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Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Art of Speaking in Numbers

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There are numbers, and there are “numbers”… and there are number combinations.

It’s no surprise that, just like any other person on earth, we use numbers for what they were originally designed for, like counting, telling time, and measuring lengths/distances.

What’s interesting is that we Filipinos also use numbers to refer to other things (or situations), sometimes without any reference or relation (at all) to the numbers involved. For example:
  • Five-six – is a type of loan
  • Syete (seven) – refers to a style of haircut
  • Pito-pito (seven-seven) – is a “medicinal” cocktail said to be a cure for headaches, fever, cough, colds, migraine, asthma, abdominal pains, and diarrhea among many other things. It is prepared by boiling together seven types of herbs (alagaw, banaba, bayabas, pandan, mangga, anis, and cilantro).
  • Siyam-siyam (nine-nine) – used to denote “a long and indeterminate length of time” or “being subjected to a lot of trouble”
  • Onse (eleven) – could mean “gyp” or “deceive” when used in a certain manner, particularly in money matters.
  • Beynte nuwebe (twenty-nine) – refers to a fan knife (or balisong)
  • Kuwarentay singko (forty-five) – refers to a .45 caliber pistol
What’s more interesting is that we are also able to communicate/convey complete thoughts/messages using numbers alone, like in doing commerce.

Speaking in numbers has been made (very) effective with the usage of a combination of Filipino and “localized” Spanish wherein the number spoken in Filipino pertains to quantity (as in the number of pieces), whereas the number spoken in Spanish pertains to the amount/price.

For example:
  • Ilan yung beynte? (How many is the twenty?) – Usually asked by jeepney/FX drivers when receiving a 20-peso bill, the true meaning of which is “How many persons/passengers is this 20-pesos going to pay for?” There’s also “Ilan yung singkuwenta?” (“How many is the fifty?”), “Ilan yung isang daan?” (“How many is the one hundred?”), “Ilan yung dalawang daan?” (“How many is the two hundred?”), and “Ilan yung sanlibo?” (“How many is the one thousand?”)
  • Isa lang po yung beynte. (The twenty is only one.) – this is one of the passengers’ possible responses to the question stated in the previous item, the true meaning of this would be “The 20 pesos is for only one person’s fare.”
  • Tatlo dos (three two) – means “three pieces for two pesos”
  • Kinse isa (fifteen one) – means “fifteen pesos a piece”
  • Singkuwenta isa (fifty one) – means “fifty pesos a piece”
However, for larger denominations (higher than 50 pesos), the “Filipino-Spanish” combination no longer apply. Instead, all numbers are stated in Filipino…
  • Tatlo isang-daan (three one hundred) – means “three pieces for one hundred pesos”
  • Sanlibo isa (one thousand one) – means “one thousand pesos a piece”
Even so, the message is unmistakable.

Common knowledge? Yes, but amazing nevertheless.


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