Sobra-or-Over

copyright 2008 by Evelyn Miranda-Feliciano

Sobra or Over -- Number 4 in a series of articles about Tagalog Words and everything Tagalog by Evelyn Miranda Feliciano, a best-selling author of books on Filipino culture and family life.


Some tv stars had a filming in Malaysia and were asked how they were treated there. The answer? “Ay, sobrang exciting! Sobrang-sobra ang pagtingin sa amin ng mga tao roon” (It was too exciting. We were given over-the-top treatment).

A disembodied voice asks how a pretty young thing finds her hair now that she’s using this particular brand of shampoo. “Sobrang lambot! Sobrang kinang!” (Too soft. Too shiny), as she swings her hair prettily, wearing a mega-watt smile.

I thought this sobra or over -mania is just for the young and the mindless, but when I inquired from an 87-year old friend in church how the women’s retreat went, she explained. “Sobrang saya baga kami. Bakit wala ka?” (We were too happy. Why were you absent?) "What’s happening here?" I asked myself. Why can’t I turn on the tv or radio and make how-do-you-dos with a neighbor without this word sobra figuring?

My husband explained that it’s just a fad, a jingoism that comes and goes. Like hanep or grabe in the recent past. Or “cute” or “wonderful” in our days of long ago. “It will pass,” he consoled me. “Sobrang pag-iisip (Too much thinking about it) could drive you mad.” I almost flipped over.

In the two English-Pilipino and English-Tagalog dictionaries I consulted respectively, sobra hardly figures. The terms we use depending on the usage are labis, higit, lubha. Sobra is a borrowed term word from Spanish which means “more” or “over” like “sobra y sobra” (too much, overflowing). I remember my Spanish-speaking aunt who enjoyed hosting a feast for the family. Afterwards, she would beam satisfied and turn to us - her helpers - to say that our preparation was “sobra y bastante” (more than enough). And yes, we also use “masyado” from the Spanish word “demasiado”. But the way we use it now, “masyado” means “too much” or “much” while “di masyado” is “not as much” or “inferior”or “fair”. Is the overuse of sobra a sign of our time, I greatly wonder? Not because we have excess of anything beneficial like rice or oil or money, but precisely because we are lacking in many things as a people. In other words, maybe sobra has become a current expression to compensate for our dreadful scarcity. Things, feelings and experiences have to be magnified to overshadow the darkness without or within.

Or, on the other hand, this maybe a way to embellish certain elements present in our society- that is, enlarged and stretched to incredulity- that require or trigger the use of sobra. Like when the government reports that hunger in the country has abated, yet more Filipinos are hungry. Or, that we have sufficient stockpile of rice, but we form kilometric lines to buy a few kilos. Or, that public education is in place, yet, two of five children is not in school. The inconsistencies make us cry, Sobra na!

And yes, even our spirituality appears to be dominated by sobra. Constant repetitions of certain expressions from the pulpit and unthinking responses from the pew make me wonder whether worship is ongoing or a cheering squad in religious garb is on exhibition. Claims of sure prosperity as a result of simply believing and/or giving sounds like an investment scam.

If anything at all, the use of sobra in our everyday vocabulary is a sign of linguistic emptiness. Not only our bigasan (rice bin) is empty, our mind may have become empty as well.(If you’re always hungry, empty-headedness follows). Either our survival mode is working on overdrive, that we have no more time to think of apt terms to describe what we have in mind, or we suffer from mental laziness for lack of reading. Or, our media have failed to challenge our linguistic indifference through programs that are offer shallow visuals and inane conversations. A man in the Bible appeared not to have sobra in his vocabulary. In fact, he prayed not for sobra, but for just enough.

“O God, I beg two favors from you before I die,” he said. “First, help me never to tell a lie (nor to exaggerate or that would be sobra).

"Second, give me neither poverty nor riches! Give me just enough to satisfy my needs. For if I grow rich, I may deny you and say, `Who is the Lord?’And if I am too poor, I may steal and thus insult God’s holy name” (Prov. 30:5-9).

‘Yung tamang-tama lang. Walang labis, walang kulang. Hindi sobra. (Just right. No more, no less. Not over or too much). Just makaginhawa lang, makaluwag lang (give a bit of comfort, a bit of space). evelynmfeliciano28jul08


Tagalog Trivia

Tagalog- Di masyado (not too much, lacking, more or less, kulang)
Spanish - Demasiado (too much, sobra)

"Sobra, of course, is not a new word. It’s Spanish that means excess or surplus. About a decade ago, youngsters began using that to replace napaka – plus the adjective. And so instead of saying napaka-dumi, they say sobrang dumi. Napakaganda has become sobrang ganda.

"So far, I don’t use it (maybe because I’m not young anymore) and I hope it goes away in time. Watching television now and hearing bagets stars peppering their sentences with sobrang bait . . . sobrang bango . . . sobrang whatever can really be irritating. It’s already nakaka-inis. Sobra!" Butch Francisco http://www.newsflash.org/2004/02/sb/sb004049.htm

Over and sobra can lead to bumps. Beware.