Learn New Words FAST with this Lesson’s Vocab Review List

Get this lesson’s key vocab, their translations and pronunciations. Sign up for your Free Lifetime Account Now and get 7 Days of Premium Access including this feature.

Or sign up using Facebook
Already a Member?

Lesson Notes

Unlock In-Depth Explanations & Exclusive Takeaways with Printable Lesson Notes

Unlock Lesson Notes and Transcripts for every single lesson. Sign Up for a Free Lifetime Account and Get 7 Days of Premium Access.

Or sign up using Facebook
Already a Member?

Lesson Transcript


Alisha: What are some common Filipino idioms?
Danilo: And how are they used?
Alisha: At FilipinoPod101.com, we hear these questions often. In the following scenario, Karen Lee hears an idiom she's not familiar with, so she asks Felix Flores,
"What does ‘bone and skin' mean?"
Karen Lee: Anong ibig sabihin ng "buto't balat?"
Karen Lee: Anong ibig sabihin ng "buto't balat?"
Felix Flores: Ang ibig sabihin nun ay kulang sa nutrisyon.
Alisha: Once more with the English translation.
Karen Lee: Anong ibig sabihin ng "buto't balat?"
Alisha: "What does ‘bone and skin' mean?"
Felix Flores: Ang ibig sabihin nun ay kulang sa nutrisyon.
Alisha: "It means malnourished."

