“What else?!” the voice of Miss Faith R. Apurillo reberberated off the concrete walls of our perenially echoing classroom. The young woman stood, fingers knitted neatly in front of her chest, eyeing her students with a half-wink. A lock of combed and coifed hair dangled across the front of her school uniform. Starched and pressed, naturally. I would’ve never expected such volume to be achievable by my petite co-teacher. But a bellowing set of pipes, I’d learned, was a primary requirement for teaching in the Philippines.
A hand shot up from the middle of class.
“Alright. Ronnelyn.” Faith’s fingers unknitted and settled on her hips, wiry elbows akimbo. Still that half-wink smile.
“For me, I have BLOWING BUBBLES,” giggled Ronnelyn, standing. She clutched her one-fourth sheet of bond paper in both hands. “It means, telling lies. Akon sentence,” she continued, slipping momentarily into Waranglish, “is ‘You are fond of blowing bubbles that’s what you can’t take away from it till now.”
“Alright,” nodded Miss Faith. And then, once again, the petite bellow: “What else?”
The day’s topic for Developmental Reading I was idioms. Miss Faith and I had spent the morning in the teacher’s lounge writing common idiomatic phrases on cartolina paper. CALL THE DOGS OFF. A PRETTY PENNY. TRIAL BY FIRE. We’d then cut the idioms in half. Students were then to find their ‘idiom-mate’ (Faith had coined the term, and for some reason, both of us found it extremely, extremely hilarious) and then try their best to determine the meaning. The exercise had gone smoothly. By now our students were quite used to the interactive activities Miss Faith and I devised in the teacher’s lounge.
The class before, I’d prepared a list of 44 idioms students should know, but Miss Faith had rightly reminded me that quality understanding and retention were more important as rote memorization and quantity. And so, after Idiom-Mate that day, we proceeded to one of Faith’s more brilliant critical thinking exercises. Unlike Idiom-Mate, this one had no witty name. But the idea was pure inspiration: students would invent their own idioms.
Hence BLOWING BUBBLES, a.k.a., telling lies. The students took to the game, and their inventions defied the generally-held belief that Filipino students have little experience in creative thinking.
Case in point: PUNCH THE MOON. Which means, of course, to try your luck. Or ONION SKIN. A student promptly explained that this was “a crying person.” An individual who is FLYING WITHOUT WINGS is, in other words, ambitious, and DANCE WITH ME is an enjoinment to “agree with my ideas, deal with me, or come with me.” And then there was THICK FACE, which meant a person who had no shame, a concept which goes to the core of Pinoy social identity.
But my unqualified favorite coinage, it’s meaning being “to share secrets,” was undoubtedly SPREAD THE BEANS. Eric had stood and read his sample sentence: “My friend that I think is trustworthy but is not because she spread the beans.”
Growing up, my all-time favorite family game had been Balderdash. The premise was simple: start with a word that no one knows. Like BLARG. Everyone thinks for a moment, then writes down a plausible definition for BLARG. The fake definitions (”A small relative of the weevil found in Northern Mongolia”; “An accidental expulsion of air from the anus while laughing”) are read by a moderator, along with the real definition (”A tool for fixing flat tires”), and everyone votes on which they think is correct. I admit I sometimes got carried away by my love for language (e.g., “The pliant dance of a mercurial fronds swaying upon mortal pillars of exasperation”) and I thus rarely won Balderdash. But that was fine with me.
It wasn’t until class the following day with another co-teacher that I realized that what we were doing halfway across the world was nothing other than Balderdash. In that class, the topic had been vocabulary. Affixes and roots. TRANS, meaning “across.” PORT, meaning “to carry.” ATION, a noun formulation. TRANSPORTATION! I had been tempted to teach CIRCUMCISION, but better judgment prevailed.
Instead, I once again found my co-teacher suggesting a creative exercise: students would use a list of affixes and roots to make up their own words. And thus we were back to Balderdash for the second time that week.
As I walked around the room, looking over students’ shoulders at words like GRACIOUSABLE, HONESTLESS, and ANTIPREDICT, part of me wondered what, exactly, our students were learning. But another part of me automatically reverted to my favorite family game. And thus I found myself making up definitions for my students’ newly-minted portmanteaus:
BISYMPATHETIC. To simultaneously support two fundamentally opposing viewpoints.
PESSIMISTIZATION. The process of converting an optimist into a cynic.
COUGHISM. A new word accidentally produced during a fit of wheezing.
ABSOVEREIGNTY. The act of stepping away from a person of royalty.
UNHONESTLESS. A person who is physically incapable of telling lies (viz. Jim Carrey in “Liar, Liar”)
DISIRRESOLUTE. Persons who are unable not to make up their minds.
By the end of the week, when Miss Faith suggested that students illustrate pictures of common idioms in English to cement understanding, I was left wondering exactly why I was there. What I was supposed to contribute to these inventive, hard-working teachers. Nevertheless, I was very happy to be at the Eastern Visayas State University. I was, in fact, disirresolute about it.