Working With Filipinos? Understand Your Workforce Better With These 32 Filipinisms Unique to Call Centers in the Philippines

Published: March 11, 2024
Four call center agents hold signs. Each sign reads Dasurv, For a While, C.R., Charot which are common slang used by Filipinos.

Let’s face it: diversity and inclusion matters in today’s workplace.

By bringing together people from different backgrounds and walks of life, you can expose yourself to new perspectives and create more innovative solutions and strategies.

At the same time, you allow qualified workers from underrepresented communities to advance their careers and earn good money. It’s a win-win!

That said, one of the challenges of having a diverse workforce is that, although you speak the same language, words or phrases may be used differently (or have entirely different meanings) in another culture.

In this article, we’ll discuss the slang or “filipinisms” that Americans may encounter when working with Filipinos.

To help you understand your workforce better, familiarize yourself with these commonly used words or phrases unique to call centers in the Philippines.

Common Slang and “Filipinisms” You’re Likely To Hear at a Call Center in the Philippines


Many multinational companies outsource to the Philippines because they know that Filipinos are fluent in English, allowing for easier communication.

BPO employees can speak Filipino and English, but American business leaders must remember that some words may have different meanings in the Philippines.

Let’s take the word “salvage,” for instance.

An American manager may say, “We must salvage this project before it goes down the drain!” to a group of confused (or even horrified) Filipino agents.

This is because “salvage,” which means “save” or “rescue” to Americans, means something entirely different in the Philippines. 

In a local context, “salvage” sounds similar to “salbahe” (a Tagalog word meaning “savage” or “brutal”) and is used to describe horrific crimes like murder.

So, remember this before you even think about using that word in front of your Filipino workers.


Picture this: You and your Philippines call center agents chat around the office water cooler, sharing light-hearted stories and joking around.

One makes a surprised face and says, “Luh!” while everyone else laughs.

You think to yourself, “What did I miss? Did I not get the joke?”

Well, let us tell you what you were missing.

“Luh” is a shortened version of the phrase “hala ka!” which, in their native language, conveys a sense of shock and disbelief mixed with a reprimanding tone.

So, depending on the context, “luh” could mean either “that’s unbelievable!” or “you’re gonna be in trouble!” (or maybe even both meanings at the same time).


Perhaps you were complimenting one of your Filipino employees for their excellent performance when you first heard this word. 

While everyone was clapping, you heard one of their teammates shout “DASURV!” at the top of their lungs.

What does this word even mean? Well, it’s pretty simple: “dasurv” is just a Filipinized version of the English word “deserve.”

When Filipinos say this, they are recognizing that someone else deserves praise, recognition, or good fortune.


While overseeing a business process outsourcing (BPO) team in the Philippines, most American managers would have likely heard the word “C.R.” by now.

“C.R.” just means “comfort room,” which is what Filipinos call their bathroom, restroom, or washroom. 

It’s seen as more polite than outright saying “toilet” or “banyo,” similar to how ladies in the United States used to say, “I’m going to freshen up/powder my nose” instead of “I’m going to the toilet.”

So, don’t be too surprised the next time someone comes up to you and says, “I’ll go to the C.R. I’ll be right back.”

“For a while”

Here’s another common scenario at a call center in the Philippines: You walk up to an employee and ask whether a particular task has been completed.

They will say, “Sir, for a while,” before leaving to check on the task.

Don’t be confused. What they mean to say is “[please wait] for a while” or, basically, “hold on a minute.”

“Filling up [a form]” 

Have you ever heard a Filipino employee ask someone to “fill up” a survey, questionnaire, application form, or document?

 Yes, this is another common Filipinism. They mean to say “fill out” a form.

“Opening and closing [the lights]” 

In the U.S., you ask someone to “shut/switch off” or “turn on” the lights. 

Meanwhile, in the Philippines, you’re more likely to hear someone telling you to “open” and “close” them. 

This is because the direct translation for “turn on the lights” in Tagalog is “buksan mo ang ilaw,” with “buksan” meaning “open.”

“Ate and Kuya”

Another unique fact about the Philippine call center industry’s culture that many Americans may be surprised to know is that honorifics are necessary in the workplace.

