The Etymology of "Balisong" By Prof. Roland Phlip


Etymology is the study of the origin and history of words.

The term Bali-Song with the hyphen is a registered trademark currently in the care of Benchmade Corporation of Oregon City, Oregon and previously used by Pacific Cutlery and originally by Bali-Song Cutlery before that. But the word balisong without the hyphen is a generic word.

There are a lot of myths and rumors that surface again and again offering various colorful explanations for the meaning and origin of the word "Balisong." One thing is clear: it comes from the Philippines. In contemporary Tagalog, the most common of the many languages and dialects spoken in the Philippines, balisong means a folding knife with two handles that counter-rotate around the tang. In English, we sometimes use the term butterfly knife to describe such a knife.

But, where does the word balisong come from and what does it mean?

In their 1983 book, The Manipulation Manual for the Balisong Knife, Tom Wei Ding and Tom Wei Toi claim that balisong means "sharp knife." But, Jeff Imada says in his 1984 book, The Balisong Manual, that bali means "break" and "sung" means horn and that the handles of the original balisongs, originally called balisungs, were made from broken animal horns. This theory was echoed by Tai Jo in his 1985 book Balisong Knife where he explains that balisong can be variously translated as "broken horn" (a reference to the use of horn as a handle material), "breaking/rattling horn" (a reference to the clicking sound that balisong knives make when manipulated), or "to break the horn" (a reference to the use of a closed balisong as an impact weapon).

Other sources have reported that balisong is just a name and has no meaning.

But, recently a Filipino-American knife maker who grew up in the Philippines and speaks Tagalog as his first language, who was trained in knife making in the Philippines and who has studied the origins of these unique knives was a guest lecturer here at The Institute for Advanced Balisong Studies. Our distinguished lecturer explained that here in The United States of America, the country is divided up into states and within those states are cities. The nation of the Philippines is similar. In it, there is a province (like a State) called Batangas. And in Batangas there is a barrio (like a city) called Balisong. This city is famous for making knives much as, for example, the cities of Sheffield in England and Soligen in Germany are. It's much like the American city of Detroit, Michigan is famous for making automobiles.

Balisong is just the name of this city. It has since come to be synonymous with the butterfly knifes made there.

By the way, the city of Balisong is still a thriving city and making butterfly knives is still a prominent industry there. The city even have a semi-professional basketball team named "The Batangas Blades." You can check out their website by clicking here (opens in a new window).