30 Filipino Words With No English Equivalent

We Pinoys have words for everything.

Somebody who butts in somebody’s business to get attention is called epal, short for pumapapel.  We feel bitin when we run out of rice in the middle of eating. And nawiwindang is how we feel after seeing Yolanda’s aftermath: it’s shocking, unbelievable, unexpected and hard to wrap your mind around (Yes, we got all that in one word).

Also Read: 16 Colors And Their Beautiful Names In The Philippine Language

Hell, we’re so creative we have words that defy exact translation into English.

We’ve compiled thirty such words. While they’ll make sense to Pinoys and baffle foreigners, they’re entertaining just the same.

So brush up on your lolo and lola’s vocabulary (as most of these words found use during their era) and get your henyo caps on; we’re exploring untranslatable Filipino words.


Bangungot + Filipino words with no english translation

“Wag kang matulog ng busog kung ayaw mong mamatay sa bangungot!

Nope, it doesn’t translate to nightmare. A nightmare is a very bad dream and doesn’t cause death, so that’s not an accurate description of our bangungot. It’s like this: going to bed + full stomach + bad dreams = never waking up (death).

Scientists call it acute hemorrhagic pancreatitis but that doesn’t explain the paralysis or the bad dreams. Some call it Sudden Unexpected Death During Sleep (SUDS) but what’s interesting is, this phenomenon was first described in a 1917 medical literature from the Philippines.

Our lolos and lolas knew what they were talking about, after all.


kilig + Filipino words with no english translation

“Kilig na kilig ako nung hinawakan nya ‘ko sa kamay.”

While its earlier form was mixed with borrowed English words to read kilig to the bones, we’ve come to accept kilig as a standalone word.

It could mean trembling in English, but not quite. See, what trembling doesn’t describe is the excitement and the romantic feeling that comes with kilig.

It’s like this: I’m on cloud 9 + I’m so happy I could burst + I’m so electrified I can’t think straight = kilig. And even these words couldn’t adequately explain how kilig truly feels.

Also Read: How To Say “Hello” In Tagalog


Pitik + Filipino words with no english translation

“Pipitikin ko yang tenga mo pag ‘di ka sumunod sa inuutos ko!”

Pitik could either mean flip, flick or snap by using the fingers. However, the word could also mean something that isn’t confined to what the fingers can do.

“Pumitik ‘yung ilaw” (flicker) and “Nawala cellphone ni Tonyo, may pumitik yata” (stole) are two very different uses for the word pitik.

The varied use of the word makes it impossible to assign an exact meaning in English to it. Meanwhile, it takes on the meaning we Pinoys want at our convenience. Not bad for a word we’ve come to associate with pain in our childhood.


Usog + Filipino words with no english translation

“Nausog ng ale ‘yung anak ko, nagsuka tuloy at nilagnat.”

It doesn’t matter whether you think the child in question is cute or not. If you’re new to that place and some kid gets sick after you leave, you have hexed the child by usog (also known as balis).

And now you have to put some of your saliva on the kid’s forehead, tummy and feet while saying the words “pwera usog” over and over again. Only then will you have appeased the parents, cured the grossed out child and be allowed to leave.

This usually happens when your presence overpowers a susceptible child (and adults, occasionally). Talk about coming on too strong.


tampo + Filipino words with no english translation

“Nagtatampo ako dahil hindi mo naalala ang anniversary natin.”

You’re not really angry. But you’re not happy either. And you feel slighted! All those emotions rolled into one would read: tampo.

How we thought up the word is ingenious. No English word can sufficiently translate this one, and there is no Western equivalent.

Pissed off is too extreme. Disappointed is close, but not quite. It doesn’t even come close to sulking, although silent treatment is a symptom. Try all of that with a dash of sweetness. And that’s the closest translation you’ll probably get.


basta + Filipino words with no english translation

“Basta sundin mo na lang ang inutos ko sa’yo, tapos!

Although this word may have Spanish origins from ¡basta ya! Which means “enough already!” it doesn’t quite cover it.

When Pinoys say basta, it’s definitive. What was said before basta was uttered is final, valid and true. It is said with the kind of insistence that cannot be challenged or argued upon.

When our nanays declared basta, we were expected to obey meekly and accept that wisdom without question, even when she said that aswangs have preference for naughty kids. She always just knew.

Try This: FilipiKnow’s Ultimate Tagalog-English Dictionary


gigil + Filipino words with no english translation

“Ang kyut ng bata, nakakagigil!”

Some have cleverly defined this as an urge to pinch or squeeze something that is irresistibly cute and that’s pretty much it.

However, we also use it in another context: “Nanggigigil ako sa kapitbahay naming napakaingay” . Put this way, it hardly means irresistibly cute; you’re closer to clobbering the neighbor than actually pinching cheeks.

Gigil, therefore, is subjective. It’s an uncontrollable urge to pinch or squeeze somebody or something, but it’s not always because of cuteness. You’ve been warned. [Image source: Reuel Mark Delez]


pagpag + Filipino words with no english translation

“Pagpag mo muna ang twalya at baka may langgam.”

