Arts & Culture


We use them in everyday conversations, but have you ever thought of translating them into English? No, because you just can’t.

/ 20 August 2021

It’s the time of the year again when we commemorate one of the most culturally rich language with the sexiest accent in the world – Filipino. As we all know, August is the month-long celebration of ‘Buwan ng Wikang Pambansa’ when many schools exhibit sabayang bigkas, slogan making contest, talumpating handa at ‘di handa, and poster making contests. But for now, let us take a look at commonly used Filipino words that you can’t translate into English.


Friend1: Bakit ka nga naiinis?

Friend2: Ah, basta!

Basta! One would argue that it could be translated into “just so be it” but ‘just’ is a word for lang or lamang and even without Basta the phrase is translatable into English. But in common conversations, we use Basta in a context much more than just do it. Basta is a word to express something is definite, something true, valid, or final. We could use the word Basta alone and a different English translation is needed just to explain what Basta is. Therefore, in conclusion, the word Basta is untranslatable.


Ang cute ng baby na yan! Nakakagigil!

Can you translate it, ka-tambay? According to Mental Floss Magazine, four-time Webby award winner, Gigil has no direct english equivalent but it is the urge to pinch or squeeze something that is irresistibly cute. But Gigil can be used in other ways too, like expressing annoyance. Hoy! Tigilan mo ‘ko sa pambibiro at nangigigil ako sa’yo. Gigil is something we use to express annoyance but in a very playful manner.


Like basta, Ewan is a common word we use to express something that we can’t explain and does not have a direct English equivalent. When you ask me what is the English of Ewan I will just be like “Ewan ko din.” Here you’ll argue and say it is “I don’t know” but “I don’t know” is “Hindi ko alam”. So what is Ewan in English? Ewan.


Anak, pakiabot mo nga iyang kwan.

After Ewan, there’s Kuwan or Kwan. Kwan is much more infuriating to look for an English equivalent. Kwan is a word we used to express something we forgot or something we can’t exactly say what. “‘Nay, alin kwan ba?.” Probably more than ever, this is the start of a clash between mother and child. Silly argumentation ensues as the child fails to bring what the mother asked for because of the word Kwan.


Friend1: Nagdala ka ng extrang pera?

Friend2: Oo, naman! (Hala may ambagan?)

Naman is a versatile word that we used in many different contexts. We use Naman for emphasis like the example above. We also use Naman to guilt-trip other people, “Bakit di mo naman sinabi kaagad?” We also use Naman if we compare things, “Feeling ko mas maganda naman yung nauna kaysa sa pangalawa”. And our favorite use of Naman; bekenemen (Baka naman) which is a form of insinuation.


In the song by Roselle Nava, “Bakit nga ba mahal kita” which became a hit cover of Gigi de Lana, we find the word Nga but without any English equivalent. Nga is an example of a FIlipino word which are special words depending on how they are used. So, when you hear or read ‘Di ba nga.’ it means as “I told you so”.


Ang kulit!

Kulit can be used both negatively and as a good adjective to describe someone. When someone feels entertained by the outgoing attitude of a child, the person can say “Ang kulit!”. Some people would say pesky is a suitable word for it, but is a translation of inis and is often used negatively. Kulit is a unique word itself that you can use in any contexts that won’t get you in trouble.

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