You May Be Surprised That These 5 Words Are of Filipino Origin

Filipino culture is very much tugged in between Asia and the West. More than 300 years of Spanish rule may have Hispanicized the Philippines, but the 4 decades of American colonization (from 1898 to 1946) that followed were enough to give its local language and culture a lasting impact.

Listen to any conversation in any big Philippine city, and you’ll likely hear it peppered with English words. Look at any street sign, billboard, or listen to any television channel, and you’ll see the same. The dominance of English has been in place as far as most Filipinos can remember, taking root as the United States colonized the country back in 1898. Today, it has become the country’s second official language, used as the language of business, government, education, as well as media.

Yet as Filipino and American culture began to converge, so too has the English language been influenced by the Filipino language. Did you know that the words yo-yo and boondocks find their origins in Filipino? Take a look at these 5 surprising English words of Filipino origin to learn more.


  1. Boondocks

 Originating from the Tagalog word bundok, meaning mountain, boondocks is a word often used by Americans to describe a place in the middle of nowhere. A relic of American military occupation, it was brought to mainstream attention due to a largely forgotten training accident on Parris Island, South Carolina. By 1944, the phrase “out in the boondocks” appeared in the same year’s Marine Corps Reader.

Still, you may also associate the word with the popular Adult Swim series The Boondocks, which ran from 2005 to 2014.


  1. Presidentiable

 According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a presidentiable is “a person who is a likely or confirmed candidate for president”. Added to the same dictionary back in 2015, the term is widely used in Philippine mass media, most obviously during election time.



  1. Cooties

 A word often used by children to refer to an imaginary childhood disease, the term actually finds its origin in the Filipino term kuto, and the Malay word kutu, which both pertain to head lice. Back in the military, the term referred to body lice that affected numerous soldiers all throughout World War I.

U.S Army soldiers scrubbing themselves free of “cooties” in World War I-era France | Source: Library of Congress Flickr


  1. Yo-yo

 The iconic childhood toy actually has its origins from the same word in Ilocano, a language spoken in the Ilocos Region of the northern Philippines. Used by 16th century hunters to hunt wild animals, it was known to have been a popular toy among local children for a long period of time.

It has then become a famed pastime ever since its introduction into the United States, made possible by an immigrant named Pedro Flores, who in 1928 began a company with the same name in California.

A standard children’s yo-yo. | Source: Wikimedia


  1. Dugong

 Commonly known as “sea cows”, dugongs are gentle sea creatures that reside in shallow coastal waters of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. With their dolphin, fluke-like tails, they are often mistaken by divers as mermaids.

While the name was adopted from the Malay term duyung (meaning “lady of the sea”), the more widespread term dugong actually finds its origins from the Tagalog term dugong.




As the Philippines continuously becomes more internationalized, in part due to increased trade and the large numbers of overseas Filipinos working all over the world, it may be no surprise that more Filipino words may be adopted by other languages as part of their common vocabulary.



 PBS. Frontline World – A Conflicted Land: Rebellions, Wars, and Insurgencies in the Philippines.


Encyclopedia Britannica. The Period of U.S Influence.


Philippine ESL Journal. Motivations for Code-switching in Advertising and the

Construction of Consumers’ Multiple Identities: The Case of Philippine TV Commercials.


Yale University. Tagalog-English Code-Switching: Issues in the Nominal Domain.


NPR. How Far Is It To The ‘Boondocks’? Try The Philippines.


Rappler. Duterte Preferred ‘Presidentiable’ of Independent Senatorial Bets.


New World Encyclopedia. Dugong.


 Slate.  Where Did We Get Cooties?


Yoyo Museum. History of the Yo-Yo.