Alright, it could mean shake or dust off, but pagpag requires a bit more rigor than that.

What we often imagine when we hear the word pagpag is holding the object and repeatedly hitting a surface with it to make dirt, dust or something come off the object. Unfortunately, this is the same description which made pagpag synonymous to scavenged food.

Thus, pagpag could also mean the food collected from our local version of dumpster diving. Disheartening, but true.


pasma + Filipino words with no english translation

“Wag ka munang humawak ng tubig pagkatapos mong magplantsa at baka mapasma ka!”

I was already in college when I learned that the word pasma isn’t even a medical phenomenon. It can’t be translated to English because it doesn’t exist, or so experts say.

But our lolas would beg to differ. Pasma could either manifest by tremors, numbness or abdominal pain and is brought about by immediate exposure to cold water after a vigorous activity (which warms the body). Therefore body heat + cold water = pasma.

The origin of the word could be the Spanish espasmo which means spasm, although our plasma has come to mean much more than that.


lihi + Filipino words with no english translation

“Ang hilig mo sa mangga, para kang naglilihi.”

Although experts limit paglilihi as pregnancy sickness, we define it as something more than that.

Lihi is when a pregnant woman in her first trimester causes her husband hell. She throws up in the mornings. She’s constantly moody and irritated. She craves the most impossible food to get a-hold of at 2AM. And worse, she could take a liking to something unattractive, causing her unborn child to look like whatever took her fancy during pregnancy.

If she liked KeroKeroKeroppi while she was naglilihi, her baby would look like a frog. Bizarre, I know, but still widely believed in our culture. [Image source: MedObserver]

Read More:

30 Filipino Words With No English Equivalent (Part 2)

30 Filipino Words With No English Equivalent (Part 3)


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14 thoughts on “30 Filipino Words With No English Equivalent

  1. of course there are english equivalents to these Pilipino words if not the exact translation. But there are more English words that we cannot even translate in Tagalog. Pilipino or Tagalog as you may call it, are mixtures of dialects and influences from our conquerors.

  2. Id love to see an expose of some of the crazy beliefs that are taken as truth in the Fils. Every culture has them. For example, Ive been told that sleeping with a fan on you will make you fart, that using certain soaps can change the colour of your skin and that rubbing citronella (manzanilla) on a babys stomache cures wind.

    1. Hi Erwin,

      Thanks for the suggestion. We have actually published something similar to that. You might want to check it out: http://www.filipiknow.net/health-myths-philippines/

  3. there’s this thing called “sleep paralysis” that people often call “bangungot” it is when people experience not being able to move their body after waking up. there are actually scientific explanation for that. people may experience it if they have a deficiency in vitamins or minerals, specifically potassium and, if im not mistaken, vitamin B12.

  4. by the way, the meaning of lihi here is not accurate. what was being described was the one of the effect of “lihi”. Lihi in english means to conceive. Like “si Birheng Maria ay naglihi sa pamamagitan ng Espiritu Santo.” So when we say naglilihi ka na ba? it literally means “may nabubuo na bang buhay sa sinapupunan mo?” Besides, when may wife was in lihi stage, she didn’t experience anything about “pregnancy sickness”. That means that unusual food craving experience is totally different fron the word “lihi”, but it could be the effect of getting pregnant in the early stage – conception or “paglilihi”. 🙂

    1. I think our language has evolved. Lihi, to my generation at lest, pertains to a woman’s cravings during the early terms of pregnancy. Lihi as conception doesn’t sound familiar.

  5. This is amusing but not so amazing. All languages have their own peculiarities. Try German, lot of words that have no English equivalent too. Which means language is cultural, it does nit mean every local word has English equivalent. E.g., if they don’t do “pitik”, how would they know the word? if they don’t play “tumbang preso” they will never have an English word for it. But still, nice article.

  6. “windang” -> “reel” as in “the mind reels”
    “tampo” -> “tiff”
    “pagpag” -> “beat” as in “beating a rug”

  7. “Basta” is a word that is used in the Norwegian language also and the meaning of the word is just the same as in Tagalog.

    1. I am a Norwegian but I never heard basta in our language. I am also half Italian. I do heard but means “enough” in English. medyo malapit na sa basta 🙂

  8. Ay kuya may nakalimutan kang isama sa mga words na walang katumbas sa ingles. Siguro alam mo naman ang mga gay lingo di ba? Ano pa nga ang masasabi ng mga beki sa articles mong ito na talaga namang maganda kaya lang nakulangan lang sila dahil hindi mo sinama ang mga blue book ng mga beki. Anyway ang blue book nga pala ay aklat ng mga tanders na beki na naglalaman ng mga salitang bekla nA nagpasalin salin hanggang sa ngayong henerasyon. Sa pagkakaalam ko din ang “nawiwiwndang” word ay nasa blue book din at ito’y nakasulat sa bekikay 2;01 hanggang tanders cut 32:03 at ito ay nakapaloob sa Bakekang ang unang baklang aswang. Sana makatulong ito sa inyo. Isang maganda araw sa lahat ng nilalang sa lupa.. mwa mwa tsup tsup!!

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