Dec 27, 2010

Why is "Milk!" a Filipino expletive?

Dear Filipino,

How did the Spanish word "leche" become a Filipino cuss word?

Tony S.
Los Angeles, CA


Dear Tony,

You have to understand that when the noble Spaniards decided to colonize and Christianize us, they didn't really bother educating us about the finer distinctions between the eschatological and the scatological.

If you're confused as to which is which because they are almost homophonic and homonymous, here's a short guide: The former deals with the Second Coming, the resurrection of the dead, the Last Judgment, heaven and hell; the latter, on the other hand, is about giving someone hell.  One is obsessed with fatal matters, the other with fecal matters.

This is an important starting point because it appears the Spaniards have mastered both.  That's why they are credited with having brought many to the Christian fold and having formulated one of the world's most devastating invectives ever hurled, as compiled by Cracked.com.  And the Spanish insult in the Cracked.com compilation provides the clue to the riddle behind the Filipino expletive.

So, why "milk"?

(Source: Jane Heller.) 
Some people who have some familiarity in this area think that milk, when used as a profanity in Spanish, refers to male sperm, presumably because of the similarity in color between the two liquidy substances, and that somehow because of this reference, the phrase in and of itself becomes offensive. 

I urge you not to buy into that line of thinking.

The etymological theory to which I subscribe is the one which is reasonably related to the eschatological-scatological conundrum I mentioned above, and it is this: that "leche" is derived from "Me cago en la leche," which literally translates to "I defecate in the milk."

Now, this phrase is meant to be not just irreverent and profane but outrightly blasphemous of the Catholic rite of Communion.  Why?  Because leche is used interchangeably with the word hostia ("host") -- as in "Me cago en la hostia," among many other colorful usages, especially in Spain and Puerto Rico

For Catholics, the "host," of course, is the religious symbolism for the "Body of Christ," or the transubstantiated Host of the Eucharist.  So how more offensive can you get to Catholics than by uttering that deplorably hideous phrase?

Whether the Filipinos who first used leche as an obscenity knew of its etymology, nobody really knows, I think.  We do know that the Spaniards did not really want Filipinos to learn Spanish, but the natives caught on to their overlords' language anyway, albeit incompletely and inaccurately. 

In this case, they probably got the "milk" part and that part only -- but appropriated it nonetheless for their own use.  (It's also entirely possible, of course, that some just purposefully shortened the phrase to make it more emphatic and more punchy while at the same time avoiding the use of the potty word cago.) 

Hence, many Filipinos now commonly say "Leche!" (pronounced and spelled sometimes as "Letse!") when they swear.  And when they want to direct their ire to a specific person or persons, they say, quite nonsensically, "Leche ka!" ("You're milk!") or "Mga leche kayo lahat!" ("You are all milk!"), without really comprehending what they are in fact saying and without knowing they may be "attacking" their very own religion.

They do know one thing:  That when they're yelling these intended obscenities, they want to give the recipients some measure of hell.  As to the recipients, they can only wish, quite understandably, that the Second Coming is indeed nigh.

Got a question for The Filipino?  Email him now at askthepinoy@gmail.com.

3 comments:

The Korean said...

That was fascinating.

Miko said...

I actually thought it was the "first" definition ("sp*rm"). I was going through the meaning in Wikipedia, there's actually a while subject related to the matter LOL

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_profanity

Jake said...

Hello Filipino,

Thoroughly enjoy this subject, since I was the receiving end of a traffic altercation. Confused, I responded in kind with a chocolate shake spilled at his feet. Not confused anymore - thank you sir! Respectfully -- Jake

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