‘Kilig,’ ‘sayang,’ and words in between
Buwan ng Wika has me musing about how Philippine languages are so rich and emotive, rife with words for the many gradients of human feeling. It’s a reflection of us as a sentimental, emotion-driven people, and being aware of how expressive our dialects are may help us appreciate them more.
Many around the world now know of the Filipino word kilig—that giddy, sugar-rush feeling when something romantic happens to you or to your favorite K-drama character. But there’s also kilig’s highly caffeinated sibling gigil, which means you want to pinch something for being too cute or punch it for being too irritating. Sometimes both.
In certain Visayan languages, one word I love is manya (also termed langi in some provinces). It can be a noun or a verb, referring to your actions when you want someone’s attention or favor. And those actions can be as prismatic as the word. You can act all sweet and coy when you’re asking your parents for one more Food Panda order. Or you can throw a tearful tantrum on the floor. Whichever works.
I guess manya as a word has something to do with the Greek mania, which originally meant a frenzied want or a mad passion. Manya is when you want something so much, you’d act all ridiculous for it.
And if you don’t get what you’ve been hoping for, you might do what in Tagalog is called tampo—that slump in mood and withdrawal of affection from the person who denied you. Some translate this as “sulking,” “holding a grudge,” or “the silent treatment,” though it’s more nuanced than those. It’s a feeling of hurt but not hostility. Tampo is not an angry child pouting in a corner just to push the envelope; it’s one who needs a hug and a “Sorry na.”
An extra-gentle apology with sugar on top is an example of the Filipino lambing. The word denotes a warm, mellow affection: soft serenades, a surprise bouquet of flowers, hushed sweet-nothings—as opposed to, say, rapid right swipes on Tinder.
Word of warning: Lambing may eventually wrap you in a dantay (Tagalog) or tanday (Cebuano). Those are our words for a “leg hug”—the act of resting one’s leg on an object while lying down. That object could be a pillow, a bunch of blankets, or, if someone’s lucky, you.
When you’re treated to some good old-fashioned lambing, you’re quite hayahay. This is an adjective used in some Philippine languages to denote a feeling of ease, comfort, freshness, or sometimes, good fortune. You’re hayahay when you’re relaxed on a hammock on a perfectly breezy day, or when you can work at home without getting out of your pajamas, or when your crush finally agrees to have coffee with you because you’re their top follower on Instagram.
Another word used across the Philippines is sayang, and this one by itself is a beautiful example of our iridescent language. It’s an adjective, a verb, and an interjection rolled into one, referring to something valuable that has gone to waste. Sayang, my travel plans got canceled. Sayang, we were supposed to have coffee but couldn’t. Sayang, I had a chance to get to know you but lost it.
Sayang is a sense of loss, a profound combination of disappointment, frustration, and sadness. But weighty as it is, you can feel sayang for something small and seemingly trivial, like a lost note or a dying houseplant—as long as it had significance to you.
I learned that in Indonesian, sayang means dear. Isn’t it fascinating how words change hues across neighboring regions, yet express the same intrinsic feeling?
My grandparents, who speak Cebuano and some Kinamigin, say anugon in place of sayang. (These words mean the same.) I try to remember this, hoping to speak and embrace my native tongue more even as I explore other languages. It’s said that languages die when younger generations favor more “prestigious” languages instead of their native tongue. It’d be a shame if my generation lets that happen. Our native languages are beautiful, and letting them die would be a tragic example of anugon.
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