Did you know that there are a lot of untranslatable Tagalog words? When it comes to expressing ideas and emotions, some words in Tagalog capture unique cultural concepts that have no direct one-word translation in English. These fascinating terms reveal philosophies, experiences, values, and ways of seeing the world that are woven into daily life for Filipinos.
From the feelings of delight when interacting with your crush (experiencing kilig) or cute baby (experiencing gigil), to traditions of gift-giving when returning home from travel (pasalubong), Tagalog offers short yet poetic ways to convey significance through language. Curious? Get ready to add a little Pinoy magic to your vocabulary!
Table Of Contents
Why Are There Untranslatable Tagalog Words?
The many wonderful untranslatable words in the Tagalog language point to the idea that translation has limits. When a language develops in a specific cultural context over hundreds of years, it naturally shapes itself to the physical environment, values, social relationships, history, aesthetics, and customs that set that culture apart.
Tagalog evolved to encapsulate in single words or brief phrases undercurrents of meaning that require whole sentences and lengthy explanations in languages from vastly different cultures. As a language develops to meet the specialized needs and outlooks of a culture, it picks up on nuances that others overlook.
Without the direct lived experience and context of a Tagalog speaker from the Philippines, these compact words containing a wealth of meaning can seem elusive or mysterious to an outsider. It’s not that translation is inadequate, but that cultural perspective shapes language, so differences arise that require effort to grasp.
Untranslatable Tagalog Words
Usog – When Greetings Bring Harm
The uniquely Tagalog word “usog” conveys a traditional supernatural concept – that welcoming words or glances alone can inadvertently cause sickness in babies. This folk belief has no equivalent in English.
Usog refers to the mysterious forces behind a strange phenomenon – babies or very young toddlers falling ill after receiving casual greetings from visitors. Even without intention or awareness, friendly small talk or smiling at cute kids is believed to transmit negative energy that makes them sick.
Though it seems innocuous, warmly telling a baby “ang cute mo!” or sweetly asking “kumusta ka?” as you glance at the sweet child is thought to potentially infect them with discomfort, swelling, fever, or unexplained fussiness.
The vehicle for this harm isn’t clear but could be through jealous spirits, evil winds, or the power of the evil eye. Usog illustrates perceived dangers hiding within everyday social customs when spiritual precautions aren’t taken.
Luckily there’s a common folk remedy to reverse usog. The person who interacted with the baby simply says “pwera usog” then licks their thumb and uses it to trace a cross on the baby’s forehead and stomach. This odd ritual immediately counters the hex.
Kilig – The Thrill Of Young Love
One of the most popular untranslatable Tagalog words is “kilig” which expresses the thrilling sensation felt during the blossoming of young, romantic love. There is no single word in English encapsulating the same emotion. The excitable feeling of kilig arises during interactions with someone you find attractive and charming, particularly at the outset of forming a crush or romantic connection with them. It especially surfaces in sweet moments expressing affection.
When your crush smiles warmly at you, lightly touches your hand in greeting, or says something sincere to make your heart flutter, you suddenly feel kilig. This intense giddy excitement overtakes both your mind and body all at once.
There are many ways by which you can use this word. For instance, you’ll commonly hear Filipinos comment “Nakakakilig!” or say “Kinikilig ako” to mean feeling delighted by romantic gestures from someone they find captivating. Immersing in this exhilaration is considered a quintessential part of young love when it’s new and fresh.
Gigil – The Urge To Pinch Cute Chubby Cheeks
Another fantastic Tagalog word without an exact English equivalent is “gigil” pronounced “gih-gill.” It describes the irresistible urge to squeeze or pinch something unbearably cute and charming.
You’re most likely to feel gigil when interacting with adorable babies or toddlers—especially chubby ones! Their lovable little faces with pinchable cheeks and delightful antics never fail to inspire gigil. Even the most stoic person may be overflowing with gigil when holding an angelic infant.
As you find yourself captivated by a cute baby giggling, grasping your finger or trying out new facial expressions, you feel gigil rise up as an intense wave of affection. The adorableness seems almost too much to take! This leads to gently pinching soft cheeks or shoulders as you cradle the baby while exclaiming “Ang chubby-chubby mo, ang cute-cute!”
While gigil is most often used to describe positive feelings of overflowing adoration and cuteness-aggression toward beloved babies, the word can have a minor negative connotation as well.
In some contexts, gigil can reference frustrations that boil over when managing fussy, crying babies when you’ve reached the limits of your patience. It relates to the urge to pinch or squeeze as an expression of being entirely fed up and aggravated by excessively cranky babies. This meaning points more toward exasperation from difficult behaviors irritating to spike after long bouts.
Timplado – Achieving The Ideal Balance
The versatile Tagalog term “timplado” vividly encapsulates the concept of attaining an ideal balance between different elements to create a pleasing combination. There is no single English word that conveys the same meaning.
Timplado references the exact right proportions of various components blended according to particular tastes or objectives. It could refer to the mixture of ingredients when cooking, adjusting technical configurations, finding equilibrium in relationships, and more.
Pagpag – Shaking Off Bad Mojo After Funerals
The uniquely Tagalog word “pagpag” offers insight into Filipino superstitious beliefs while visiting the deceased. This word for stopping at a casual location to shake off bad energy has no direct counterpart in English.
In the Philippines, it’s customary to host elaborate gatherings with food when someone passes away. But attending funerals and being near the dead is believed to attract restless spirits or negative auras back home if precautions aren’t taken.
Convenience stores, fast food chains, and coffee shops are prime pagpag spots to linger. By taking time to ground yourself in a social, vibrant space it gives the impression you’re engaged there rather than returning straight home. The hope is any supernatural follower assumes you’re staying put and leaves.
Then after pagpag you can head home safely without worrying the ghost decided to hitch a ride back too! Though foreigners may write this off as superstition, pagpag remains ingrained in mainstream culture, reflecting respect for forces beyond human control.
Umay – Extreme Boredom And Disgust
The Tagalog expression “umay” has no direct English equivalent, yet perfectly encapsulates that feeling when boredom and disgust become almost too much to handle.
Umay arises after excessive exposure to something you initially enjoyed starts to have enormously diminishing returns. It might emerge after eating delicious food until you can’t stand one more bite. Or feeling utterly drained by social gatherings to your limit. Perhaps the song you love plays so often on the radio you get utterly sick of it.
Umay powerfully encapsulates an evolved sort of disgust emerging directly from exhaustion with the same old thing dragging on. The crispness of umay signals throwing in the towel for self-preservation!
Opening Up Worlds Through Untranslatable Words
What a fascinating glimpse these unique Tagalog words have given into aspects of Philippine culture outsiders overlook! From kinikilig tingles when your crush notices you, to the wave of gigil when cradling an adorable chubby baby, we explored emotion-packed terms that English can’t condense into one perfect word. Each reveals subtly powerful perspectives shaping everyday experiences for Tagalog speakers that others miss out on.
Hopefully, these intriguing, tough-to-translate terms have stirred your curiosity for the deep cultural power behind even small vocabulary gaps we overlook. Let this only be the start of a journey appreciating ideas and outlooks encoded into the evolving language of this diverse society. Just think what exciting perspectives await!
Want to learn more? Download the Ling app today to start mastering the Tagalog language!