Learn the different Spanish false friends in Tagalog and how to actually use them!
Ever read or heard something in another language and felt like you understood what it said? But lo and behold! You were wrong! If not, you should know the meaning of the word “salvage” in the Philippines. In English, the word “salvage” means “to rescue” or “to save”, and you definitely wouldn’t want to be “salvaged” in the Philippines.
You see, in the Philippines, “salvage” means “to kill a person (suspect) without the benefit of a trial” or “to kill a person and hack the body into pieces”. Basically, “kill a person” — which is the complete opposite of its original meaning in English. Because of this, “salvage” is a false friend.
Gruesome first paragraphs aside, the term “false friends” refers to words from two or more different languages that look and sound alike, but have completely different meanings. Some false friends may originate from the same word but eventually, diverge into two words with two different definitions (like “salvage”) while some just happen to look alike but never had a connection.
The Spanish language is a special case in the Philippines. Technically, it is not related to the rest of the Philippine languages, but you’ll see traces of it in the said languages. As you may know if you’re familiar with Philippine history or if you read our previous blog posts (Tagalog vs Filipino: What’s the difference?, Why do Filipinos Speak English So Well?, and How to Really Count Tagalog Numbers), you’ll know that the Philippines used to be a colony of Spain. You’ll also know how this deeply affected the Philippine culture and languages. Some of these Spanish influences are so embedded in the Tagalog language that some Filipinos are not even aware that these originated from Spanish in the first place. One of the factors to this is the fact is that some of these Spanish words took a life to their own and changed meaning through time.
Regardless, beware and be very aware of these false friends. Most of these aren’t as dark as “salvage” but accidentally calling someone “servant girl” is still going to be awkward. So, if you’re a Spanish speaker, know some Spanish, or studying Spanish and Tagalog, you might want to be careful with these false friends!
Tagalog: smelly, foul stench | Spanish: descend, below
Remember that unlike English, /j/ in Spanish is pronounced like an /h/, and that just where the differences started. In Tagalog, “baho” means “smelly” or “stinky” while Spanish “bajo”, means “descend” or “below”. It makes sense that they have wildly different meanings because they never had a connection in the first place. Unlike, most words in this list, Tagalog “baho” didn’t originate from Spanish. It just happened that it sounded like “bajo” in Spanish.
Tagalog: just because, as long as | Spanish: “Enough!”
In Spanish, you use “basta!” to express annoyance or to put your foot down on a certain topic or request. On the other hand, Tagalog “basta” may also have this meaning but it has more uses that it’s originator.
You can use “basta” as “just because”. For example:
“Bakit kailangan kong linisin yung room ko?” (“Why do I need to clean my room?”)
“Ay basta!” (“Just because!”)
…or as “as long as”. For example:
“Uy, Thank you sa homemade cookies!” (“Hey, Thank you for the homemade cookies!”)
“Basta ikaw, lakas mo sakin eh.” (“As long as it’s you, you mean a lot to me, you know.”)
Tagalog: chocolate rice porridge | Spanish: chocolate corn-based drink
According to legends, Jose Rizal, the National Hero of the Philippines, invented the Filipino Champorado. In one version of the story, young boy Rizal accidentally tipped a fresh cup of hot chocolate on his meal (freshly cooked rice and dried fish), and was about to be berated by his sister. Immediately, the quick-minded boy mixed the chocolate drink with the freshly cooked rice and said, “Look ate (big sister), champorado!“. Thus, the champorado was born.
Unlike the “champorado”, the Spanish “champurrado” is a drink and not a meal. It is an chocolate atole or corn-based drink that is prepared with either masa de maíz, masa harina, or corn flour.
Tagalog: English/Taglish-speaking socialite | Spanish: cone; female genitalia/intercourse (informal/ slang)
It is still unknown how the Spanish equivalent of the word “fuck” came to be a word to describe upper-class Filipinos who speak exclusively in stylized Taglish or English. Conyo is not just a language choice. It is also a lifestyle choice. If you are tagged as conyo, most likely you also described as a social climber or member of the upper class.
Tagalog: toilet, restroom | Spanish: bucket
We don’t have sources to back this up but it is easy to imagine how “bucket” became a “toilet”, isn’t it?
(Originally: La mierda)
Tagalog: to hang out/around with friends | Spanish: the shit
As young people would say, having friends is the shit!
Tagalog: sponge cupcake | Spanish: unweaned/suckling baby; breast (informal/ slang)
Tagalog: servant boy/girl | Spanish: boy/girl; servant boy/girl
In Spanish, “muchacho/muchacha” can just mean “boy/girl”. That’s the generic meaning. However, sometimes, it can also mean “servant” or “maid”, depending on the situation. In Tagalog, “muchacho/muchacha” exclusively mean “servant” or “maid”.
Tagalog: a kind rice cake | Spanish: male prostitute
This is one of the cases where Spanish didn’t influence the Tagalog word and just happened that it sounded like a Spanish word. The word “puto” in Tagalog is theorized to be borrowed from the Tamil language. It never had a connection from the Spanish word for male prostitute.
Tagalog: to say | Spanish: “He/she knows…”
Originating from the word “saber” meaning “to know”, the Spanish “sabe” is actually a phrase meaning “He/she knows…”. In Tagalog, the speakers simplified this and generalized “He/she knows” to just “to talk”.
Tagalog: okay/ sure | Spanish: “He/she continues/follows…”
Although not actually a word, the phrase “Sigue…” actually came from the Spanish word “seguir” meaning “to follow”. It eventually became another word to say “Yes” in Tagalog.
Tagalog: maybe | Spanish: sure
How opposite could you get??? (Still not as bad as “salvage” though)
Tagalog: of course | Spanish: always
From the Spanish word “siempre” meaning “always”, the Tagalog “syempre” slowly diverted from that meaning and took a life of its own. Syempre is now commonly used as a definite “yes”.
“Sama ka sa inuman after ng dinner?”
(“Will you join the (drinking) party after the dinner?”)
(“Of course, bro”)
However, you can also use “syempre” to state the obvious like,
“Bucket o bote?”
(“Do you want a bucket or a bottle of beer?”)
“Siyempre, isang bote lang. May pasok ako bukas”.
(“Of course, just one bottle. I have work tomorrow.”)
Tagalog: chicken macaroni soup | Spanish: soup
In Spanish, “sopas” is actually the plural of any “soup”. However, in Tagalog “sopas” refers to one thing: the delicious and flavorful Chicken Macaroni Soup.
Tagalog: maximum | Spanish: every, full
It is easy to imagine how “full” became “maximum”. After all, if you turn a speaker to its full volume, the speaker’s volume is maximized. However, the Tagalog “todo” never had the “every” meaning.
What do you think? Have you encountered any of these false friends before?