How Swardspeak was born, truly-ly!
- Linda Grace Cariño () - May 4, 2008 - 12:00am

Imbudo ak, sh_ _.”  The statement was uttered by a loudish gay sort as he blazed through the restaurant dining room in a huff and a puff, diaphanous skirt twirling.

Imbudo. Having lunch, I was amused to note, not for the first time, that Swardspeak had certainly been “localized,” long ago finding its way into even Iloco usage. For the uninitiated, imbudo is a word that means irritated, angry, upset. In its purer Tagalog form, “Imbudo ako,” means “I’m irritated/angry/upset.”

Imbudo, however, is already a derivative. Its root word is imbiyerna, the two words sharing the first three letters. The latter is still used, as is the shortened version of both words, which is, simply, im. One can thus say, simply, “Im ako.”

Imbiyerna (from the Spanish word for hell impiyerno) was coined by one gay friend named Rikki Dalu as he sat in a Spanish class feeling hellish, trying to memorize words and their meanings, like he was in impiyerno. 

Being a feminist of the highest order, Rikki decided to feminize the word, mentally changing it to impiyerna as Spanish words are feminized. How did it go from there to imbiyerna? Well, Rikki thought the “B” softened it.

Rikki is actually the originator of the language that has become Swardspeak (lately, Gayspeak) Along with myself and some other “show” cases, he belonged to a barkada of theater students at UP Diliman in the mid-to-late 1970s, the time when Tony Mabesa blew into town from all over the world “to serve his country.” It was actually in this theatrical context where Swardspeak was born, nourished, and flourished.

Bongga (more recently bonggacious), meaning “Wow!” was rooted in bong, the sound of a drum, for something that heralded a grand entrance or such, something deserving of percussion: bong!  Feminized: bongga. Chikahan was rooted in chica, which came into use from another of Rikki’s Spanish class musings. “Chica!” (“Girl!”) became the tribal greeting and was followed by the continental kiss on two cheeks, blown into the air. 

Luz Valdez (later Lucinda) first got uttered at a cast party where Rikki gave away mock awards for the show. It was the “other” award, not for a win, but for a loss. “Valdez” attached itself when the award needed a name.

After doing an article on Swardspeak for my local Baguio column, I got stopped by a good number of friends wanting to know, is that really how it happened, people playing with words? Sure. 

It was in Baguio one summer, with the whole Dulaang UP gang, that the term madugo acquired its present Swardspeak denotation:  bloody, as in madugong exam. It came about because Tony used to say of his laboratory theater previews that they were Greek bloodbaths. You know, after he ripped us all apart with what he’d say about our student productions, which have evolved into the UP Dulaang Laboratoryo regular season. There was “blood on the floor” from his preview.

It was also Tony who popularized the expression “If I know...” — a transliteration, I suppose, of “Hmmm, kung alam ko lang, ha...” Other Tony-isms: “I’m sure,” taas-kilay and, of course, pakibaba ang kilay ko.

One more Dalu-ism is shoongingi, meaning stupid. At home, it has since evolved into shoonger. “You’re such a shoonger,” for example, is said to someone who comes home with a dud, like overpriced strawberries. 

And now, literally from the Baguio streets: this term, The double “W” stands for wagwagan or second-hand stores; a visit to one is sure to be on every tourist’s itinerary.

It’s quite fascinating that this once-coded language (we used it so no one would understand us) is now a lingua franca of sorts. I wonder if Rikki at all knows the extent to which his word games have affected language in Philippine society, no less. 

But I forget: the term Swardspeak was itself coined by a straight, audacious San Juan named Audie, who used to handle lights at the old Dulaang UP.

And where is he now? All over the place, just like the language he named.

* * *

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