So what’s wrong with ‘awesome’ and ‘okay lang’?

Kids are losing their communication skills because they overuse certain words–and they abuse the superlatives


“I do not want my friends to think I’m a genius.”

Those were the words of a 14-year-old boy as he struggled to compose a letter as part of his school assignment.

He had asked for my suggestions as to what he could say in his letter, and I had given him a few ideas. But as we went along, he kept asking me if he could change some of the words to less “smart”-sounding alternatives.

I remember that he asked if he could change the word “teasing” to “joking.” I said “teasing” was the right word to use, because the incident he was writing about was, in fact, about being teased by friends.

He asked, “Isn’t joking the same thing?” I said they could be related, but he had to use the precise word so his reader would get his idea right away.

This was when he said he was worried that his friends might think he was a genius when the teacher read his letter aloud.

Why would a person be considered a genius for using the right words?

When I was in school, there was an emphasis on using the right words, and not general terms. It was normal.

But today you can hear (and read) how communication has become limited. People tend to overuse certain words especially when they describe things. And they abuse the superlatives.

Used for everything

The word “awesome” was an adjective used to describe something that inspired awe. When you heard that something was awesome, you knew it would be way above the norm.

But nowadays it’s used for anything, from parties, food, movies and dates, to clothes, shoes, etc.

A recording artist who was a guest on a radio show was told that a couple of high school students (who were guests, too) liked his new song and would buy his CD. He replied (in his relaxed voice), “Awesome, awesome.”

Did he mean he was now awe-inspired, or that he was expressing gratitude?

Everything is also “super,” “intense” or “solid.”

The Filipino language is in a similar state. “Sobra” is a very used and abused word. People are sobrang pagod, sobrang saya, sobrang galit, etc. And don’t forget “astig”—it’s used for everything as well.

At the other end of the scale, you can hear that things are “weak” or “failed.”

What happens when something is not “awesome” but still is not “failed?” The popular in-between description seems to be “okay lang.”

I like a wider vocabulary to help me get an accurate range of things. It helps me make decisions and choices.

For example, I would like to know whether a restaurant serves food that is bad, good, tasty or delicious. This would help a person know if they can go there to impress a date or a business contact or just to treat his buddies after losing a bet. I don’t want to hear that the two shirts I’m trying to choose between are both awesome.

If a friend tells me a movie was good but not great, I may still watch it on my own as a way to kill time. But if someone tells me a movie is “okay lang” when he meant it was not bad (but close to it) then I may want to kill him! Accuracy is so important.

Why do young people choose to mainly use these few words?

First, many either simply don’t know or are uncomfortable using other (more accurate) words. They are not challenged to communicate with precision. They seem to get by communicating with each other with generalized ideas.

But ask them what exactly they are trying to say, and they are at a loss to explain in simple terms.


In many cases, it has something to do with the parents. They say we cannot understand them (not because of their limited vocabulary) but because we oldies don’t understand today’s language.

This is their shortcut explanation, instead of taking it as a sign that they need to learn more.

In other cases, the otherwise intelligent child chooses to use the same limited words as his lesser skilled friends because he does not want to stand out or make his pals feel inadequate.  He chooses to adopt their lingo to belong.

Unfortunately, there are quite a few schoolteachers who have the same weak vocabulary and grammar. They do not correct the students because they themselves cannot see a problem.

Thankfully, the school grading system still allows us to know our children’s academic performance. We still get to know if they did poor, fair, good or excellent.

Some kids today who fall in the last three levels would tell you that they did “okay lang.” Similarly, a kid who got a rating of fair or good—but not excellent—would say that his grades were awesome.

Parenting experts say we should teach our kids and correct them. We should encourage our kids to want to learn and improve themselves for themselves. Tell them to use the right words and praise them when they do.

I am blessed that my own two daughters have the hunger to learn. When they were little, I bought them books and read with and alongside them. They liked the almanacs and books about how things work. Their teachers said they communicated very well.

They are not considered nerds or geeks by friends—which the boy actually meant when he said “genius.” They feel confident because they know so many things, and so they even try to find out on their own.

By the way, the 14-year-old boy chose to do his homework using the right words. He said it did not matter if his friends called him a genius. Good grades are what he wanted more. So he is a genius!

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  • James

    i agree with you 

    here is my own experience, wid my errors included.


    For the past couple of weeks, to date, I had been
    tutoring my nieces on a wide array of life’s lessons. The other day our topic
    delved on ACRONYMS. Where letters are substituted instead of the entire word,
    taken from initials, or to form a group of words for brevity and thus reduce
    the length of the words into simple and uncomplicated bits easy for the memory.

