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Double Speak
Dr. Edgar A. Gamboa
February 7, 2009
reprinted from
"Emails from the Desert" The Asian Journal

It is not exactly the French "double entendre"; but, one finds in the Visayan lingo double words or curiously repeated words. If I wrote this piece sweating ink to achieve content and style, it would be tinu-uray nga sulat (authentic or honest-to-goodness writing). However, if I were sitting bored during a lecture and started doodling, without much thought (huna-huna) or deliberation (duha-duha), that would be sulat-sulat. Genuine poetry is balak, while a drunkard's wild verses would be balak-balak.
If you mastered ballroom dancing and participated in "Dancing with the Stars", you would definitely be dancing (sayaw). But if you were just gyrating in front of the mirror in your room, without much regard for footsteps or rhythm, you would just be dancing-dancing or nag sayaw-sayaw lang. Unless, you were doing the itik-itik, the traditional "duck dance. "  But  then again, the repetitive word makes sense because the Bayanihan folk dancer in you is not the real Donald Duck (itik).
Similarly, if you whistled at a pretty girl -- like in the good old days when you would not be sued for sexual harassment -- that would be taghoy. If you were in the shower, whistling a tune that was neither here nor there, your effort, no matter how virtuoso the repertoire, would merely be taghoy-taghoy (“whistle squared”).
Repeating an action word weakens or diminishes the verb, as if the particular action is not performed in a serious or deliberate manner. Thus sulat-sulat is writing something without diligence or concentration and sayaw-sayaw is dancing without much regard for technique or gracefulness.
The classic double entendre is a figure of speech which carries two meanings, one of which may not be readily apparent. But in Visayan, the second word renders the original noun, pronoun or verb smaller in size (balay or ba'ay is a house, while balay-balay or ba'ay-ba'ay is a playhouse or a small nipa hut ), quicker or short-lived (bisita-bisita is a short, quick visit), or incomplete (tulug-tulug or tug-tug means half asleep and higda-higda literally means not quite lying supine in bed).
Hilak is to cry; hilak-hilak is to also to cry but not as much tears ("crocodile tears") should be flowing down one's cheeks. Patay means dead, but patay-patay as in patay-patay ug trabaho is working oneself to death. Saka is to climb or go upstairs; saka-saka is constant or repetitious climbing. Itoy is a puppy; itoy-itoy is to follow meekly, which is a docile puppy's desirable trait.
Repetitions are not confined to action words. This linguistic technique is commonly applied to pet or nicknames, as in TonTon, Ging-ging, Tingting, JunJun, Lingling, etc.  Note also the Visayan penchant for names ending in "-ing" – Carling, Darling, Coring, Naning, Paking, Pacing, Taling, etc.
Doubling is also a technique for describing a structure that is temporary or unreliable, as in "atup-atup" (a makeshift roof). Or something that is false as in kwarta-kwarta (counterfeit or play money). Interestingly enough, gamay-gamay should denote a small person or animal but it commonly refers to the "small but terrible" individual who possesses extraordinary traits (strength, intelligence, courage, etc.). Thus, gamay-gamay lang pero maayong laki or bright kaayo (he/she is small but very smart).
Interestingly, why is someone gifted with a high IQ maayong laki, not maayong babae? Was it because goodness in the male species in the old Visayas was perceived to be akin to intelligence and goodness in women to virtue? But, we digress. That difference can be the subject of another linguistic exploration.

Habal habal
one sings yabag-yabag, that is arang-arang (a bit better) because the gutsy Elvis impersonator is only slightly off key and not as hopelessly off scale as really yabag !
Even Visayan food is not immune. Bud-bud or bod-bod (suman in Tagalog, the popular delicacy made of steamed sweet rice wrapped in banana leaves), sapin-sapin, another colorful delicacy, and halo-halo are good examples. When in the kitchen, chop the meat and veggies well (tad-tad or tagud-tagud) and take time to cook properly, not just luto-luto, which is playful or careless cooking.
At times, words are repeated to convey courtesy. One might ask guests to lingkud-lingkud lang una  (just sit down), or hulat-hulat lang or hulat-hulata lang (please wait a while Sir (or Ma'am) and please be patient, as when one is confined in the reception room of a busy physician's office). A gracious host and hostess would always politely ask their guests to kindly return soon (balik-balik unya).
Words are so oft repeated that one wonders if the Visayan brain is wired twice or if a significant cultural event in the past (pre-dating the Visayan Lapu-Lapu, the fierce chieftain of Mactan who resisted the Spanish Invasion and killed the renowned explorer Ferdinand Magellan, because this First Filipino hero's name is also doubled!), or a royal edict or something had mandated verbal repetitions. 
Or is it simply because the Asian attitude is to be delicate and sensitive, rather than forceful and forthcoming, and the mere repetition of words convey such courtesy? If a husband goes out drinking with friends (barkada), it is not advisable to tell his wife that he is going out to drink (inum) tuba (coconut wine) or San Miguel beer. It is more diplomatic to say he will just inum-inum (have a few small drinks) with his friends. He might also say, as my uncle used to say, that he was just going out for a walk or suroy-suroy ( to wander around aimlessly) . Or, lakaw-lakaw lang which means to take a walk with no particular destination. And perhaps to smell the flowers along the way – simhot-simhot lang. 
Hinay is to go slow. Is hinay-hinay slower than slow or slower than fast? Or is it the courteous and proper way to tell someone to slow down. If the front seat passenger (or wife) tells the driver (or husband) to drive slowly (hinay), Mr. Andretti  might feel insulted. But not if his wife requested, in her melismatic voice, to "hinay-hinay lang, Darl." That way, there will be no lalis-lalis (a small argument).
Curiously, driving fast is pas-pas. You can tell a cab driver to go super pas-pas so you will not be late for your appointment, but you cannot tell the driver to pas. He will give you a puzzled look. Dali-dali is to hurry; the single dali is understood as hurry, but not the single pas.
The same goes for duc-duc or duk-duk, i.e., striking a nail with a hammer. You can't say the one word duk, as in i-duk ang lansang because that would not make sense. It will have to be duk-duka ang lansang (pound the nail). Same thing with calling the waiter or waitress with the time-honored sit-sit. No, you cannot just sit (pun intended).

