As this column aims to educate, let’s start with etymology. According to my research — which involved the arduous process of typing keywords and clicking search — the word beso is Spanish for “kiss”, as in “beso de Judas”. Do the inflection and you will have “Bésame, bésame mucho, como si fuera esta noche la ultima vez.” Meaning, “Kiss me till my gums bleed or I’ll ask your dad to do it.”

If you go beyond Spanish, the word has an uncertain origin. But like most words in any language, Latin definitely has something to do with it. That’s what etymologists do; when they can’t pin down a word, it’s most probably Latin.

So, the closest Latin word we have for beso is basium, meaning “empty”. No, sorry, that’s Cebuano. Basium is Latin for “a kiss,” as in “quam seldom nos belong tamen quam teres nostrum basium.” Meaning, “Latin is dead so shut up and kiss me or I’ll ask your dad to do it.”

In whatever language, however, a kiss is a kiss is a kiss – an eight-word English expression that has a one-word Spanish equivalent: besobesobeso. That’s what my research said.

Anyway, left alone, a word is simply a part of speech, whatever Gregorian dictionary the word finds itself in. It’s when a culture embraces the word as its own that it begins to take on an endemic character.

We, Cebuanos, for example, have a way with words. We grab nouns from Balikbayan boxes and manipulate them to put a handle on foreign concepts. That’s why we have “awto,” “maniniyot,” and more recently “silpon,” to name a few. And don’t get me started with the hilariously stupid attempt of some Cebuano writers at coining Bisayan terms for “underwear.”

A very Cebuano way of verbal manipulation is to repeat a word to give its otherwise serious meaning a lighthearted feel. That’s why we have “away-away,” or “bugno-bugno.” There’s actually no real bloodshed going on, just a semblance of a fight. As in, “Kapoya anang bugno-bugno sa mga politico uy.” English translation: “The carnival along Jones Ave. has more exciting rides.” Cebuanos know that a real fight is one to the death, something you can’t say

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about Pinoy politics as turncoats don’t die.

Going back to beso. By squatting on our shores for half a century, the Spaniards gave us the right to own every word they have in their arsenal. So, beso is as Filipino as Tortilla de Patatas.

According to my research, beso (not beso-beso) is Filipino term for cheek kissing. In a cheek kiss, both persons lean forward and either lightly touch cheek with cheek or lip with cheek. Hand-shaking or hugging may also take place. Depending on the situation, the number of kisses is one, two, or three or until all cameras run out of battery and the audience starts to puke.

As in any part of the world where this is practiced, cheek kissing is “a ritual or social gesture to indicate friendship, perform a greeting, to confer congratulations, to comfort someone, or to show respect.”

But that’s too serious for us, fun-loving Cebuanos. So we stripped the original word of all connotations of friendship and respect and gave it a showbiz meaning. We now call it beso-beso. Which brings us to the original basium.

I’m sorry, but the Cebuano in me really believes basium is Latin for “empty.”

( cebu, january 29, 2008)