Tagalog – English Dictionary

I am providing you with this Tagalog-English Dictionary to help you understand some of the Filipino words I used on this website. In November 2021, I started using footnotes. You will find definitions there too.

Because most of my readers are Filipinos, you will find some Tagalog words in many of the articles. When giving examples to Filipino readers, I feel that using local words helps a lot. And I am also aware of other readers who only understand English.

Filipino Words

These are Filipino words used in this website.


Most often, bayan refers to the town proper. In the town proper, you will find the church, municipal hall, plaza, market, hospital, and cemetery. It has something to do with how the Spaniards organized towns. They wanted Filipinos to congregate in one place.

Bayan, however, has extended meanings.

Bayan may refer to a town or city with which Filipinos associate themselves. A town is a bayan. It may also refer to cities because Filipinos do not really distinguish between towns and cities. Politicians care more about that, not the common folks.

Bayan may also mean the whole Philippines.


The direct translation of bayani in English is the word hero. But it is nearer to the word patriot when we refer to our national heroes like Jose Rizal and Andres Bonifacio.

The last line of our anthem says that it is our joy to die for our country.

Ninoy Aquino said the Filipinos are worth dying for. This means that a bayani is willing to sacrifice his life for his bayan. Bayan, in this sense, is not just the Philippines, but the Filipinos.

When say that OFWs are bagong bayani (new heroes), we are not making a new definition. A bayani is anyone who sacrifices their life for his or her country – and he or she does not have to die to show love for the country.


Bayanihan is a cultural value of Filipinos. We believe that everyone has the responsibility to help fellow Filipinos who are in need. We do it together.

It may seem to others that we help strangers who are in need. Not really. Every Filipino belongs to the bayan (the Philippines).

A call for bayanihan is a call for everyone to make good things happen. In this sense, we agree with Cory Aquino who believed that Filipinos are worth living for.

Read Bayanihan: When Ordinary Filipinos Become Heroes


Lugaw is rice porridge. It is also a derogatory remark used by Diehard Duterte Supporters to describe Leni Robredo. They say that she does not know anything about governance. On the contrary, she has proven that she is a very intelligent leader. When government officials said that lugaw is not essential, most Filipinos did not agree. Lugaw is essential in our daily lives. And the VP fully embraced Leni Lugaw.

Read: The Relentless Leadership of Leni Robredo


Malasakit is a Filipino value of caring and acting on the needs of others. The word sakit means pain. When a person values malasakit, that person takes ownership of that pain and finds ways to ease it. Someone who has malasakit does not just wait and see for things to happen. They act for they hold themselves responsible.

Ningas Kugon

Ningas Kugon is a pattern of behaviors demonstrated by people who work on a project or challenge with zest and enthusiasm but never get to finish what they started. After an enthusiastic beginning, they disappear upon reaching the first obstacle.

Ningas means fire. But in this context, it means quick and abrupt fire.

Cogon grass is a tall perennial grass. When it is dry it easily catches fire. It is easily consumed too.

Therefore, the fire it causes is abrupt and sometimes scary. But the fire won’t last in a cogon field.


Pay attention to two words: Kapwa and tao. It is a common mistake to translate the word kapwa as others in English. I translate kapwa as other-self. Being human (tao) is a shared identity. It is not the same as saying other people, but more of “we shared one humanity.”  

This translation is philosophical, I know. But that’s what pakikipagkapwa-tao means. Something that Google cannot translate to foreigners.


Trapo is a rag. Often, it means a dirty rag.

Trapo is also a derogatory word for traditional politicians. It is like saying that a trapo is a dirty politician. Serving in the government for a long time does not make one a trapo. Politicians who make promises they will not keep, who lie and cheat, and who try to appear righteous trapo.

Some journalists use the word tradpols. It is a safe word for it does not convey anything. Even a new politician can be considered trapo when his actions are deemed “dirty”.

Utang na Loob

Utang na loob is often translated as a debt of gratitude. Another word is reciprocity.

In Cialdini’s first principle of persuasion, reciprocity is used to persuade people who felt obliged to return the favor we give them.

In its purest sense, utang na loob is a recognition of the help one received from someone who did not expect anything in return.

It is not like Don Corleone’s an offer you cannot refuse. Utang na loob is not meant to be a contract but a recognition of an important gift.

Utang na loob is corrupted when someone uses government money and position to pay his debts.

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