‘Humbug’ and ‘hambog’ are cousins

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My column on presidential humbug (“Presidential humbug at the APEC CEO summit”, Manila Times, Nov. 19, 2015) provoked many reactions and comments, some of which illuminated for me aspects and angles on the subject that I have not explored.

The most intriguing of these were the comments of several readers, who said that “humbug” is deliciously close in sound and meaning to the Filipino word, “hambog.” They pointed out to me that while “humbug” and “hambog” have different meanings, they are plainly related. And they said the two are clearly mixed in the person and presidency of BS Aquino.

Others pointed out to me the spectacle of President Aquino flying to Kuala Lumpur to attend the Asean summit, and then immediately launching a statement warning China, “The world is watching you” – this, just a day after hosting the APEC leaders meeting, where Aquino did not say a word about the South China Sea row.

And then there was this reader who asked me whether Mayor Rody Duterte’s fresh announcement of his candidacy for president, after so many denials, and his many statements about dumping people in Manila Bay are a prime example of humbug. He slyly reminded me that surely BS Aquino does not have a patent or copyright on humbug in this country.


Hambog and humbug compared
“Hambog” is part of the vocabulary of nearly all Philippine languages, from Tagalog, to Cebuano, to Hiligaynon, to Waray, to Bikolano, and who knows what else.

In his authoritative Tagalog-English and English-Tagalog dictionaries, the Redemptorist lexicographer Fr. Leo James English, C.Ss.R, provides the following revealing definition of “hambog” and its noun form, kahambugan:

Hambog: 1. Adj (1) boastful, speaking too highly about one self; a boastful fellow: (2) proud, vain; (3) arrogant, self-opinionated; stuck-up.

Kahambugan, paghahambog. n. (1) boast, boasting, bragging; (2) self-love, conceit; (3) vainglory; an extreme pride in oneself.

“Humbug” in contrast, connotes misrepresentation, deception or cheating.

Webster’s Third New International Dictionary contains the following entries on humbug: for the noun’s head sense, “something designed to deceive and mislead” (with cross-references to quackery, hoax, fraud, and imposture); for the verb, “impose on” (with cross-references to deceive, cajole, and hoax); for its application to a humbugger, “a person who usually willfully deceives or misleads others as to his true condition, qualities, or attitudes, one who passes himself off as something that he is not” (with cross-references to sham, hypocrite, and impostor).”

From years of observing these two words used in literature, journalism, and politics, I can attest that a humbug can be hambog; and a hambog can be a humbug. They constantly socialize in public.

The prevalence of humbug
The concept of humbug is so weighty, the English-American philosopher, Max Black, devoted years of research to its analysis and explication. He distilled his findings in an authoritative paper on humbug entitled, “the Prevalence of Humbug” (you will find it online); it served as the title piece of a book of essays.

Black’s study is authoritative, exhaustive, and witty. No instance of humbug, and no humbugger can pass through it undetected.

In The Prevalence of Humbug, Professor Black bluntly describes humbug as a form of mischief.

He sought to (1) provide a satisfying analysis of the concept; (2) identify the mischief that humbug can cause, (3)consider ways of curbing the production of humbug; and (4) come up with a reasonable and satisfactory definition of the concept.

The Russian writer and doctor Anton Chekhov said that “humbug” is “a disease; in Latin it is called morbus fraudulentus.”

Morbus fraudulentus — literally, “the fraudulent disease” — is not listed in manuals of pathology, although the disorder is endemic, infectious, and seriously injurious to thought, feeling, and action. .

Similarly, the great Irish writer George Bernard Shaw dismissed as humbug talks between the British prime minister and the American President Hoover, designed to bring the two peoples together.

When asked why, Shaw replied: “Because, generally speaking, Englishmen and Americans do not like one another. Now they are asked to pretend that they do. And this pretense of being affectionate cousins is as dangerous as poison.”

Bernard Shaw, says Black, provided one antidote to humbug. He advocated telling the humbugger immediately after he utters a humbug: “Do you really believe that?” or “Do you really mean that?”

In one part of his study, Black writes; “What is the prima facie charge against a speaker accused of humbug? Well, some of the words that immediately suggest themselves are pretense, pretentiousness, affectation, insincerity, and deception.”

The point that insincerity and deception go together in humbug is telling.

