Tuesday, August 29, 2006

On the meanings of "bebot"

This brief article in YES! magazine by Jose "Pete" Lacaba was posted on the Plaridel listserv, and a response to it (also included below) came from someone else on that listserv:

Showbiz Lengua 35: Bebot
Posted by: "Pete Lacaba" [...]

Mon Aug 28, 2006 9:35 pm (PST)

Jose F. Lacaba


When the American hip-hop group Black Eyed Peas came back to the Philippines in July for a concert at the Araneta Coliseum, the media were quick to point out that their most recent album, Monkey Business (2005), contained a track titled "Bebot."

That's right, bebot--as in girl, woman, the female of the species. And it isn't just the title that's in Tagalog. The entire song is in Tagalog!

Sample lines, from the rapped refrain:

Bebot bebot
Be bebot bebot
Be bebot bebot be
Ikaw ang aking
Bebot bebot...

Okay, it's not exactly Balagtas, but "Bebot, bebot" does have a hypnotic bebop beat to it, like "Hello, Garci."

As everyone in these parts knows, the songwriter and one of the founding members of the Black Eyed Peas--apl.de.ap (a.k.a. Allen Pineda Lindo, a.k.a. Allan Pineda), on whom MalacaƱang has bestowed a Presidential Medal of Merit--has a Filipino mother and takes commendable pride in his Filipino heritage.

But the dude left the Philippines when he was 14, sometime in 1988 or '89, so I can understand why he sounds a little bit retro to me, using a slang word that I haven't heard in a long time.

Words, as the poet T.S. Eliot once put it, "slip, slide, perish, decay with imprecision." That's especially true of slang, which is, by definition, ephemeral.

The word bebot obviously derives from babae, which probably began as reverse slang, ebaba, and has since undergone various slang permutations: ebubot, babong, bobits, bobitski. (Maybe even babe comes from babae, the way pussycat and mother hen are supposed to have evolved from pusa and inahin. That's a joke, okay? Not everything the Lenguador says in this column should be taken as gospel truth.)

Lalaki underwent a similar transformation, though it produced fewer variants: kelolot, kelot.

Bebot and kelot, unlike the other abovementioned variants, are probably still understood by today's generation, but they're hardly ever heard in actual usage nowadays. At least, not where I hang out.

So what's the word today's tambays and phrasemakers use in place of bebot? Take your pick: chick or tsik, chickababe, girlylet, tita, lola, kawimenan. To cite just one example (from the FHM Bullboard webpage, www.fhm.com.ph/board): "Aba... pag na-try ng mga tsik dito ang mga bullboys, wala na silang hahanapin pa."

Of course, by resurrecting bebot and passing it on to the worldwide audience that buys Black Eyed Peas CDs by the hundreds of thousands, apl.de.ap just might make the word current again in the home country. Then maybe we can ask the Pussycat Dolls, whose lead vocalist has Pinoy blood, to do the same for kelot.

2006 September

And a reply:
Re: Showbiz Lengua 35: Bebot
Posted by: "Ramon Sunico" [...]
Mon Aug 28, 2006 11:12 pm (PST)

Senyor and fellow kelot--

Just want to check if your experience of *bebot* (the word, the word) is similar to mine. I still use it with my contemporaries who went to various high schools (Lourdes Mand., Ateneo, San Beda etc) during the 60s. In fact, I even have an aunt who used to be a mean silkscreening hippie from the university belt whom the whole Sampaloc branch of our clan calls Tita Bebot. It's her nickname after all, and for us, it evokes coolness rather than hotness. Now even her apos call her Lola Bebot.

Did it have connotations that the female it was applied to was "hot" or "cheap" i.e. paka?

I ask because I just received an email query (perhaps you did too) about the word, adding that it is being translated in the States as "hot chick" which I think is an ummm overenthusiastic translation.

I'm aware of course that a word's meanings and connotations change over time just as Tommy Eliot says but am just curious when the "hotness" attached itself to the term.

I wonder if apl.d.ap's (and his critiics') usage of it constitutes a case of Fil-ams re-establishing the word's currency but, at the same time, changing its original meaning. Sort of like how words like titi, suso and puki acquired vulgar connotations after the prayles had their way with us. (Thank God for karpinteros, kanteros, mekanikos and tuberos who still use titi as a neutral term [that part of a hardware assembly that goes into a corresponding butas].)



Nothing is more beautiful than a word fitly spoken.
-- Harold Arlen quoting Marcus Aurelius

PS. one other variation is bebits.


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