall is probably hulog (thus Hinulugang Taktak). Traditional medical practitioners always ask mothers if the child patient had fallen: “Nahulog ba?” If the mother says yes, the diagnosis is usually pilay (lameness) even if there’s no sprain, dislocation, or fracture.
Hulog suggests falling down some space, like Alice into her wonderland. Hulog is the stuff of nightmares, spiraling endlessly into space.
Hulog is different from tumba or buwal, which means to tip over, fall over, as in a child climbing the sofa one moment and disappearing the next.
Once when I was a young new faculty member, I was telling someone older about how oppressive a colleague was. He said, straight-faced, “Ipatumba natin.” And, being an Inglisero (or someone who uses English more often than Filipino), I laughed, imagining a kid pushing another kid to make him fall. I quickly learned it was an ominous term meaning “to have the person liquidated,” wiped out. The End. The professor was joking, of course.
Natumba is different from nalaglag as well. Laglag is still a fall, a dropping, but is intentional, a letting go. It can be used as an accusation, as when, during a crisis, a group abandons or sacrifices one or several members. Laglag can be a sad word, too, as in pinalaglag, to mean an abortion.
From ‘laglag’ to ‘bagsak’
Laglag can be playful. Laglag can refer to the dropping of clothing, item by item, in a striptease. Amusing, too, is an old expression, makakalaglag matsing, which refers to someone so attractive she makes monkeys drop from tree branches. But that expression is tame compared with another expression used these days: When someone really attractive, usually male, catches the attention of admirers, they exclaim that he’s so luscious he is “makakalaglag panty.”
Some of our “fall” words indicate why there was a fall. Nadulas is to slip, for example because of a wet floor. As with the English “slip,” nadulas can be used for the tongue, to mean saying something meant to be confidential.
Nadapa, which is how I describe my accident, brings about questions of paano (how) and bakit (why) because, well, it refers to a fall that was caused by something, or someone. Was it toward sunset? Then maybe it was the supernatural. Was the step uneven? Did you trip on something and, if so, then natisod is the proper term, to mean tripping and stumbling.
Dapa assumes agency, meaning someone doing something. It can even be an intentional falling to the ground, as in an attack, or a disaster. The disaster management programs use “Duck,” which is alien to many Filipinos. UP professors involved in disaster risk training tell me they’ve seen people actually ducking, then waddling like a duck when the call is made. It should be, pure and simple, Dapa.
Then we have the dramatic words. Lagpak and, more commonly, bagsak mean to come crashing down. You don’t usually use these words for a simple fall. They are used as well in schools, by students, to mean getting a failing mark.
“Ibagsak” is dramatic, used in rallies to mean “down with” or “away with.” Bring it down, make it fall, crashing down. No other word can be as forceful. Imagine chanting “Ilaglag!” or “Ihulog!”. We’re precise with our terms for making something, or someone, fall.
Languages change. We no longer feel flattered by monkeys falling from trees. Then there’s this word nasemplang, which I hear so often in relation to accidents on motorcycles. I know how it looks, but I’d be hard pressed to translate it into English except, loosely, as falling over. You won’t find it in Filipino dictionaries, and when I used a machine translator (mymemory.translated) on the internet, it gave me an English “tang-na.” Oh my, my memory, you failed, bagsak even if yes, when someone is nasemplang, you just might hear the expletive.
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