A Song and a Memory

Some twenty-one years ago I was on a Jeepney in Dagupan, in the Philippines.

fig. 1: A Jeepney. Technically this one is from Olongapo, not Dagupan, but close enough.

And the radio was playing. A song came on which I had never heard, but the first line I heard made me laugh so so hard, and even though I only heard it once, I've never forgotten it:

Nais kong malaman mo Na ako'y nagtatampo...

Which, admittedly, isn't very funny if you don't speak Tagalog. So I'll translate:

I want you to know That I'm...Tampo ing

okay, there's admittedly a problem with my translation. “Tampo” is a very difficult word to translate. So let's do what we always do when we run into hard words and ask the venerable Father Leo English and his amazing 1,600 page Tagalog-to-English dictionary:

fig. 2: Father English explains “Tampo”

“Sulkiness” kinda works, but it misses the nature of “Tampo”. “To have a grouch” is a hilariously odd way to express the real concept. My definition would be “to demonstratively sulk, to let someone know that you are sulking because of them.” Americans might say “throw a fit”.

So the lyric translates more or less to

I want to let you know That I'm [demonstratively sulking]/[throwing a fit]

And to me that's a hilarious thing to say. It's something I'd expect from my five year old.

Anyway, for the past two decades I've sung that single line over and over again, especially when one of my kids is throwing a fit. And yesterday I realized that hey, Spotify exists. I can probably find that song and see if the rest of it is that funny.

I did. It is.

The song is called “Hindi mo ba alam?” Which literally means:

| Hindi | mo  | ba             | alam | 
---------------------------------------
| Not   | you | question mark  | know |

fig. 3: I love Tagalog, can you tell?

We would normally translate it as “Don't you know?” or more colloquially in English, “Didn't you know?”

And you can listen to it here.

fig. 4: “Pantasya” is more phonetic when you know that “p” and “f” are basically the same letter in Tagalog.

The first verse (more or less) translates as:

Hindi mo ba alam          | Didn't you know
Na ako'y nasasakdan       | That I get hurt
Sa tuwing ikaw ay aalis   | Every time you leave
at hindi nag paalam       | and don't say goodbye
Nais kong malaman mo      | I want to let you know
na ako'y nag tatampo      | that I'm sulking
Pag nalimutan mo          | Because you forgot
ang pasalubong ko         | to bring me a "pasalubong"
                          | [small traditional gift you
                          | give when you come back
                          | from a trip]

fig. 5: Translations are so much fun.

But Here's the Important Thing

I'm not making fun of this song! For one thing, I honestly can't tell if it's serious or a joke. I'm guessing joke, but if it's serious, it's possibly even more interesting. It's also a fun analysis of how language reflects a mindset. Americans don't have pasalubong as a part of our culture, sadly. So understanding why someone would be hurt because you came back from visiting your mom and didn't get them anything is mystifying.

The Thesis

“Tampo” is a great word, and we need to borrow it into English as soon as possible.

I’m publishing this as part of 100 Days To Offload. You can join in yourself by visiting 100 Days To Offload.

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