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'Bro' talk.

Let's talk men today.

It's not what you may be thinking. I'm actually going to write about words and language, and an intriguing phenomenon referred to as the rise of a brocabulary, or, put in a more fancy way by the Oxford dictionary people, the rise of the portmanbro.

Portmanbro is a play on the word portmanteau, which is a combination of two words to produce a new one-for example, smog from smoke and fog, or motel from motor (a vehicle) and hotel.

It refers to words that combine bro with another word, the best example being bromance, which I'll get back to in a while. Brocabulary is another portmanteau, referring to the vocabularies generated from bro.

I decided to write about this brocabulary to show how dynamic language can be, how words are constantly evolving.

I stumbled on the brocabulary while reading an article about US President Barack Obama giving a bro hug, which is defined as a hug given by one man to another. In the course of describing this bro hug, there was a reference to bromance, which got me surfing the Internet and trying to check out all these bro words.

Bromance, etc

The use of bro goes back to the last century, starting out among Afro-American communities as a way of referring to a man, and then evolving to be used by two fairly close male friends. Another term, bro-brah, still derived from brother and bro, refers to two males who party a lot, together.

Bromance is more than partying, and refers to two males who are in a really close relationship, almost like lovers but not quite, because, well, they're not gay. They're just two straight (heterosexual) men who do nearly everything together except the one type of do.

There's also brophet, which refers to someone who tries to project himself as knowing everything. And brobituary, a description of a bro who is now an ex-bro because he has gotten married.

These bro words seem to be evolving as well. For example, ambrodextrous is defined as a person who can throw a shaka with the left or the right hand (a shaka being a hand gesture that means hang loose). But other discussions on the Net, some tongue-in-cheek, suggest other meanings of ambrodextrous, like being able to drink beer with one's left or right hand.

A brohemian is defined in some Net sites as a nonconformist and in others as a person whose behavior is so eccentric that he is shunned by other people.

Bromance and bro hug seem to be the two most popular bro portmanteaux, maybe because of the way they challenge some norms in American, or more specifically WASP (White Anglo Saxon Protestant) society, where close same-sex relationships create anxieties because of a long tradition of homophobia, or a fear of homosexuality.

Thus, a bro hug is actually described as one that is given with some awkwardness on the part of the giver and/or the receiver.

Bromance is even heavier stuff. The paradox is that the more macho a society is, the more strong male bonding there is, with men spending much more time together than with women, including their wives. Yet, it is these macho societies that have intense phobias about homosexuality, so the male bonding has to have boundaries, as in bro hugs being quite intimate but, hey, don't hug me too tightly.

'Bro,' 'brod,' 'pare'

Let's move to the Philippines, where bro has entered our Filipino English vocabulary. The word is not used as much as brod, which has different meanings. There's the casual brod which you use to call the attention of practically any male, but usually as a way of building a very short bond, as when you use the term for a waiter. Note that brod competes now with kuya when used for a waiter or gasoline station attendant, the elder brother reference introducing an element of respect.

On the other end of the spectrum, there's the fraternity brod. Ah, that's a special bond, with brods ready to do anything for fellow brods.

American English's bro probably hasn't taken off as much because it overlaps to some extent with pare, an abbreviation of kumpare or co-godfather. Pare, like brod, has various usages. It can be casual but attempts to build a stronger bond than brod or kuya, which is why you don't usually call a waiter pare. In fact, once you pare someone, you are invoking a sense of responsibility for each other.

A bro hug? I'm not sure we'll adopt that term. Men do hug other men in the Philippines, especially if they are pare, but there's still some awkwardness here. In fact, I notice we're more ready for male-female beso-hugging and a quick kiss-than male-to-male bro hug. And two Filipino males giving each other the beso? There's also some awkwardness, if not outright reluctance, except among gay men, and only among those who are out.

It's all cultural, this setting of norms. Like in rural areas, you still find Filipino men walking hand in hand. I can't imagine coining a bro portmanteau for that.

Back to bromance. That's really tough. We don't have a word for it, but we have an entire song for it, Michael Pangilinan's Pare, Mahal Mo Raw Ako. It has a twist, involving a straight male and a gay male. The gay male has developed romantic feelings for his straight friend, but the latter, who does the singing, says the relationship will have to stay as one of close friends-in other words a bromance, which is nonsexual.

I'd have to do an entire separate column if we want to analyze Pare, Mahal Mo Raw Ako. Suffice it to say that the boundaries between the sexual and nonsexual in same-sex relationships are not as rigid as those of American society, which may be a reason Pangilinan's song has some degree of popularity. One YouTube version, filmed in UP Diliman at that, has had some 5.7 million hits.

To return to the brocabulary, I don't think we're going to develop more bro words in Filipino English. Bro can't dislodge pare, a very powerful word that tags you: To be pare is to be a Filipino male, with all kinds of rules on what you can and can't do, even in terms of talking (for example, you can't go, Pare, chika naman tayo).

Meanwhile, the word man seems to be spinning off its own portmanteaux. Mansplaining, which was chosen Australian Word of the Year, describes the way someone explains things in a condescending manner, as if the listener doesn't know anything. The word was popularized by feminists, who use it more specifically to refer to a man explaining things to a woman.

That's heavy stuff again, compared to manscaping, which refers to shaving, waxing, or any other activity in which a man's body hair is landscaped. Anyone care to coin a Filipino portmanteau for manscaping?
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Publication:Philippines Daily Inquirer (Makati City, Philippines)
Date:May 15, 2015
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