    The usual suspects had been raised; names of
    government offices, buildings, highways, narrowed down to the more simpler VIP,
    OIC, RTW, RSVP they were breezing thru the lesson MRI, CT-scan, LBM, were all a
    drop in the bucket, but the clincher came, I had to ask…LTO? BAM! The reply
    came as a bomb, “Lahat Tayo Okey”. I could not help my amusement and had to
    grin and giggle silently, at the back of my mind I knew she was right. I had
    one time or another seen the same phrase inscribed on car stickers behind the
    windshield of motor vehicles where it is instructed to be placed by LTO.

    My wonder years was spent at the grounds of the
    central office of LTO, the LAND TRANSPORTATION OFFICE, in Quezon City, by
    grounds, I meant inside, around, behind the LTO Compound thereat,even then I had
    already been raised and heard of the words KYUSI for Q.C. 

    At the back of their compound can be found a small
    playground, containing a slide, a see-saw, a swing and adjacent to it was a
    basketball court, not exactly in the mold of a PBA and NBA court, but good
    enough for full whole court. As a tyke I would watch the grown-ups play in that
    court and as common as daylight, ‘pasbreyk’ ‘pasbreyk’, ‘pawl’ are as common words being shouted and ‘pisbol’ vendors were still scant then and nepa
    kyu-mart was a common by word to jeepney and passengers alike in that little
    expanse of the earth behind the LTO, being a stone throw distance from the

    The spacious ground inside was a playground haven for us young lads, with the
    trees inside providing that cool breeze and shade was such a kid magnet to us
    for use in exploring our imagination, the ‘sekyu’ at the back gate saw no harm in my
    going to and fro inside that compound, little did I realize that my ‘uncle’, a
    lawyer, employed thereat may have been influential in the actions of that “gaaard!”, i would often hear my ‘uncle’ call him
    when he needed assistance, allowing me unbridled ingress to the compound,
    during reasonable hours of the day, of course.

    From the back gate exiting to the front gate where I would take a jeepney ride
    to the secondary education I had been enrolled in ‘kamuning’ and back then i
    did not know of perbyu!! Perbyu!! being shouted by bus
    conductors as a place, whenever they stop in front of LTO, and not so recently,
    i can till vividly recall a male passenger in a bus I rode brag of the earnings
    of Pacquiao in his boxing bouts earning millions in revenues from “paper view”
    he said, Bob arum and HBO would be elated and ecstatic for such other
    viewership if it existed other than pay-per-view, Mr. conductor, is Fairview a
    fair place to view? 

    High school meant ROTC and consequently extra hours in school grounds after
    school hours and Rosario was not yet a film conceptualized and written by Manny
    Pangilinan and directed by Albert Martinez in the 2010 MMFF, Rosario was the
    escape I had from the drill of running errands for superior officers of ROTC,
    praying the rosary meant hours of kneeling in front of the Virgin Mary statue
    in lieu of the inconsiderate whims of my superior officers 

    but fast forward to decades back an acquaintance spoke of ‘virgin’ as an
    intoxicating drink which I learned to mean as a mixture of beer and gin, thus
    ‘beer-gin’ and not the virgin
    which I have knelt to towards graduating from secondary education, I guess that
    would explain the proliferation of the songs I am hearing now being sung,
    “kenly (can’t live), if living is
    without you, kenly” in a nearby karaoke bar while I write this, along with “my
    wi” (my way) and “ply away iskylayyyn pidyun ply…”  

    College was not a breeze with words from the medical field to be learned and it
    did not help that additional studies meant more words to be committed to
    memory, and believe you me, additional schooling is a treasure trove of words
    in infinity and ‘Xerox’ was a common word for photocopying, but outside the
    school ‘”]jurrassic’ came to mean being extinct and obsolete.

    I remember that Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, got
    piqued in the times past when his cellphone caused him to lose his money on
    cellphone load, and that ‘text’ is now used in lieu of short messaging service
    which all the more paved the way to the current usage of ENGLISH as a

    In this age of FB’s and YM’s and twitter, which
    used to refer to a car’s audio(tweeter),OMG’s and LOL’s, the ENGLISH language
    continue to evolve and where GRO’s has come to mean as courtesans, we Filipinos
    would continue to prostitute the ENGLISH language (to suit our
    needs) as there are ENGLISH words.
    Now I need to teach my niece that SM does not stand for ‘StarMall’, paging Mr.
    Sy… help? 


    hmm.. maybe Johnny english, reborn, would be
    a good watch. 