In an archipelago of 7,100 islands (depending on whether it's high or low tide, of course), going for a swim in pristine, ever-inviting waters is a favorite pastime among Filipinos.  But rarely do weekend swimmers undertake a strenuous long distance swim. It is delightful enough to just languy-languy (swim-swim) because the water might be, who knows, slightly deep (laum-laum). On the weekend, at the beach, while the children are playing (dula-dula or duwa-duwa), the adults can rest a bit (pahulay-pahulay) after designating someone to watch the kids (bantay-bantay) every so often, from the corner of one's eye, because real close surveillance would be bantay.
One must run away from a mad dog (DAGAN!) but one can take a leisurely jog to exercise (dagan-dagan). Or play hide and seek (tago-tago). Or a game of catch with water-marked ground boundaries (tubig-tubig).
If you think about it, so many Visayan words are verbalized twice:  kaon-kaon (snacks, not a real big dinner), ila-ila (to introduce), tan-aw-tan-aw (to view in bits and pieces or not to stare), tambal-tambal (home remedy, not administered by a nurse or doctor),  sakit-sakit (not a full blown illness or something not too painful which can easily be treated with hilot-hilot, a bit of the native treatment), kanta-kanta (to sing as an amateur in Tawag Nang Tanghalan (the erstwhile Philippine version of American Idol) and not to worry if one's vocal struggles are off pitch or the wrong tone). By the way, if

Langoy langoy
Lakaw lakaw
You may recall encouraging your childhood playmates to climb a tree (kat-kat), but they would not have understood if you simply said kat.  Just as you could not ask your lavandera to lad – she had to lad-lad so your wet clothes could dry in the sun. Nor can you say do not dak, if you asked the lavandera not to drop (dak-dak) the laundry basket. Similarly, you could not simply say kut, if you wanted your household help to scrape (kut-kut) the coconut or cantaloupe for desert.
Along the same linguistic rule, you cannot say that your teeth are pud or pod from eating.  But if you said pud-pud, people will understand that you chipped or cracked your teeth from biting (kit-kit) on a sugar cane stalk or on an aged coconut.  Same thing with sug-sug if your hand catches a wood splinter. You just can't say sug. If you are a sculptor, you cannot til (or chisel) something into art. Like Michelangelo, you will have to patiently til-til the marble into something remarkable.
Are Visayans naturally being diplomatic, courteous, sensitive to other people's feelings? Or are we plainly inefficient, having to speak twice as much, laden with human frailties?  Langay-langay (slow like a turtle), tapul-tapul (a bit lazy), sulti-sulti (to gossip or spread rumors), pala-pala (to flatter) – do these repetitious words define us?

Kat kat
Or are we rather faithful to a hallowed tradition? Sige-sige bisag unsaon (to go on despite the odds), simba-simba perme (to attend church often), tabang-tabang (to keep on helping) – are these our inherent ethnic virtues?
Whatever it is, double speak is the way Visayans talk.  I am not a Tagalog expert, having spent only a year in Manila for postgraduate internship at the Veterans Memorial Hospital. Much less am I an expert in the other Filipino tongues. But do barong-barong, dahan-dahan, tagal-tagal, etc. suggest a similar linguistic trait?
How about Hawaiians? Don't they like to dance the hula-hula, eat huli-huli chicken, and get a lomi-lomi massage? Is double speak solely a Visayan thing or a wider linguistic trait that originates from Asian /Pacific Islander roots?
I hope some expert linguist out there can sort out this sari-sari mystery for me. Then I can get out of this hilit-hilit (small corner) of our home and join my wife for kapi-kapi (a small cup of coffee).  Maybe...but what do we make of hong-hong (to whisper) and the quadruple honghong-honghong?
And what in the world is the rationale for tang-tang (to remove), bis-bis (to water the plants or flowers), bit-bit (to carry a purse or basket) and their rat-tat-tat quadruples: tang/tang-tang/tang – bis/bis-bis/bis – bit/bit-bit/bit????