Humbug functionally and effectively implants false belief.    The most serious indictment of humbug is that it tends progressively to adulterate speech and thought. It leads to the “distortion of values, the insidious numbing of what we once knew without question as true or false.”

The constant practice of self-deception, Black warns, “may produce a character that cheats as effortlessly as a bird sings: the mask eventually becomes ingrown, fits the face as closely as a death mask.”

This is the presidential image before us as Aquino winds down his presidency.

Humbug, says Black, is an insidious and detestable evil that should be exposed.

For short-term remedies, Black recommends Shaw’s probe — the deliberately naive and rather impolite challenges expressed by the questions “Do you really believe that?” and “Do you really mean that?” Strongly to be recommended also are humor, parody, and satire. Social media is very effective at this.

At the conclusion of his essay, professor Black offers a concise definition of humbug:

He writes: “HUMBUG: deceptive misrepresentation, short of lying, especially by pretentious word or deed, of somebody’s own thoughts, feelings, or attitudes.”

“This definition covers only first-degree humbug. For second-degree humbug, produced by a self-deluded speaker or thinker, the unsatisfactory reference to thoughts and so on would need to be replaced.”

Political humbug
Political humbug has become a prime object of study because political leaders are prone to boast and deceive.

People expect their leaders to be scrupulous in the truth and faithful to the facts. They do not need theatrics or hyperbole. They generally do not approve of the stage management of their public life.

The legitimate achievements of our people do not need to be embellished by the gaudy excesses of PR. Filipinos deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.

yenmakabenta@yahoo.com

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16 Comments

  1. Dear Mr. Pres. Aquino you sell out our country to the Chinese, you and you alone will blame on this problem.

  2. I can’t believe it. Mr. Makabenta. Pnoy’s term is almost over and up to now you are still trying to make up your mind as to how you would characterize him. Your ability to judge character will be suspect basing on the length of time it is taking you to figure him out.
    On the other hand, is the Philippine scene so poor of new interesting and entertaining topic to keep the readers coming back to The Manila Times other than PNoy? Notice the people who made comments. There is nothing original all are recycled from the last 5 and half years. Sorry my mind will get dull reading this kind of stuff.

  3. Both these words HUMBUG and HAMBOG were Mr. Pnocchio does have in his personality…This is his LEGACY in his Administation ,to cheat , lies and boastful for himself. Just like what he said, that many filipinos praised this APEC MEETING last week. Sariling nyang bangko binubuhat nya…This is a sign of abnormality , or lunatic person. All what he said is opposite from the real situation.. PLEASE GOD HELP PHILIPPINES FROM THIS GOVERNMENTOF AQUINO PINOCHHIO.

  4. A humbug is a psychopath. Psychopaths always rule over others. Therefore, is there no difference between Mao, Hitler and Boy Sayad? Of course there is. Mao and Hitler had great minds, this one is UTAK MANOK.

  5. The tenant in malacanang is both humbug and hambog, yes that’s his personality. Humbug again yes its him, when he speaks yesterday that the latest FALSE ASIA SURVEY he did not believed it as his annointed one Mar is in the 3rd Place and his secret annointed one Grace should be given a chance to run. He works for the two (2) and he expect one would win as his can be seen by gesture thru words and deeds.
    Again, If Grace or Mar will not make it by April 2016, he will have another option, even the COMELEC laid all the ground work for his annointed one, meaning voting in the malls which is illegal and unthinkable since it diluted with the interest of Oligarchs, PCOS, CF Cards and Microchips with the designed or pre-program for his annointed one to be delivered 1 week before the election date, IN MY READING AND SUSPECTS THIS OPTION IS A SHOOTING WAR WITH CHINA AS CAN BE SEEN AGAIN THRU HIS WORDS AND ACTION, THEN HE DECLARES MARTIAL LAW WITH CONCURENCE OF RUBBER STAMP MAJORITY HELD SENATE, FOLLOWED IT UP BY DECLARING REVOLUTIONARY GOVERNMENT, REMOVE VICE PRESIDENT BINAY AND RUN IT AS DICTATOR LIKE WHAT LATE CORY DID DICTATORSHIP. AND RUN WITH A COPY CAT FREEDOM CONSTITUTION, THEN FINALLY, CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION TO SUIT HIS DESIRED AMENDMENT. FOLLOWS, CEASEFIRE WITH CHINA AND BILATERAL TALKS TAKES PLACE AND ELECTION WITH MAR ROXAS AS PRESIDENT.
    HISTORY REPEAST ITSELF

