Message-ID: <Pine.GSO.3.95q.980209194210.14297M-100000@uhunix4>
Date: Mon, 9 Feb 1998 21:14:10 -1000
Sender: Southeast Asia Discussion List <>
From: Vincent K Pollard <pollard@HAWAII.EDU>
Subject: Re: RP elections in May 1998 (Keith Richburg article)
To: Multiple recipients of list SEASIA-L <>

Jitney, jeepney, and dypni

By Vincent Kelly Pollard, 2 February 1998

Keith Richburg did not hear Vice President Joseph Estrada correctly when the currently leading presidential candidate was referring to the dyipni. That is the most widely used form of public transportation in the Philippines.

Instead, the Washington Post reporter quoted Estrada in the following paragraphs (excerpt from the article posted yesterday on SEASIA-L Digest):

Estrada said he is used to being belittled by his detractors, whom he calls Manila's so-called intelligentsia, those intellectual snobs. His constituency, he said, consists of the squatters, the slum vendors, the jitney drivers—they supported me.

And to those who say an actor cannot be president, Estrada evokes the name of the politician he calls my idol, Ronald Reagan. The most powerful nation in the world can elect a movie actor—I don't see why the Philippines can't, he says.

In the first of the two paragraphs quoted above, the word jitney should be jeepney. dypni would be the spelling in Filipino/Tagalog. Jeepney derives from jeep and knee. Immediately after World War II, those two words combined to describe the face-to-face seating of Filipino passengers in refurbished American military jeeps, each of them enhanced with individualized externalized artistry.

Jitney, on the other hand, refers to a particular kind of taxicab once prominent in African-American neighborhoods in urban areas like Chicago where I also once drove a cab part-time for two years. In the oral history with which I am familiar, jitney originally meant a nickel (5 cents)—the cab fare for a ride within a specified zone probably in the pre-World War II era.

Somewhat less precisely, my account of the etymology of jitney is supported by the definitions supplied in The AMERICAN [emphasis supplied] Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (1969), pages 704-705.

Mr. Richburg almost certainly heard jeepney—and then conflated it with jitney.

The behavior of dypni riders, depending on one's view, often embodies the best of Filipino culture. Passengers always squeeze more tightly together to make space for one more rider. Fares (and change) are passed from person to person to (and from) the driver and back. The money rarely gets lost, and the change is almost invariably correct. Pakikitungo, pakikisama and, perhaps, even pakikipagkapwa-tao in a small transportation vehicle!