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Word(s) of the year

/ 02:53 AM December 28, 2016

The search for the word of the year in various languages has become almost trendy, sometimes with different searches in one language. Oxford traditionally has a word of the year for Britain and one for the States but this year they agreed on one term: post-truth.

These searches are taken seriously because the words reflect important social developments. The new words may have been around for some time without becoming popular. “Post-truth” for example, seems to date back to 1992 but it took the wave of populism—Britain’s referendum ending up with a victory for Brexiters (also an Oxford candidate word of the year), referring to people who want Britain to exit the European Union and the Trump victory in the States—to catapult post-truth to word of the year. In these populist explosions, fabricated news stoked people’s fears and turned the tide at the polls.

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In the Philippines, the Salita ng Taon choice has been a very academic exercise, conducted, unfortunately, only once every two years and organized by the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts and, this year, the College of Education in UP Diliman. Nominations are invited months ahead and the ones who apply are almost always from the academic community, each one having to defend his or her nomination at an event called Sawikaan.

I was so busy the past few months that I missed the latest Salita ng Taon, held a few months ago. The winner was fotobam, nominated by Michael Charleston Chua, a direct borrowing of the English photobomb, referring to something or someone that intrudes into and ruins a photograph. Other short-listed nominated terms were netizens, hugot, viral and milenyal.

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I happened to be teaching anthropological linguistics this last semester and thought I’d ask students to do their own nominations for word of the year.

The students went for hugot and millennials, which were already in the Salawikaan short list, but there were other nominated words like lumad (indigenous people from Mindanao, not surprising because UP Diliman hosted large delegations on our campus). Talking large, one student talked of “epic” new ones like epic. . .   Then too, several students nominated EJK or extra-judicial killings, referring to outright executions of suspected drug users or pushers. One student brought back an older term, ninja cops, to refer to policemen who become executioners.

Tang, Milo

Inevitable too were references to Duterte’s profane swear words, which gave the students an entire exercise on its own. I had papers with profanities not just in Tagalog but also Kapampangan, Bikolano (Miraya), Cebuano, Ilokano, Maranao and Tausug. No culture, it seems, is profanity-free.

Quite enjoyable reading were the things people did to mask their profanities including how a popular Duterte curse phrase can be choreographed to a gentle: “Tang inumin mo wag Milo.” (Instead of tang—mo, you end up saying Drink Tang, and not Milo.)

In retrospect, I would have wanted the students to reflect more on the cultural contexts of profanities: why people swear, how people swear (complete with paralanguage, which means volume, tone and other qualities of speech). But I know Duterte will be around some time yet for other classes to think more deeply about these words … maybe even if they qualify as word or words of the year.

A word of the year exercise need not be limited to linguistics classes. Words provide us insights into society and, more importantly, social change. We see how words come and go, some with almost no changes in meanings across time while others mutate. Neologisms or new words are also constantly being coined, often as slang limited to a small group, to fall by the wayside and disappearing into obscurity. Others enter the mainstream because they become meaningful for many people.

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Toktok, tok—

The yearend holidays always allow me to tune in and pick up new terms that are becoming popular. Yes, tokhang is insinuating itself into the mainstream. In case you were on the moon the last few months, tokhang is a combination of toktok (the knocking sound) and hangyo, a term used in the Visayas meaning “to ask.” Tokhang was a term introduced by the Philippine National Police when the Duterte administration took over to refer, originally, to the police investigating possible drug use in a household or a community.

Sadly, it has taken on more sinister connotations of violence: armed men barging into a home, taking away alleged drug users or pushers. The fortunate ones end up in jail; others are executed.

Because of the violence, tokhang itself is already mutating into tokbang: tok tok, bang bang.

Let me end on a light note. I’ve noticed more and more men in the Philippines, usually younger ones, using cropped trousers. In the past we would have laughed and called it “bitin,” trousers that don’t fall to the right length but now it’s done on purpose, right above the ankles.

This fashion trend has been popular in the west, and in Japan, for three or four years now. They’re different from pedal pants, more associated with women. There are rules on the cropped pants for men: socks or no socks, type of shoes, type of pants, all dependent on the occasion. You can do a “loose fold” of the hem, or a more casual “tight roll”(one thin fold, then roll up). If all that is a hassle, go for a “once-up,” meaning get the tailor to cut.

I also learned new English words associated with the cropped pants: sockettes for the invisible socks that used to be limited to women, mankle for the bared male ankle.

So much goes into this piece of clothing and guess what, there is a Filipino term for this: tokong.

A perplexing word this tokong. It can refer to the duodenum, a part of our small intestine. But it’s probably better known as the chicken’s gizzard, that muscular part of the bird’s stomach, which is popular street food.

The mystery here: how did the intestines become cropped pants?

Now that I’m finished with my students’ term papers, can I do a larger crowdsourcing and invite readers to give me their insights into tokong, tokhang and other candidates for words of the year?

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TAGS: fotobam, hugot, millennial, tokhang
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