Growing up in Manila, my earliest memory of the Tagalog word gigil was on a visit to my aunt’s house when I was around six or so. As I approached her to say hello, she grabbed my cheeks, pinching them so hard, and shrieking “gigil” over and over. It still hurts my cheeks when I think about it.
Gigil could be simply defined as a feeling of trembling or gritting of the teeth in response to a situation that overwhelms your self-control. A lot of Filipinos associate the word with a cute child—a child so cute that one must grit one’s teeth to keep them from rearranging the child’s face.
Love you to death
Like some other Asian countries—China, for instance—the Philippines is a very child-worshiping culture. But gigil doesn’t just conjure up a sweet emotion. It’s not necessarily cuteness that provokes this response. Sometimes, when you get frustrated with someone—or, conversely, when you really like someone—you can have a gigil reaction to that person, too.
To give you an idea, here are a couple of examples of how gigil is used. Nanggigigil ako means, roughly, “I am having a hard time controlling myself because of cuteness/frustration.” Closer to my experience with my aunt as a six-year-old is Nakakagigil ka—”You’re too adorable/annoying, and I can’t help myself!” Given the extreme feelings one experiences with gigil, people can become slightly violent. It’s all about the overwhelming feeling that washes over you when you’re confronted with something or someone you want to get their hands on and squeeze. It’s a tactile urgency that somehow takes over the rest of the body and leaves one almost breathless.
It’s a gut reaction, a surrender to cuteness, frustration, even lust. It’s gigil.