While you may be entirely comfortable straight-up calling your boss “Steve” or “Jane,” Filipino agents will still refer to them as “sir” and “ma’am.”Even for older colleagues who are not in a direct position of authority, Filipinos will still show respect by calling them “ate” or “kuya,” which means big sister or brother.


The Filipino language is dynamic and fluid, with new slang phrases making their way out of the internet and into the workplace all the time.

One of the most popular Filipino slang words you’ve likely heard around the office is “charot.”

The word means “just kidding!” or “it’s a joke,” often said lightheartedly.

“Sana all”

Another popular Filipino slang term you should be familiar with is “sana all,” which is sometimes shortened to “naol.”

The phrase is often said after one person shares positive news about their life and the other person wants to convey a sense of longing for similarly good fortune. 

In a nutshell, when Filipinos say, “sana all,” they just mean, “I hope this happens to me/everyone too.”


Ah, yes. The ever-present “ano.”

You’ve probably heard some customer support or back-office employees struggle to remember words and substituting them with “ano.” For instance, “Ma’am, ano, the… ano, the task is not going well. The ano is missing.”

Here’s the thing: Filipinos have a high-context culture, which makes communication more nuanced and dependent on non-verbal cues.

While it may seem confusing to many Westerners (fueling the cultural differences between Philippine vs. U.S. call centers), Filipinos can usually understand the differences between each “ano” by looking at context, facial expressions, and body language.

Our advice is to learn to watch for subtle cues and ask follow-up questions so you can better understand the context of what they’re trying to say.

“Soft drinks” 

While overseeing call center services in the Philippines, you may have spent quality time with your employees outside of work. 

Perhaps you’ve even shared a meal.

During these special occasions, you may have heard your Filipino agents asking you if you want “soft drinks.”

You know them as “soda” or “pop.” In the Philippines, soft drinks refer to carbonated beverages like Coca-Cola or Pepsi.


While we’re on the topic of sharing meals, you may have also heard your Filipino customer service agents lounging around the office pantry, talking about opening the “ref.”

Yes, it’s just the abbreviated word for refrigerator. They shorten it mainly because many Filipinos find “refrigerator” too long to pronounce.

“Rubber shoes” 

Here’s another Filipinism you may have heard: “rubber shoes.”

In the Philippines, rubber shoes are durable footwear commonly designed for sports and other athletic activities. You may know them as “sneakers,” “trainers,” or “kicks.”

“Next next week”

Has a Filipino employee ever told you that they’ll get something done “next next week”?

When you hear this, you may wonder whether they mean the coming week or the one after.

To erase any confusion, remember that “next next week” to Filipinos means “the week after next.”


There are many languages spoken in the Philippines, from Tagalog and English to regional dialects and even foreign languages.

As such, it’s no wonder that Filipinos are gifted multilinguals. With their knack for language, they can easily create and adopt brand-new words, phrases, and slang.

One such slang phrase you may have heard is “ansabe,” which is an abbreviation for “anong sinabi [nila]?” or “what did [they] say?”

Depending on the context, people who use this term are either genuinely seeking clarification, asking someone to share what they heard, or expressing surprise at what was said (as in “did they really say that?”).

It’s a simple word that can convey many different meanings—a perfect encapsulation of Filipinos’ gift for language.


Another common phrase you may hear around call centers in the Philippines is “diba.” It roughly translates to “right?”

Placed before or after a sentence, it is often used to ask questions or request clarification.

For example, one of your employees may ask their teammate, “The project was completed hours ago, diba (right)?”

Or, “Diba (isn’t it true that) we already sent the needed documents to our TL?” 


When it comes to providing an exceptional customer experience, Filipinos are the “Lodi” of global outsourcing.

This Filipino slang word means “idol” (read it backward). It describes someone you admire and view as a role model. 


Although Spanish is not one of the official languages of the Philippines, the country’s long colonial history with Spain has shaped our local vernacular.

Basta” is one of the most common Filipino slang phrases. It has roots in Spanish and directly translates to “enough.”

In the Philippines, however, “basta” can have many meanings depending on its context.

For example, an employee could say, “Basta (that’s enough). I’ve already done my part.”

