For Filipinos ‘Salvage’ Means Murder

Don’t be shocked; Filipinos speak English. From the time we enter school, we learn the language. Most schools teach all subjects (except for Filipino and Philippine history, or sometimes even Philippine history) in English. For some sort of reason though, the English word “salvage” is often understood as “was murdered” instead of the proper meaning “to save”. How did this happen?

I don’t really know how accurate this story is, but I remember a professor telling me that the first time the word was introduced into the Filipino public was through a news story (because our major newspapers are in English). In the article, a woman was brutally murdered in a junk shop. The shop was referred to as a salvage area, which meant that it was a place where scrap metals and other things were saved, but because Filipinos weren’t familiar with the word, it was associated with the death of the woman.

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13 thoughts on “For Filipinos ‘Salvage’ Means Murder

  1. One can at least say that “demolition” retains its original meaning, unlike “salvage” which the dictionary defines as the saving of a ship or its cargo from loss at sea, or saving of scrap materials for future use. In Philippine usage, “salvage” as a verb means the opposite of its dictionary definition and describes the summary execution of “undesirable” people. This has come about because Filipinos wittily move from one language to another, hence the Philippine “salvage” is not rooted in the verb “salvar,” meaning to save, it actually comes from the Spanish “salvaje,” meaning primitive. In Filipino usage “sinalbahe” describes someone who has been savaged or brutalized. Write it out in its Spanish form “sinalvaje” and then it sounds like the English “salvage.”…….. (from one article oe AMBETH OCAMPO, filipino historian)


  2. Just another thought on this. I first visited the Philippines in 1981 and used to hear the word “salvage” and see it in the news in reference to killings. The first time was on a Victory Liner bus from Manila to Olongapo. Along the way, there was a traffic jam with police cars and they were pulling a body from the side of the road with gun shot wounds in his chest and everyone on the bus was saying “salvage.: When I asked about it, I was told it was used in reference to the Charles Bronson Death Wish movies in which he was a vigilante. It was explained to me that it was used in reference to bad people that were killed by vigilantes or even policemen. Salvage was used to symbolize the cleaning up of trash (i.e. murderers, drug dealers, rapists, snatchers, etc.)


  3. Just dropping by and leaving my thoughts. Wasn’t “salvage” or just “S” the code word used by the military during the Martial Law period when they were ordered to surreptitiously get rid of certain anti-government propagandists? I was always under the impression that this was how the term became associated with murder. I at least remember reading something to that effect in some old Reader’s Digest article.


  4. It’s an interesting story how “salvage” ended up meaning “murdered” in Filipino vocabulary. The original word was “sinalvaje”, the root word is “salvaje”, literally cruel, savage in Sp. “Sinalvaje” is the tagalized version, meaning “brutalized”. For some reason, during the American occupation we ended up using “salvage”, the Yankees probably tried using the archaic tagalog version but run into some problems with “j”, they don’t use it like we do, so they most probably substituted it with “g”. And it got stuck. You know, a Cebuano writer, an old guy told me this and I doubted his story. Then I read Ambeth Ocampo telling the same story in his weekly column.


  5. Thank you for your explanation about Filipino and Tagalog. Our 7 year old son is required to study Filipino in his school and I noticed the dictionary he has is “Pilipino.” Spelled with letter “P” instead of letter “F” National Book Store also still sells Tagalog Dictionaries.

    A Filipino friend likes to joke around about all the languages in the Philippines and the common use of some English words in like Taglish and Ilonggish. To him, alligator is “Lacoste” and *all* toothpaste is “Colgate.”

    ~ Gary ~


  6. Thank you for sharing about “salvage” and how its meaning developed to mean murder. Very interesting. I have heard the term salvage in the Philippines in reference to murder, since the mid 80s.

    This is not on topic but just to share a short since it is about language in the Philippines. There has been a debate recently among foreigners in the Philippines. Some say that Tagalog and Filipino Languages are the same but I say they are different. Tagalog numbers 20 in its alphabet and Filipino numbers 28. I think I have the numbers right. I refer to Filipino as “Tagalog Plus!” Very similar but not exactly the same languages.

    ~ Gary ~


    1. Actually Tagalog is a dialect and Filipino is the national language. People often call Filipino language as tagalog but this is “incorrect” because the right term is Filipino. Calling the national language as Tagalog is a form of colloquialism. However, there is a basis for this as well. The dialect naturally evolved through the years but the national language was actually created during the time of President Quezon. President Quezon realized that there were too many dialects in the Philippines and he wanted to unite people under one language. He appointed a commission to study all the dialects in the Philippines, so that they can find all the common words which will make up the new national language. Conveniently, when the official national language came about, it was full of Tagalog words. Quezon and most of the committee members were from the region that spoke that dialect. So in a way it is right to call Filipino as Tagalog. This is also the reason why some regions in the Philippines shun Filipino because they feel that it is not their language.


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