What’s your favorite word in your mother tongue?
Mine is takipsilim. The Tagalog word for sunset, takipsilim is a one-word poem packed with nuances. It is visual, and it’s moving yet it evokes a sense of languor, the slow passage of time.
So are the other words that translate as poetically in English as sunset or dusk or, better yet, nightfall—paglubog ng araw, dapithapon, agaw-dilim.
Apparently, there are subtle differences.
Dapit-hapon, to put it simply, is the end of an afternoon while agaw-dilim is that breathtaking tug-of-war between light and dark we
sometimes refer to as the golden hour. Different still, takipsilim is when light finally gives way to darkness and a black cloak sweeps over the sky, sometimes bejeweled with flickering stars.
As if takipsilim was not poetic enough, writers like Clodualdo del Mundo, a former editor of The Manila Bulletin vernacular Liwayway, could not help calling on the eloquence of this word to express feelings even more magical than sunsets, as he did in his haiku-inspired poem “Ang Kanyang Mga Mata,” in which he wrote:
ng isang pagsintang
ng isang pusong
Poet, journalist, and screenwriter Pete Lacaba, on the other hand, wrote the poem, “Mga Titik na Walang Himig,” while in prison during Martial law.
It was a paean to his wife, then his girlfriend, about a friendship that ended up in romance, in which again he used the sun, rising and setting, to articulate lasting, ever-reliable love.
Hasmin, aliwalas ng bukang-liwayway, mamahalin kita habang buhay.
Hasmin, halimuyak sa takipsilim, arawgabi kitang mamahalin.
August, Buwan ng Wika (language month), is a celebration of our mother tongue. Manila Bulletin Lifestyle starts the ball rolling by sharing our romantic connections with words in any of our over 185 Philippine languages.
My favorite Tagalog word that I only encountered in college during a magazine project is alpas. Its beauty lies within its meaning that translates to two or more English words—to break loose; to set oneself free; to escape from a cage. We were all trying to graduate by finishing our theses, all that crazy college stuff. Our magazine title sort of reminded us every time that once we were through college, ready na kaming umalpas.
When I was in college, one of my favorite Filipino professors taught me the difference between pag-ibig and pagmamahal. When translated to English these two words both mean love, but on a deeper aspect the two have a hierarchy. He said mahal is used for animals and non-living things, pag-ibig is used when expressing love and adoration for God and the people in our lives. Since then, pag-ibig has been my favorite Filipino word. After all, as they say, “Ang pag-ibig ay hindi kailaman nabibigo (Love never fails).”
Namnama is the Ilokano word for hope. My parents, both Ilokano, have always taught me to be hopeful, no matter the situation. They first mentioned the word to me just years ago, though, to help me cope during a particularly difficult time in college. The word has since helped remind me that things are bound to get better and I will always be where I’m meant to be.
Kristelle Bechayda Padáyon
is the Hiligaynon term for keep going, whose meaning I haven’t fully grasped until I was older. In my circle of college friends, whenever someone was going through a hard time, I would hear them throw that word around as a means of encouragement. “Padáyon lang gihápon (Keep going always),” they would say. Since then, the term has always stuck with me and even become my mantra when I’m in need of something to keep me grounded.
My favorite Tagalog word is bading. I was so afraid of this word growing up. Every time this word was said on TV, radio, or in casual talk, it would have the power to bring silence to our house. And then I encountered it again in Quinn: A Fairytale written by Vincent de Jesus. I was part of the production and, delivered the protagonist’s mother, a line stuck to me: “Bading ka… I like the sound of that word. Bading! Hindi garapal. Cute, friendly, and pleasing to the ear.”
A word I constantly say is tiwala. It has been my mantra since high school, and pagtitiwala got me through some of the most important moments of my life to date. And that trust or belief can be in anything—a loved one, a friend, God, a promise, even oneself. It amazes me how one word can carry so much weight, for when a person has nothing or everything to lose, “basta may tiwala” they will forge on. Every once in a while, people will need that extra push, “tiwala lang.”
Krizette Chu Labitig
It’s a Waray word that means love/loving I love the word for its playfulness, and for how it is evocative of my childhood, when I would be a teased that I was nalabitig whenever I would have a crush on someone. Also say the word out loud, five times, fast, and don’t you think labitig sounds like the sound of a heart beating fast?
My favorite Filipino word is also my first word as a baby. Namit (then said as namnam) is Hiligaynon for delicious. My mother told me I made this sound right after she made me try a popsicle. Mama and namit, to me, were synonymous and serendipitous—she, who taught me how to eat, they, whom I love and what I love most.
Jules Vivas Lualu
While I was studying my native dialect, I learned about the ancient term lualu from Fr. Diego Bergaño’s highly regarded Vocabulario de Pampango, which documents the Kapampangan language of the 1700s. The extraordinary word is a noun, which means “the virtue of championing the defenseless,” and it reflects one of the most admirable cultural values of the Kapampangans—chivalry.
When my family moved to Aklan, I was only six or seven. It was a struggle to learn the language. It was my friends who taught me my first Aklanon word—pabakaw, which means pabili. And everytime I say pabakaw, I remember my friends and those good old days.
My favorite Filipino word is bangon or rise. When super typhoon Yolanda happened in 2013, many lives were destroyed, broken, and lost. I was amazed at how Filipinos pushed through collectively, and with generosity. It is the stories of survival, resilience, and little heroic deeds in Yolandahit areas that inspire me to always bounce back and keep going.
If I were to choose one, it would be the word likha or to create. People may take it for granted, but the word likha brings so many positive emotions for me. It’s a mix of inspiration, hope, and joy in making something out of nothing. We are all born with talents meant to be shared with the world. Our work, even if one considers it trivial, will touch someone’s life. Always remember, you are special!
My favorite Filipino word is kalinangan or enlightenment. Aside from the word sliding off naturally as one says it, kalinangan is memorable for me. I was struggling to write a short story and I stumbled on how to end it. Suddenly, I came into an “enlightenment” of sorts. Kalinangan also became the title of my first Palanca-winning short story.
Favorite Filipino word: Hiraya. When I was a kid, there was a show called Hiraya Manawari, which I later learned was an old Tagalog phrase that means “going for your dreams.” The word hiraya, which means imagination, has always captured my, well, imagination. I always tell people to never lose their sense of wonder because that fuels hiraya, the imagination.
During my chorale years in Ateneo, we would always have Philippine folk songs as part of our repertoire. We would perform Maranao classics like “Pokpok Alimpako” and “Mamayog Akun.” One particular Ibanag song, “Waway,” turned out to be a favorite of mine. It’s a song about hard work in the farm. Waway comes from the word gawagawayyan, which means relief. As both my parents are farmers, this word just resonates throughout my childhood being raised in fields of onions and rice paddies.