Filipinos seem to have a fascination with taking the most terse of words – and then reiterating them. What may appear to be a lackadaisical approach to linguistic innovation is, in fact, a stroke of genius. Instead of crafting words as long and winding as the Great Wall of China and as breathtaking (literally), the Filipino has brilliantly construed a jargon of words concise enough to be spoken without having to surface for air every few seconds.

Words such as “jas-jas” (meaning taken for granted) and even names – NoyNoy, BongBong, BamBam, ClangClang – are some examples. The reason is simple: it runs in the family. The Malayo-Polynesian family of languages, from whence many dialects in the Philippines trace their roots, is agglutinative of morphemes (and no, this isn’t a kind of drug.) Morphemes are the tiniest part of a word. New words are formed by adding affixes to the morpheme, by putting together two morphemes, or by simply duplicating the original morpheme. Among the three ways, the Malayo-Polynesian family chose the most creative.

As there is never an end to creativity, Filipinos have taken their argot a notch further. Groping for a synonym? When in short supply, reverse the word. Thereupon, ‘ligo’ is legally, or should it be, ligolly, replaced by ‘goli.’ ‘Yosi’, as yo si (you see) is the more generic term for ‘sigarilyo.’ From the word ‘porma’ we derive ‘japorms.’ During the 1970s, the trend for inverting the words came about. It was a reflection of rebellion, in a sense, by the youth during the Marcos regime. The inversion gave the youth of that decade the freedom to play around with the language.

In 2010, the world was introduced to the ‘jejemon.’ Derived from ‘jeje’ which is Spanish for laughter, and ‘mon’ taken from the widely popular Japanese game ‘Pokemon,’ Urban Dictionary describes the ‘jejemon’ as someone who “has managed to subvert the English language to the point of incomprehensibility.” Most notorious, perhaps, for text messages as obfuscating as the mind of a woman, ‘jeje’ talk is so ambiguous to those who do not speak it that, had Shakespeare been alive today, he would not have written “It is all Greek to me” in his renowned ‘Julius Caesar’. Instead, he would have written “It is all jejemon to me.” What appears to be a toss between a malfunctioning computer printout and an encrypted CIA message is actually a “jejemon” discourse: “3ow ph0w, ‘’’mUsZtAh!. nA? “ (Hello, kumusta ka na/ How are you?) followed by the lucid response of “iMiszqcKyuHIt” (I miss you). It is not exactly certain as to how the phenomenon came about, but speculations include a Filipino Tumblr post about Jejomar Binay and the shortening of words due to the 160 letter limit of SMS. In any of the scenarios, one thing is evident. The ‘jejemon’ slang gained popularity through the use of technology- an effect of the digitalized era we live in.

‘Conyo’, on the other hand, has been in use much longer. It finds its etymology in a rather vulgar Spanish word, but in the Philippines, it’s the mocking moniker bestowed upon those perceived to be ‘rich kids. ’ As ambiguous as the ‘Jejemon’ slang is the line that separates Filipino and English for those fluent in ‘Conyo.’ “Wait, I’ll be there mamaya” a Conyo will say “I’ll just eat my baon while waiting for my sundo. He’s so tagal, and it’s so init! ” And for added emphasis, one will toss in a good “And I’m tired pa” Leaving the hapless listener reeling from the oscillation of languages. Fillers such as “na”, “ba” “pa” and “ano” unconsciously tail the ‘Conyo’s’ sentences. Not all the blame is to be placed on the ‘Conyo’ speaker. One is the colonial mentality. Three hundred years under Spanish rule has severely distorted the nation’s perception of themselves. Filipino is regarded as the language of the ‘indio’s,’ while the “illustrado” spoke in a foreign tongue. Hence, to those deemed elite, the foreign language replaces the mother tongue as a first language. Around the world, English is predominant over Filipino. To be globally competitive, Filipinos included English into their language. However, they are not impervious to their native tongue – although the ‘Conyo’ may speak English at home, they hear Filipino spoken in public places, in school, among friends. The result is the jumbled love child of the two languages. It is a slang spoken by the elite, yet lacking the refinement that is perceived to come with the social class.

Dang that Slang!


Stephanie Pagdanganan

By Stephanie Pagdanganan

Jonathan Mendoza

By Jonathan Mendoza

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