These 13 Filipino English Words Don’t Mean What You Think

English is spoken throughout the Philippines and woven into everyday speech—especially in Manila.

The Filipino English standard is very close to American English. On paper, it’s essentially the same; in speech, there are very few noteworthy differences.

But that’s not to say it’s identical. Some loanwords have taken on very different meanings that surprise both US and Filipino English speakers.

From an American perspective, they range from humorous to a little awkward to downright odd.

(Even good, casual language apps like Filipino Pod 101 and Glossika Tagalog won’t always share this kind of stuff!)

1. “Salvage”

US English: To save something that was wrecked.

Filipino English: To kill(!), especially in the sense of extrajudicial killing or mob justice.

Usage example: “Authorities claim that drug dealers salvaged the journalist.”

(Ironically, this is probably not an English loanword after all. It’s close to the Tagalog salbahe, which comes from the Spanish word for “savage.” The coincidence is a little odd, but the similarity of a common English word might explain why it caught on in Filipino usage.)

2. “Pirate”

US English: To attack and plunder a ship; to make and sell illegal copies of media.

Filipino English: The above, or to hire someone away from another company (like “poach” in American English).

Usage example: “IBM tried to pirate Juan from General Electric.”

3. “Comfort Room”

US English: (No such term.)

Filipino English: Bathroom.

Usage example: “Excuse me, may I use the CR?”

(It’s probably more common to hear “CR” than the full words.)

4. “Village”

US English: A small town, often rustic or remote.

Filipino English: The above, or a gated subdivision.

Usage example: “After the storm, the park in our village was a mess.”

(Rural villages and gated-subdivision “villages” are polar opposites, so the context usually makes it clear which kind the speaker means.)

5. “Dialect”

US English: A variant of a language that is mutually intelligible, but not identical.

Filipino English: It shares the linguistically correct sense above but is also casually used for a separate language within the Philippines.

Usage example: “I couldn’t tell what they were speaking, but it wasn’t Tagalog, so probably a dialect.”

(This one is a little touchy, but interesting. Years ago, the committee that standardizes the Filipino language decided to call the country’s other languages “dialects.” They’re actually separate languages, period, but the committee implied that they’re just non-standard—and therefore less prestigious—variants of Tagalog. Needless to say, that’s offensive to the tens of millions of non-Tagalog people in the Philippines. Calling standardized Tagalog “Filipino” is likewise controversial, especially farther from Metro Manila. That’s a topic for a different day, but it’s a great example of how seemingly dry, technical terms can have striking implications when misused.)

6. “Fixer”

US English: Someone who takes care of things on your behalf, especially if they’re legally dubious.

Filipino English: Someone (often paid) who helps you cut through red tape, especially for government processes or applications.

Usage example: “I heard that his passport application was rejected because they found out he used a fixer!”

(These both share a sense of helping one circumvent authority. The American usage is broad and often pejorative, but a fixer doesn’t necessarily break the law. The Filipino usage is more specific and neutral, although a fixer in this sense is generally doing something illegal. The latter is often seen as pragmatic help with everyday bureaucracy—which gives you an idea of how opaque and byzantine the system can be!)

7. “Flyover”

US English: Planes (usually fighter jets) passing over an event ceremonially.

Filipino English: A bridge, as for a road or train tracks.

Usage example: “It was very traffic on the Kalayaan Flyover!”

(This is one of the rare cases where Filipinos use the UK sense of a word instead of its US sense. By the way, “very traffic” is not a typo; it’s a common transliteration of the phrase sobrang traffic, both of which you’ll hear all the time in light of Manila’s horrendous congestion.)

8. “Birdie”

US English: Childish word for a little bird; also, a golf term.

Filipino English: Childish or euphemistic word for penis.

Usage example: “Our toddler pulled down his diaper, so everyone on the street saw his birdie!”

9. “Ref”

US English: Short for referee.

Filipino English: Short for refrigerator.

Usage example: “Remember to put the lumpia in the ref.”

10. “Maniac”

US English: A mood disorder with extreme highs and lows.

Filipino English: A sex addict or pervert.

Usage example: “I always stay away from him since my sister said he’s a maniac!”

(It’s usually pronounced with emphasis on the last syllable: “mahn-YAHK.” I heard this may have come from an older movie, but haven’t verified it.)

11. “Commute”

US English: To travel to or from work or school.

Filipino English: To take public transportation (to any destination).

Usage example: “Do you normally drive or commute to the mall?”

12. “Nosebleed”

US English: When you bleed from your nose.

Filipino English: Same literal meeting, but idiomatically, it means to be overwhelmed and perhaps confused (usually with complex English).

Usage example: “Ayyy, so much English! Nosebleed!”

(I believe this comes from a 90s movie. It’s a joking and mildly self-deprecating way for the speaker to say he/she is straining to understand.)

13. “Rubber shoes”

US English: No such phrase, but most of us might take it to mean rain boots.

Filipino English: Sneakers or running shoes.

Usage example: “These heels are killing me. I wish I’d packed my rubber shoes!”

Understanding Filipino English

From funny to a little uncomfortable, there are a few major differences between American and Filipino English.

There are plenty of others, but the ones above have caused me the most confusion or initial surprise.

However, they’re more the exception than the rule. Your US (or UK) English will be understood and often reciprocated.

But if you get to talking fast on an obscure or technical topic, beware that it might cause…you guessed it…”nosebleed”!

Speaking of vocab: if you want to understand and use more Filipino words, then be sure to read my full review of Glossika Tagalog. I love studying the language, but hate getting buried down in abstract grammar, so that app was a game-changer for my own learning.


  • Erik Bassett

    Erik is an American writer with family ties to the Philippines. After visiting and eventually living in Metro Manila, he launched Manila FYI to help visitors understand, enjoy, and thrive in this fascinating part of the world.

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