Filipinoisms is my made-up blanket term for all the acronyms, slang, or phrases part of the Filipino culture that I am exposed to on a daily basis. Both the Peace Corps and the Philippines love acronyms and I’m still trying to get my head around the LGUs, NIPAS, BFARs, PCMOs, and so on. So here’s my Filipinoisms glossary; it is in alphabetical order, all terms are bolded, but the newest ones will be underlined as well! Enjoy:


Ambot – In my local language: ‘I don’t know’. I find some days I’m saying this a lot whereas others not so much; worth a dictionary entry.

Até – A term of endearment for a female older than you, the equivalent of a polite ‘big sister’. Anyone younger than me calls me Até, whereas I call my host sisters who are older than me Até.


Baboy – pig! There are plenty of these all over the place here, and I use the word a lot when I tell people ‘dili ko pagkaon ang baboy’ – I don’t eat pigs!

Barangay – This is the equivalent of a neighborhood or small district. Each municipality is divided into several barangays (mine has 25) which all have their own Barangay Captain and Council to help things run smoothly; kinda like a small local government. As part of my job I get to work with the different coastal and island barangays in my municipality.

Brownout – A temporary loss of power in a neighborhood or distinct area. These can last anywhere from a few seconds to several hours, can be planned or unplanned, and weather related or occurring on the sunniest of days. Ready more about my experiences with brownouts here!


CRM – Coastal Resource Management; this is the government department where I work! Also the name of the Environment program for the Peace Corps in the Philippines. CRM offices can work with anything pertaining to illegal fishing, inland fisheries, habitat assessments, solid waste management, and environmental education, to say the least!


DENR – Department of Environment and Natural Resources. The Filipino government branch responsible for everything from tree planting and forest management to ecosystem assessments and environmental laws.


IEC – stands for Information, Education and Communication. IECs are popular methods of spreading information of any kind all over communities. In my office we conduct regular IECs in different neighborhoods regarding illegal fishing, climate change, and a whole array of coastal related subjects. They are essentially informal discussion sessions where we bring a topic to light and then ask for feedback and interactions from the community.


Jeepney – Jeepney’s are a major method of transportation around the Philippines. After WWII, hundreds of jeeps were left behind in country and locals refurbished them to transport several more people. Now, jeepneys are made in country and are often well-decorated, colorfully lit, and brightly painted.

Joke lang – The Filipino version of ‘just kidding’! Lang (pronounced lahng) means ‘only’ or ‘just’. Filipinos are big jokers and I hear and use this phrase on the regular!


Kaayo – This is used for emphasis in Visayan. If something is really good, you say maayo kaayo; really delicious, lami kaayo; or even too salty, parat kaayo.

Kamusta ka?– Perhaps you can say it to yourself and hear the resemblance of the Spanish como estas? – ‘how are you’. This is possibly the most common Filipino greeting – it exists the same in Tagalog and Visayas and I say it to pretty much everyone. Common answers are maayo (pronounced ma-a-yo, meaning good) or okay ra (just okay).

Koan – This is what’s known as a ‘filler word’ in Visayan. It’s similar to ‘um…’ or ‘like’ when we can’t think of a word in English. It’s taken me 6 months to finally notice the word in speech and now I hear it quite often!

Kuya – The male equivalent of Até. A polite term of endearment used to call men who are elder than you, strangers or relatives alike.


Lami – Delicious, scrumptious, delightful, yummy, all rolled up into one word. If you like a food, we say ‘lami’… if you really like a food, you say ‘lami-lami’ or ‘lami kaayo’ to emphasis it’s really good. You can also have a lami sleep, because well, sleep is delicious! The Tagalog version of this word is masarap, which is also understood in Visayan speaking areas.

LGU – Local Government Unit. My CRM Office is part of the LGU, as is the Mayor’s Office, the Engineering Office and any other local government mandated position. Each municipality (the equivalent of a county) has an LGU that is responsible for the governing of all the barangays (see above) in it’s area.

Lechon – the famous Filipino roast pig. Can also be spelled ‘litson’ though pronounced the same and used as an acronym. Much like in America there exists chicken-fried steak, in the Philippines there exists litsong manok. Although it literally means ‘roasted-pig chicken’ it is actually just a skewered rotisserie chicken like you find at the supermarket!

Load – This is what we call phone credit here. Monthly plans or contracts are hard to come by. Instead people buy ‘load’ in whatever interval they can afford. You can buy 10 or 100 pesos of load and it is good for 30 days; calls are free to receive (woohoo, call me!) and local texts cost 1P. Different networks also provide ‘promos’ where if you load a certain amount onto your number you can get some freebies. I load 250P onto my phone once a month and have unlimited texting, 180 minutes of calling, and a whopping 100MB of data!


Mabuhay – The Filipino term for ‘welcome’! The root word is ‘buhay’ which means life, so the term can also simple mean ‘Live!’… kind of like the Spanish ‘Viva!’

Mahal – expensive. One of the first words I learned here. The same in Tagalog and Visayan, mahal is the key to haggling with any market vendor or trike driver.

Merkado – Like the Spanish mercado, this is the supermarket or fresh market depending on where you are, but understood across the nation.

Merienda – One of the first words I learned during my orientation in the Philippines and it means: snack time! Merienda culture is big here. During training sessions and any semi-structured event merienda is a give-in. There are some typical things that merienda can consist of; pancit (Filipino rice noodles stir fried with veggies and meat), turon (fried bananas, yum!), and coffee and fresh bread (a favorite in my office). And merienda is often enjoyed at around 10am and 3pm… your stomach gets used to this routine and my stomach is often rumbling when merienda is skipped.


Pila – ‘How much?’ Good for the bus ticket or the weight of your eggplants or a ride on a trike. Pila goes a long way.


Salamat – Filipino for ‘thank you’, stemming from the Arab salam which means ‘peace’ and can also be used in greeting.


Tabo – In most parts of the Philippines, people don’t use toilet paper. We use a bucket of water (and soap, don’t worry) and a little plastic sauce pan-like cup to pour the water where needed. That cup is called the tabo. It’s also used for bucket bathing (and soaping, don’t worry)! Curios? Go consult Google. (Also, to complicate things further ‘tabo’ pronounced with a different emphasis on the vowels also means a daily marketplace)

Trike – A three-wheeled vehicle that can be used like a taxi or a bus depending on where you are. Trikes are composed of a motorcycle with a sidecar; sometimes they are short, little sidecars that you have to practically crawl into, sometimes they have two bench seats, like a golf cart. They can be private or shared, like an itty-bitty trolley service.


Ukay-ukay – Thrift store/stall. These can be found all over the Philippines and there are incredibly awesome cheap finds to be had! I found a dress for 10P (~0.20$) and many cute, fun finds under a $1. Usually the vendors get second hand clothes in giant sacks from bigger cities and open them up on certain days of the week, so if you make friends you can get the ‘insider deals’.


Videoke – The infamous Filipino pastime. The cousin to Japan’s karaoke, except that the background is filled with random videos of different themes; nature scenes, lava pools, runway models, SIM characters dancing, dinosaurs fighting or a whole array of odd and obscure images.