    • Alquanna

      There’s really nothing wrong with how the Filipino language has adopted English words – and words from various other languages, such as Spanish (just look at the days of the week), Malay (selamat/salamat, etc.) – into its vocabulary. It’s part of the growth of any language. 
      You’d have to remember that English started out the same way as well, with a lot of words borrowed from German (Vater = father; Mutter = mother) and Latin. ;)

  • MenicMonday

    Language is not static; it evolves (except for dead languages such as Latin).
    For all you know, the generation prior to us might have complained how we have “misused/corrupted” their manner of using English, which then became the “norm” on how we measure today’s standards
    I agree though, that these short cuts have become the “rule/acceptable mode” at the expense of not developing enough foundational piece

    • skysenshi

      This is very true. And the use of “sobra sobra” has cultural roots. Filipinos are  high-context language users, so our use of language — any language — would have several layers of meanings.

      Though we have standards for language use, there is no such thing as totally correct usage. It varies depending on the culture. Most first-world countries are low-context language users, hence they would find it easy to fit language into a structure. Other cultures are not built that way. Perhaps if the writer read linguist Brad Kachru’s “World Englishes” and “The Alchemy of English”, it would be easier for him to understand the differences among generations and see these differences from a cultural perspective.

      As for this point: For all you know, the generation prior to us might have complained how we have “misused/corrupted” their manner of using English.

      YES! We did corrupt the English language, that is, if we want to be very specific about rules. Old English is totally different from how we use English now. If you check out the Lord’s Prayer in Old English, the “Our” actually follows “Father” instead of the other way around. “Heaven” should also be in plural form. So the phrase “Our Father, who art in heaven” is already wrong from the very first word.

      Now for the the child who has problems fitting in, it is indeed an issue. I would love to meet the child and commend him for being so smart, but I am an adult and not his peer. He would appreciate it more if he could blend in. This is the kind of situation that educators must also address.

  • marionics

    ganun din naman sa forum na ito e. limited din ang bokabularyo ng mga tao dito lalo na yung mga name-callers. so ibig bang sabihin e bata isip ng mga ito? ha ha ha

  • Michael

    A very nice article.

    Your main point, about kids wanting to fit in, is important. Sad to say, smart kids may be respected by their teachers and parents, but they are not treated so well by the other kids. Even as adults, many Filipinos tell me they are hesitant to use English correctly, for fear of being teased. I even read a commentary, posted in another newspaper, in which the author referred to Charice Pempengco and her ‘annoying American twang’! My god, how have we come to the point where, when someone speaks English with correct pronunciation and rhythm, we feel the need to pull them down? This is an attitude that we need to change.

    Regarding vocabulary — the best way to acquire new words is to read… a lot. When I was a kid, I was never without a book, and I usually preferred to stay in the car and read while my parents went shopping. But unfortunately, people don’t read anymore. This is obvious when they misspell a common word, spelling it the way it sounds rather than the way it should be spelled.

    Kids (and adults too) learn to use language the way people around them use it. It’s not enough to just teach correct English. We have to make correct English commonplace. As mentioned by another commenter here, when kids hear words like ‘bespren’ (best friend), with that kind of pronunciation, they learn that it is ok to use a P in the place of an F.  The same goes for ‘boter’ for ‘voter’, and ‘I tink so’ for ‘I think so’. And how about my favorite: ‘abidabit’ (affidavit!)

    We need to do two things to improve English in the Philippines: First, we need to start using it correctly whenever we use it. And second, we need to change the attitude that makes many of us tease someone who speaks English well. Just my opinion.

    • hislordship

       With regard to the correct use of English, I was often reminded during my younger days that “kids” were young goats and that young people were generally called “children”.  Have things changed so much?

    • plain j

      I have to admit, I find myself guilty of dumbing down my English (by speaking in ‘Taglish’) or opting for Tagalog often for fear of being made fun of by my co-workers. It’s a predicament, and one that I’ve wilfully played into just to avoid standing out. I agree with you, learning is only half of it; if we as Filipinos refuse to change our attitudes towards those who speak English well, how can we expect people to try to improve their use of the language?

  • Simon Ward

    A lesson I still remember from 40 years ago was to avoid using the word “get” when writing. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with using it, but it encouraged us to remember the 12 (?) verbs that could be used in its place. We were also encouraged not to use phrasal verbs (go away, as opposed to leave, go in as opposed to enter) in writing.

    Of course, I also had to study Latin, which is why my 8-year-old son is probably the only kid in his school whose Dad takes “post-prandial” naps! 

  • gloriouspark

    Find those too common and annoying, parang may masabi lang. We can express ourselves better if we try. Very well written topic.

  • jeproks2002

    the knack to use “sobra” with “grabe” and “talaga” in the same sentence may have cause a beauty queen to translate that in english as “major major”.

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