5 English Words and Phrases Used Differently in the Philippines

The Philippines is known to have been colonized by a number of countries—Spain, United States, and Japan. As such, the Filipino culture has been greatly influenced by the cultures of these countries—from religion to customs, food, clothing, and more. Due to many foreign influences, no wonder that even the language of the Filipinos has evolved to a great extent.

The Americans are one of the nationalities who have contributed much to the present-day language of the Filipinos. In fact, the Philippines is globally recognized as one of the countries in the world with the most number of English speakers. Even more so, Filipinos are known to be more adept in speaking English compared to most nationalities whose first language is not English. Since the American occupation of the Philippines in 1898, the English language has evolved to include new inventions that perfectly capture the culture and traditions of the Filipinos. New words and phrases have been developed and modified; some were even given new meanings. As such, some common words and phrases used in the English language can have a completely different meaning in the Philippines, depending on the context, making English-speaking foreign visitors in the country scratch their heads in trying to figure out what these words and phrases mean.

As an employee of Lexcode Inc., an ISO-certified translation and interpretation company, with a bachelor’s degree in English Studies, these English words and phrases used differently in the Philippines somehow piqued my curiosity. Thus, I have conducted some research and have compiled five of them. For non-Filipino readers, get ready to be enlightened by this list!

Dirty kitchen

American nationals might take this phrase literally, that is, a dirty kitchen is a kitchen that is dirty. In the Philippines, however, the phrase has a different meaning: it is an outdoor kitchen either separate from or connected to the main house, the reasons for the separation or isolation of which includes fire safety, keeping smoke and gas odor out, and keeping charcoal dust and oil grime out. The term is also known to be used in two different scenarios. First, it is used to refer to a common kitchen in any rental establishment that has many rooms and occupants but only a single kitchen. For example, a boarding house may only have one kitchen for all its occupants. This is the dirty kitchen. Second, it is used to refer to a makeshift kitchen, for example, in road construction sites. The specific area where the workers cook and eat their food is called the dirty kitchen. How about you? Does your house have a dirty kitchen?

Dirty ice cream

In the United States, dirty ice cream is a phrase used by a woman to refer to a man whom she dated but is not interested in dating again as he would not stop phoning her. This could imply that the girl is “turned off” that the guy keeps on calling her on the phone every minute of every day. In the Philippines, however, the phrase refers to real ice cream being sold in the streets by vendors with their movable karitons. Dirty ice cream, also known as sorbetes, is the traditional variation of ice cream made in the Philippines. Unlike other iced desserts that are made from the milk of carabaos, cows, or goats, it is uniquely made from coconut milk. Moreover, it is usually served in wafer or sugar cones and, more recently, in bread buns. Now that you know what dirty ice cream really is, would you even consider trying it? I bet you would even like to have it again and again and again after tasting it for the first time!

High blood

This phrase, just like dirty kitchen, might also be taken literally by Americans. For them, high blood could simply refer to patients experiencing high blood pressures. However, in the Philippines, it is used quite differently. Who would have thought that this medical term has something to do with a person’s inability to contain his or her emotions? Filipinos use high blood to describe a person who has anger management issues, that is, someone who gets annoyed or irritated so easily. It is often used to describe people whose feathers get ruffled even with the smallest of things. That is why, in the Philippines, one is most likely to hear Filipinos saying, “Na-high blood Nanay ko sa akin (My mother got high blood over me),” or “Mukhang high blood na naman siya ngayong araw (She seems high blood again today).” So when was the last time you became high blood, I mean, in the Filipino sense of the phrase?


In the United States, chancing, or chance or chanced upon, usually refers to an unplanned encounter or a meeting by coincidence, such as in the case of the children’s song The Big Brown Bear: “I chanced upon a big brown bear / A gruff old bear was he.” In the Philippines, however, the term refers to a mild form of sexual harassment. It describes an act wherein a person makes a move by slyly touching another person’s restricted body parts without the latter’s consent. In other words, it means to take the “chance” to “cop a feel” and make sexual advances over someone who is most likely not wanting such advances. Incidents of panananching usually occur in crowded places. For instance, in Manila, the trains get so packed that men could easily find their arms or hands in touching distance of a women’s breasts. They thus grab this opportunity to do the chancing act. So for women readers, most especially those who commute every day, always stay alert and be aware of the men around you when riding the public transportation to avoid machancingan.


This is the best example there is for words and phrases that have altered meanings when used in the Philippines. Outside of the Philippines, the word salvage is commonly used to describe the act of saving something from destruction or protecting it from further decay. For example, you salvage furniture from a burning building or you salvage precious metals from a ship that has sunk in the ocean. In short, to salvage is to save or protect. However, in the Philippines, the word has received a whole new different meaning, wherein it has become synonymous to murder. In the context of the Filipinos, to salvage is to kill. The word is often used by the media when referring to murder cases wherein the victims were put to death for being criminals. The victims are aptly called salvage victims. So if you are reading this and you happen to be a non-Filipino, consider yourself warned. When a Filipino says he is going to salvage you, he is not going to save you; instead, he is going to do just the opposite.

There you go—five English words and phrases used differently in the Philippines! Isn’t it amazing how the English language, although considered a universal language, continues to surprise us with how diverse it can be? How about you? Can you think of other words and phrases that have different meanings when used in the Philippines?