Dec 13, 2010

Why do Filipinos make sitsit? Part 3 of 3

Dear Filipino,

First question: don't you notice that when you are in the men's restroom with fellow Pinoys, we usually spit before making weewee? Hahaha!  Or how we use our lips for pointing things and making sitsit (psst psst) to others, esp. kids?  More serious qs to come -- hope Mark Zuckerberg buys this great site for $ 1 billion!

Sweaty in Singapore

[Part 1 -- "Spitting before pissing" has been answered here.  Part 2 -- "Pointing by lips" is here.  This is Part 3 -- "Making sitsit."]

Dear Sweaty,

Sorry for the long delay with my third installment.  Over the last few days, I was very busy and traveling -- from the Old to the New World -- and had kids in tow to babysit to boot.  Right now, I'm in bed with my laptop, awake in the wee hours of the morning because of jet lag, and so have some time to devote to the task of trying to decipher mind-blowing riddles of cosmic importance -- like your question, for instance.

But it's a good thing you parenthetically qualified your question because sitsit actually has two meanings/usages. 

One usage of sitsit in Tagalog is to engage in tsismis or gossip.  Now, many Filipinos do engage in a lot of tsismis, but this is not your question so I will not talk about it.  Besides, it's also really a minefield of a topic I'd rather avoid for now.

The other usage, the one enclosed in your parenthesis, is the onomatopoeic Filipino word for calling or attracting someone's attention in a surreptitous, inconspicuous or unobstrusive way.  

It is onomatopoeic because the word is derived from the sound associated with the act of calling itself.  But since Tagalog is a language based originally on a syllabary system of writing which does not really allow for syllables to not have a vowel, we drop the "p," add the "i" and use "sit" twice (another interesting habit: our act of repeating words), even though we really produce the sound "psst," which is a fairly common "interjection" -- i.e., "a sudden short utterance; an ejaculation."

But why do we sitsit?

For this, I think we need to go back to the definition above to divine an answer.  Notice the adjectives "surreptitous," "inconspicuous," and "unobtrusive" preceding the word "way"?

My guess is that its usage became popular among Filipinos for similar reasons that made pointing with lips popular.  And maybe because we've been colonized by foreigners for hundreds of years, we needed to adopt or invent other ways to communicate for situations that require more finesse, subtlety and/or secretiveness. 

Thus, we make sitsit to genericize a call out (akin to a whistle really when, say, a sexy lady is passing) or to call the attention of another when it would be advantageous not to use his/her name.

And because we are not an in-your-face culture, calling by sitsit is also the closest you can get to a whispery shout, if such an oxymoron is even possible.  (Thus, quite understandably, in some cases, it can be quite annoying or downright insulting.) 

Now, the use of sitsit with kids is generally the same as its use with adults, except of course it also functions as a stronger form of "shhhh" to hush them into silence.  That "t" in the "psst" impressively gives it the force of a command and really functions as an authoritative exclamatory ending necessary to compel obedience. 

Take it from someone who has to babysit lovable but overeager and quarreling kids from time to time.

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