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Etymology of Pinoy Cuss Words

An unasterisked guide to the origins of potty words that make up potty vocabulary

by Ronjay Eduvas | Nov 6, 2012
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Repeat a word enough times, and it loses its meaning. Witness: cuss words. Putang ina. Gago. Ulol. Tarantado. Once, they might have been the most cutting, brutal verbal assaults the world has ever heard, with an effect not totally unlike a rapper telling someone how he made sweet, sweet love to that someone's mother the night prior. Now, these words are nothing but a little salt and pepper sprinkled into normal conversation.

Nonetheless, we are fond of them, if only to mock our parents who once told us never to say bad words. So as a manner of tribute, here we are laying them all out in their full offensive glory with their respective origin stories. Read on, mga kups!

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Noun. (eh-pâhl)
The colloquial transliteration of “pumapapel,” or to volunteer unwelcome activity/butt in uninvitingly.

Epal has also been mistaken to refer to the same penile discharge that kupal describes, for the simple reason that History Professor Michael Chua says: “Magkalapit sila ng tunog. So the words are associated with each other.” Adding, although they’re both used to refer to an unlikable person, epal falls on the milder end of the cursing spectrum.

Adjective/noun. (Boh-boh)
Traces back to the Spanish word of the same pronunciation and spelling, which means silly (“boba” in female form) in contrast to its more scathing Pinoy definition—idiot/dimwit.

But you’re thinking, “Hindi naman siya mura, eh.” Filipino Linguistic Professor David San Juan argues: “Sa kultura kasi nating mga Pinoy, hangga’t maari, ayaw nating makasakit ng damdamin. We prefer euphemisms to the actual word. Kahit alam nating bobo ang isang tao, hindi natin sasabihing, ‘Bobo ka!’ to his or her face maliban kung galit tayo. Nagiging mura siya kasi sensitive tayo sa paggamit ng salita.” Related words that you may want to use to change things up according to San Juan: tunggak, ungas, idiota.


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Noun. (Tran-ta-doh)
From the Spanish “Attarantado,” which means to frighten or incite panic, and old Italian “Attarantar” which alludes to epileptics. Tarantado, is Spanish vulgar-colloquial for “blunderhead,” or “stupid.”


Adjective. Noun. (gah-gah/gah-goh)
In Spanish, a person who stutters or stammers a lot. Later adapted in Tagalog to refer to someone stupid, idiotic, and/or a screw-up, apparently because a person who fidgets with words is prone to humiliation, and describes all these things.

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Noun. (pooh-tuhng ee-nah mô)

A variation of “anak ka ng puta” except the premise of you being a possible bastard plays secondary to the central insult—your mother being a whore, or more crassly, your mother’s vagina.

Historian Dr. Luis Dery, PhD, explains: “This is probably the most bastos. ‘Putang ina mo’ is not talking about your mother being a puta, it’s about the female sex organ—puta ng ina mo.” Its regional variations: “Bolig ni ina mo” in Bikolano, “Bilat sing ina mo” in Bisaya, and in less overheard Tagalog, “Pekpek/Puke ng ina mo.”


Noun. (leht-schë)
In clean, textbook Spanish: milk. Its dirtier equivalent you could’ve guessed: “The phrase used to be ‘mal leche’—bad milk, or panis na gatas,” says Chua. “So sa colloquial, mal leche, is yung gatas ng ari ng lalaki. Ito yung semen, o di kaya yung maduming puti sa ulo ng ari ng lalaki.” (see: Kupal)

Noun. (leht-schu-guhs)
Adjusted Tagalog-plural for the Spanish “lechuga”—or lettuce/lettuce head. Used in conjunction to a particularly ugly situation, and not directed to anyone in particular, i.e. “Damn it!”

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Why a veritable vegetable landed on our cuss vocabulary, even our panel of experts can only guess. And if we could: the “head” in “lettuce head” is a probable clue.


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