Or, “Is it okay if I send this document to you by the end of the day? Basta (as long as), I’ll make sure to submit before the deadline.”

Or even, “What are you doing after work later?” “Basta (it’s a secret).”

As we’ve said in previous sections, Filipinos have a high-context culture, and people need to pay attention to body language, tone, and other subtle cues to understand the different meanings of a slang word.


Is someone having a workplace romance in your office? Then, you’ll likely hear the word “jowa” while everyone’s chatting around the water cooler.

In simple terms, “jowa” means “boyfriend/girlfriend” or “lover.” 

However, the word has more casual connotations, meaning the romantic relationship may not be considered serious or long-term.


Speaking of dating trends that have crept into the workplace, have you ever heard your Filipino employees talk about “kilig”?

Kilig” is a word with no direct translation in English, but it conveys the nervous excitement and ecstasy of someone who may have a crush on another person or is in the first stages of a relationship.

It can also describe non-romantic interactions that make people feel giddy or happy.


Here’s another slang word you may hear from Filipino customer service agents hanging out at the office pantry: “chibog.”

It’s a noun that simply means “food,” but it can also be used as a verb (meaning “to eat”).

People may also say “chibugan na!” to mean “it’s time to eat.”


Much like “lodi,” “petmalu” is another slang word Filipinos use to describe someone they admire and see as worthy of praise.

As the reversed form of the Tagalog word “malupet/malupit,” “petmalu” roughly translates to “awesome,” “impressive,” or “extraordinary.”


Have you ever heard a Filipino mutter “Susmaryosep” under their breath? 

This expression – which everyone can relate to at one point – combines the names of three important Biblical figures (Jesus, Mary, and Joseph) and is meant to convey extreme annoyance or frustration. 


After a rough week at the office, many Philippine call center employees may choose to “walwal” on their Friday night.

This Filipino slang word means “to party your heart out” or, for some people, “to get drunk/wasted.”


If a person has irrational thoughts or is paranoid, they may be called “praning.” 

Popularized during the ‘90s, this Filipino slang word refers to someone seen as neurotic or overwhelmed with emotion.

“Hay nako”

Much like “susmaryosep,” “hay nako” is another expression that conveys frustration or exasperation. It’s equivalent to English phrases like “Uh-oh!” or “Oh my God!”


Have you ever felt the overwhelming urge to squeeze something adorable? That feeling is called “gigil” in the Philippines. 

Much like “kilig,” it has no direct English translation and seems to be a uniquely Filipino slang word.


Working in the call center industry can be personally rewarding, but it also comes with its fair share of stressful and challenging moments.

Some Filipino agents might enjoy letting off steam by hanging out with their co-workers after work and sharing “chika.”

Chika” is a Filipino slang word that means “gossip.” People often use it to ask a friend about the hottest rumors and stories (i.e., “Anong chika ngayon?” or “What’s the story today?”).


Since we’re on the topic of gossip, we can’t forget about one of the most popular Filipino slang words today: “Marites.”

It’s short for “Mare, anong latest?” which means “Sis, what’s the latest [gossip]?” 

So, when people say someone is a “Marites,” they mean that this person knows all of the rumors, urban legends, and gossip in the community.

“Kain tayo”

Here’s another thing you should know about Filipino workplace culture: We like to bond with our co-workers by sharing meals.

This is why “kain tayo,” which means “let’s eat,” is a famous phrase in the country.

So, if your Filipino workers ever say “kain tayo” when you’re around, they want to spend time with you and get to know you better!


Finally, another Filipino phrase you should know if you plan to utilize outsourcing services in the Philippines is “ingat.”

It means “take care” or “stay safe.” Filipinos are very hospitable and empathetic, often going out of their way to express care towards other people. 

It’s no wonder why they’re often great friends, cheerful employees, and, most importantly, natural customer service workers.

Working With Filipinos? Start Making the Most Out of Your Partnership With a Philippines Call Center

Every successful business partnership starts with excellent communication. We hope this quick guide helped you better understand Filipinos and more easily collaborate with your call center partner in the Philippines.

If you’re still looking for your ideal customer service outsourcing provider, get in touch with SuperStaff. We have a team of world-class BPO professionals ready to position your business for global success!


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