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What is pak and why is it ganern? Experts weigh in on new online catchphrase

From out of nowhere—pak! Suddenly, a new phrase is in wide use and some people may find themselves in the minority as they (a) resist the urge to use it or (b) look down on people who are using it.

If you're in either category, good luck. "Pak ganern" is in peak use and there's no telling when it'll be stored in archive, along with catchphrases of years past.

According to anthropologist and professor Felipe Jocano Jr from the University of the Philippines-Diliman, a phrase like "pak ganern" appeals to the Pinoy humor.

"It's something playful. It can be used as a pun," Jocano tells GMA News Online in an interview.

Similar to filler words used in the past like the "CH"-series (char, chos, charot, chever, chenelyn, et cetera), the freedom of language speakers to apply meaning to the phrase lends to its appeal. "It's polysemous — you can ascribe different meanings to it depending on the context," Jocano says.

It's clear that "ganern" springs from "ganoon" undergoing rhotic harmony... or, more plainly, said in the same way that the once ubiquitous "ermahgerd" is said.

Jocano hazards a guess that "pak!" is from "tumpak!" although it may also be just an old onomatopoeia for explosions.

Combined, the two words do make a boom.

The structure of the phrase itself is flexible. Linguist and researcher Mhawi Rosero explains that it can be used in its root form (e.g. "nasa Diyos ang pak, nasa tao ang ganern") or with affixes (e.g. "ang hindi pumak sa pinanggalingan, hindi makaka-ganern sa paroroonan").

But the key to using it remains: does it sound good?

"The prosody is a significant factor to make the 'pak ganern' derivation effective," Rosero says. In other words, there's usage that's not necessarily wrong, but awkward:

A. Birds of the same feather, pak together ganern.
B. Pak of the same feather, ganern together.

"Pak ganern is multi-purpose," Jocano adds. The phrase acts in speech as a space filler, a cue for sarcasm, and "a way to downplay one's self so as to avoid being thought of as vain or proud."

Jocano says this linguistic manner of humbling one's self using humor is very much a Filipino cultural trait.

And although there is no inherent or absolute meaning to either "pak" or "ganern", speakers of the language can still instantly come up sentence constructions that sound like a winner.

Well-delivered punch lines are repeated and as Jocano points out, takes flight when spread through different media.

Just as there are people who are able to construct elegant sentences in Filipino or other languages, people who are able to use "pak ganern" well are able to win conversational language games — such as those surfacing on social media now. —JST, GMA News