Looking Back

Duterte language

In retrospect, all the P-words uttered by the lead actor in the unexpected blockbuster of a film, “Heneral Luna,” was an uncanny prefiguring of President Duterte and the trademark cussing he spouts almost daily for public consumption. At the beginning of his term I noted the CNN coverage of his rambling, extemporaneous speeches, where cuss words familiar in Manila were routinely bleeped out. There must have been a few minutes’ delay in the feed to censor the cuss words; however, the person in charge of the bleep missed out on many of the cuss words and anatomical terms when Mr. Duterte shifted language to Visayan.

As a matter of fact, the snide remark on Mar Roxas’ “o*in”  could be seen as an allusion to Gen. Antonio Luna, who lost the Battle of Bagbag in 1899 because he pulled out soldiers required to defend the Filipino positions against the Americans. He sent the soldiers to Pampanga in a show of force to discipline the insubordinate Gen. Tomas Mascardo, who made a sneering reference to Luna’s anatomy, too. Historians Epifanio de los Santos, Teodoro A. Agoncillo and Vivencio Jose did not provide the exact Tagalog quotation that loses its power when translated into Spanish or English: “Komandante, inyong sabihin kay Heneral Luna na kung siya’y may bay*g ay gayon din si Heneral Mascardo na maipaglalaban sa kanya.” (Major, tell General Luna that if he has balls to execute his orders, General Mascardo, likewise, is a man who knows how to fight!)


Many people I know find it distasteful for the President to cuss in public, and often describe this as, well, “unpresidential.” But then we have a new President who does not fit the mold that Manila-centric history and tradition have carved out for him. This square peg, forgive the allusion, does not want to conform to the round hole.

Cursing was part of my childhood; I heard it all the time from adults, and knew by the context or tone of voice whether the P-word was said in anger or as a form of endearment. My father used to cuss a lot until his favorite grandson was born. When the grandson was but a toddler he would note every P-word his lolo uttered and provided his mother with a daily accounting. When I was growing up, my father rarely used the P-word in anger, but my mother made up the balance. Once I laughed at her angry face, when she used the P-word on me. When I reminded her that she referred to herself when she used the P-word, she used “g*go” and pinched my side so hard it produced a welt. The only time we were spared from my mother’s cussing was after her bypass operation, when she was left practically voiceless. Nevertheless, at table we could read her lips and know how frustrated she was at not being able to express herself with the P-word.


When I taught the Rizal course in the University of the Philippines, I realized that the course title was “Philippine Institutions 100,” with the course code “PI 100” that students took to mean something else. There is something about the P-word that hits Pinoys in the gut. It is more powerful than the Spanish P*ñeta made current again by “Heneral Luna.” I was surprised that the movie review board did not bleep out the many P-words in “Heneral Luna,” and I presume that it was because the word was Spanish and did not sound as bad as it would have if it were in Filipino.

Nobody seems to know what P*ñeta means, and nobody takes the time to google its exact meaning. In one translation, it is said to be the colloquial word for “hell.” Thus, to say “que p*ñeta!” is to say “go to hell!” A more adequate Spanish dictionary will tell you that the root word is “puño,” meaning a fist or to make a fist; therefore, the fist flaunted at someone with a shaking movement says plainly that p*ñeta is the vulgar word for masturbation.

When I was taking Spanish and French in college, I was taught mainly how to conjugate verbs, use the conditional, and speak courteously. The late E. Aguilar Cruz rounded up my language education by introducing me to the Adrienne “Gimmick” books that taught colloquial usage or everyday language. Naturally, the last part of the Gimmick books was the first I referred to and often reviewed because it was marked “What not to say!”

Here I learned to see how usage in the Philippines differed from Spain or Latin America. For example, “bombo” in colloquial Spanish had nothing to do with a bomb or the radio program “Radyo Bombo.” It referred to a lesbian. Then, for all the poor women born on Dec. 8 and given the baptismal name Maria Concepcion, if their nickname was “Maricon,” they will be horrified to learn that in colloquial Spanish “maricon” refers to a gay man, or to use colloquial Filipino, a “bakla.”

In the 1970s, Filipinos went mad over handball played with a short tennis racquet known locally as “pelota.” In Spain, pelota refers to someone’s “balls,” and to be “en pelotas” does not refer to someone in a pelota outfit but to someone who is bare-assed.

Filipino slang words for going out and having a nice time are “pasyal” from the Spanish “pasear” and “paseo” that refers to taking a walk or a stroll. Be warned, however, that “mag-lamierda tayo” is not the synonym of pasyal. La mierda is the Spanish word for excrement or sh*t.

Some academic should do a study on Duterte language and explain it plainly without the jargon and the scary algebraic diagrams that make for linguistics literature today.


* * *

Comments are welcome at [email protected]

Subscribe to Inquirer Opinion Newsletter
Read Next
Don't miss out on the latest news and information.
View comments

Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.

TAGS: cursing, Rodrigo Duterte, vulgar language
For feedback, complaints, or inquiries, contact us.

© Copyright 1997-2020 INQUIRER.net | All Rights Reserved

We use cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. By continuing, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. To find out more, please click this link.