The Lingo

There are people in this camp from all kinds of places on the earth. There’s a lot from the US that are the police mentors, a bunch from Nepal that make up the majority of the security forces that guard us day and night. Also in the police trainers, there are quite a few South Africans. The majority of the mid-level staff in the offices and service and support roles are from the Philippines. The IT pros are also from the Philippines and from America. And of course, half the camp is Local Nationals from the Kabul area.

So I’m thinking that there are quite a few conversations in Filipino that go something like this:

Did you hear what he just said?

He said “cool!”

Why does he say “cool?” That’s the craziest expression I’ve ever heard!

I’m pretty sure this happens because the Americans laugh a little at some of the expressions that the different nationalities use when they are speaking the required English that we do all our business in. Here are my favorites:

Why like this?


Why like that?

This one is pretty entertaining, and it is to say, “Why would you do what you are doing?” or, “Why would do that?” It’s tough to take it seriously, but the Filipinos who use it are pretty serious when they ask why you’re doing what you’re doing.


This is the word that comes before almost everything that some of my Filipino co-workers say. They pronounce it “base – eh – cull – ee” and it is a long word when they say it, so it ends up sounding like three or four words. The way they say it is not what’s funny; what’s funny is that usually, it means that whatever follows is not a “basic” type of explanation. It’s a verbal crutch, and you guessed it, I say it now too. Basically, it’s going to be a hard habit to break.


Ghafoor, the Afghani who sits next to me, says this all the time in his thickly accented English. The dashes indicate that he says this like one word as a response to many requests. It sometimes takes the place of the more eloquent English expression, “mmmhmmm.” One of these days, I want to hear one of my American co-workers snap and just shout, “IT IS NOT OKAY AND IT IS A PROBLEM! IT’S A BIG, BIG PROBLEM!” But I don’t think it’s going to happen. Ghafoor always says it with a smile on his face, so how could you go crazy when he says it like that?

I am sending the email, and then I’m taking the numbers and I’m typing them into the spreadsheet and then I am doing the reporting on the PO Log.

While training, you’ll get some explanations like this instead of the more standard, “I  send an email, then take the numbers and type them into a spreadsheet. After that, I make some reports from the PO Log.” To me, this turn of the phrase, and the liberal use of participles is the foreign nationals’ way of indicating that they are not just engaging in activities – they ARE the activities. I am sending. I am typing. I am doing. It’s like they are all French. Anyway, the next time you are asked what you do for a living, you should respond in this abstraction, “I am doing the accounting.” People will take you tons more seriously.

It’s a name, but shorter

This is a funny story that will make me look like an idiot, so here we go. There is a woman who works in my office, but you might miss her on the first glance because she’s a very small person. Weighing in at a max of 90 lbs, Christianne is a very smart lady from the Philippines who travels to different sites all over Afghanistan to help in the DynCorp offices. She’s leaving soon, but when I first got here, my boss was talking about the staff, and he called her “TinTin” which is what everyone calls her.

He said “TinTin” was a Filipino word or phrase that meant, “short,” or something like that. She’s very short, so I didn’t think twice about it. Until I was sitting with the Filipinos at dinner and I was curious about the name “TinTin.” So instead of just coming out and asking about it, I started out telling the self-effacing story of how Layne’s band doesn’t know my real name because one time, she called me a nickname and now, all they know is the nickname. I asked if my nickname “BuBu” meant anything in Filipino, and they said no, but that “BoBo” means “stupid,” or something like that.

This story is getting long, but I really enjoy it, so I’m going to finish it up.

So then, satisfied that I had thrown out something personal and a bit embarrassing of my own, I asked what “TinTin” meant, and they said that it was Christianne’s nickname. To which I replied, yes, but what does it mean? And they proceeded to tell me that a nickname is a name, but shorter.

She’s called “TinTin” because her name Christianne, sounds more like Christian, with a hard “Tin” sound at the end when they say it. So everyone started calling her “TinTin” for short.

And yes, you guessed it, the real misunderstanding award goes to . . . my boss for not getting that when they were talking about the name “TinTin,” they weren’t saying it MEANT “short,” but that it WAS short.

Short for her name.

Like nicknames are.

I hope I’m not the only one who thinks that’s funny, and in the end can see that no matter what broken English phrases I find funny, my misunderstandings of what people actually mean, in any language, can be just as broken.

But that doesn’t mean that when I get back and you tell me that you really enjoyed the new Sufjan Stevens album, I won’t respond, “Why like that?”

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2 Responses to The Lingo

  1. Nathan Ford says:

    “He’s whispering less, hollering more. And at the climax of The Age of Adz, the devout Christian and poster boy for mannered indie-dude sensitivity shouts, “I’m not f*ckin’ around!” no less than 16 times. Believe him.” 8.4 on Pitchfork