Lesson focus

Alisha: In this lesson, we will learn some commonly-used Filipino idioms. Idioms are expressions with meanings that are not evident from the words alone. A good example of this is the English idiomatic expression: ‘a piece of cake', which refers to something being very easy to do. We usually use idioms to emphasize the message we want to deliver to the listener.
You might not have idioms on your list of priorities when learning Filipino, but they can really make your speech come to life! In Filipino, idioms are known as
Danilo: [NORMAL] sawikain [SLOWLY] sawikain
[Recall 1]
Alisha: Let us take a closer look at the dialogue.
Do you remember how Karen Lee asks, "What does ‘bone and skin' mean?"
Karen Lee: Anong ibig sabihin ng "buto't balat?"
Alisha: And now, do you remember how Felix answers, "It means malnourished."
Felix Flores: Ang ibig sabihin nun ay kulang sa nutrisyon.
Alisha: Filipinos say this when somebody is so thin that you can see their bones. It is exactly the same as our English expression, ‘Skin and bones'. While some Filipino idioms reflect English ones, others are quite unique. Let us start with this interesting one:
Danilo: [NORMAL] Balitang kutsero. [SLOWLY] Balitang kutsero.
Alisha: Literally, it means ‘Horse drawn cart driver's news'. When news is said to be from a
Danilo: Balitang kutsero
Alisha: it means that the news is not proven yet to be the truth. It is still a rumour or gossip, and therefore not 100% reliable! Another wonderful Filipino idiom that we don't have an English equivalent for is
Danilo: [NORMAL] Magaan ang dugo [SLOWLY] Magaan ang dugo
Alisha: The literal meaning is ‘light blood'. This term is used to describe someone you are rather partial to, even when you barely know the person. You just know that he or she is a good sort of person! You could also say this to describe someone who is easy to get along with.
Our next idiomatic expression is one you should be familiar with in English. We all know that one person who has the ‘gift of the gab', so to speak. In Filipino, such a person is a
Danilo: [NORMAL] Matamis ang dila. [SLOWLY] Matamis ang dila.
Alisha: which translates to ‘sweet tongue.' The idiom describes someone who can speak with eloquence and fluency, and is thereby able to influence people, which can be either a good or a bad thing!
This next idiom has a different kind of sweetness, and conjures up images of infants and baby animals:
Danilo: [NORMAL] May gatas pa sa labi. [SLOWLY] May gatas pa sa labi.
Alisha: It means ‘There is still milk on the lips'. We say this about someone who is still very young, innocent, and pure. It is similar to the English expression ‘wet behind the ears'.
Now, in a tropical country full of warmth and lush fruit, it is not surprising to hear of fruit-related idioms, such as this one:
Danilo: [NORMAL] Bungang-araw [SLOWLY] Bungang-araw
Alisha: The word
Danilo: Bungang
Alisha: means "fruit," and the literal meaning of the expression is ‘fruit of the sun'. When used in conversation, the idiom is used to describe prickly heat—something you are sure to feel in a Filipino summer! Here is another fruity idiom:
Danilo: [NORMAL] Bungang-tulog. [SLOWLY] Bungang-tulog
Alisha: This one means ‘fruit of sleep', and it refers to dreams. Quite a beautiful analogy—don't you think?
Now, this next idiom is pretty descriptive:
Danilo: [NORMAL] Kutong lupa. [SLOWLY] Kutong lupa.
Alisha: The literal meaning is 'soil lice' or 'ground lice', and is often used when someone is irritated by the behavior of small kids. In a sentence, it sounds like this:
Danilo: Ang ingay ng mga kutong lupa na 'to!
Alisha: ‘These kids are too noisy!'
We can follow that with something distinctly Filipino:
Danilo: [NORMAL] Hindi makabasag ng pinggan. [SLOWLY] Hindi makabasag ng pinggan.
Alisha: meaning ‘can't break a plate.' It refers to shy, delicate, and modest women. Do you know someone like that?
Okay, now the following idiom is a positive, hopeful expression:
Danilo: [NORMAL] Magdilang Anghel [SLOWLY] Magdilang Anghel
Alisha: It means to ‘have an angel tongue'. If someone has just said something really good and positive, we say this to them in the hopes that what they said will come true! You could say it like this:
Danilo: [NORMAL] Sana magdilang anghel ka. [SLOWLY] Sana magdilang anghel ka.
Alisha: meaning ‘I wish what you said comes true'.
Of course, there are also times when people say things that make your blood boil. The Filipino have an idiom for that too!
Danilo: [NORMAL] Nagpanting ang tenga [SLOWLY] Nagpanting ang tenga
Alisha: It literally means ‘the ear twitched' and is used when you are irritated or angry, sending your blood rushing to your ears.
How about some idioms for the great divide between rich and poor? The Filipino have a few, but we will just look at three. First, here is an idiom to describe someone being born wealthy:
Danilo: [NORMAL] May gintong kutsara sa bibig. [SLOWLY] May gintong kutsara sa bibig.
Alisha: It literally translates to ‘with a golden spoon in the mouth'. The English counterpart is 'born with a silver spoon in his mouth.' On the flip side, if you are feeling broke, here is one for you!
Danilo: [NORMAL] Butas ang bulsa [SLOWLY] Butas ang bulsa
Alisha: It means 'hole in the pocket'. With this phrase, you are telling people that you have no more money, as though it fell through a hole in your pocket. Then, there is this popular and expressive Tagalog idiom that is fitting for those who really have nothing:
Danilo: [NORMAL] Isang kahig isang tuka. [SLOWLY] Isang kahig isang tuka.
Alisha: It means 'One scratch on the ground, one peck.' Have you ever noticed the way chickens eat? They scratch and peck till they find something, all day long. This idiom is used to describe the life of those who live hand-to-mouth, earning just enough for a day. In other words, the idiom means having barely enough to get by.
And now, how about an idiom for the dark side? We need those too! The expression
Danilo: [NORMAL] Maitim ang dugo [SLOWLY] Maitim ang dugo
Alisha: translates as ‘dark-blooded' and, when used in a conversation, it signifies an evil or bad person. Hopefully, you won't often have use for this idiom!
We are going to leave you with this final amusing idiom that carries a good hint:
Danilo: [NORMAL] Magsunog ng kilay [SLOWLY] Magsunog ng kilay
Alisha: It literally means ‘to burn eyebrows,' but has nothing to do with burning and is something parents say when reminding their kids to study hard. You might hear it among students too, although more likely to tease that one friend who passes the exam with flying colors because they stayed up all night burning their eyebrows!
Cultural Expansion
Alisha: Idioms may often make a lot of sense, but they are not meant to be taken literally. A really excellent reason to learn a few is that it shows your commitment to understanding the culture. In the Philippines and, in fact, all over Asia, you will hear hundreds of colorful sayings and you might be surprised at how often some of them are used in normal conversation. Remember too that the Philippines has many languages, although most of the idioms are likely to be in Tagalog.


Alisha: Do you have any more questions? We're here to answer them!
Danilo: Paalam!
Alisha: See you soon!