  6. “An educated man is thoroughly inoculated against humbug, thinks for himself and tries to give his thoughts, in speech or on paper, some style”
    Alan K. Simpson

    It was not without reason that the Philippines is labelled a ‘basket case’. And it has nothing to do with lack of GDP growth, but the leadership culture and ability to constantly turn a problem into a drama, a drama into a crisis, and the constant whimpering.

    Put the philippines on the psychiatrists couch, and it demonstrates a split/schizoid personality, a narcissistic culture, and co-dependency.

    Pnoy aquino and his cohorts are acting like addicts – in denial of reality, making excuses, avoiding responsibility, and breaking promises to make things better.

    Things will only get better when rock bottom is reached, and that day is coming.

  7. So if we use or apply one of concise meaning of “humbug” according to professor Black as’s “short of lying” to characterize apparently President Benigno Aquino 3rd and it is a disease, though not in the manual of pathology, then there is truth to the United Nation’s charge that President of the Philippines can be accuse as “the sick man of Asia.” Do you really mean that.” Ha!! Ha!! Ha!!

  8. Dahil nga napakasinungaling na tao ni Noynoy, yong sinasabi niyang “good governance” ay hindi totoo. Sa halip ay “demonic kind of governance” ang mayroon siya.

  9. Venerando Desales on

    Kaya Pala if one is both a humbug and hambog, he leads a humdrum and corny life which only a mother appreciates! A delusion of grandeur! Whereas, if one is humble, the more he becomes attractive and commands inspiration.’Those who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humbled themselves will be exalted.’Was it Jesus who said that? No wonder the country and majority of the people are suffering because there are so many humps on the road! Government officials be sensitive naman and listen to the people humming with displeasure!

  10. SALVACION CAHAYAG on

    Both words humbug and hambog clearly and truthfully defines abnoy. For what way
    can he boast for himself. First his mother cory the do nothing president was catapulted to the presidency because Enrilie, Ramos and Honassan revolted against
    Marcos. In short had it not been for Enrile, Ramos and Honassan there should have
    been no way that cory the do nothing president had ever became president. For these
    who are intelligent enough to understand NOT THE YELLOW FANATICS how events transpired in 1986, cory the do nothing president can never land herself to the presidency. IT IS NEVER TRUE THAT THIS CORY IS THE ICON OF DEMOCRACY THAT THESE YELLOW LAPDOGS ARE CLAIMING. As claim by some, during the
    campaign when she ran for candidate, she said that she cannot promise anything
    for the Filipinos. True to her word, she is the only president who did NOTHING.
    Seconly, also this ABNOY won the presidency because her mother died. Because of
    SYMPATHY, the Filipinos again voted for another incompetent person to the presidency. For what has this ABNOY did to the country. It’s all shame. vindictiveness,
    selective justice, massive corruption, lying, bata-bata system in the government,
    incompentence, bribery in the impeachment of Corona, mamasapano massacre,
    DAP, PDAP, negligence during the Yolanda calamity where eveny CNN Anderson
    Cooper & Christianne Amanpour said that that will define his presidency. Twa’s all
    because of SYMPATHY that put these imcompetent people were able to win the
    election. Already two (2) aquinos became president but they never became interested
    in knowing who really killed the older aquino inspite that the had all the resources in
    their command. Why? because they are interested in demonizing Marcos so that
    they could gain the SYMPATHY of the people. It they will find out that it was not
    Marcos who did it, surely they will lose the SYMPATHY that they are taking advantage
    of. Filipinos think about it.

  11. Roldan Guerrero on

    With the kind of President that we have, Filipinos have not only lost respect from the international community but also lost self respect as the result of electing a good man by presumption. This is the only time I have seen a Phil. President described as “STUPID” which is definitely the exact word to define him. How did it happen for us to have a leader like BSA? Why did we tolerate his abuses and incompetence in 6 yrs? Well its up to you fellow Filipinos to answer these querries for yourselves. I just hope this misfortune will never happen to us again!