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Book Review: ๕,๐๐๐ สำนวนไทย (5000 Thai Idioms)

Book Review: 5000 Thai Idioms

Review: 5000 Thai Idioms…

Title: ๕,๐๐๐ สำนวนไทย (นับแต่อดีตจวบจนปัจุบัน)
5000 Thai idioms; from the past right on up to now! [paraphrased]
Author: เอกรัตน์ อุดมพร
ISBN: 978-974521855-0

First off I wanna say that “5000 Thai Idioms” was recommended by David Rubin who is DavidandBui from the Thai Language dot com dictionary/forum website. They have a great website! It has a KILLER online dictionary, a free Thai dictionary iPhone app, good learning Thai resources and a great supportive forum about the Thai language.

I was more than a little hesitant to buy this book; seeing as both the idioms and the meanings are all Thai. Sometimes I’ve found when using Thai/Thai only reference material, the meanings provided don’t make the word’s definition any clearer (at least not to me).

My fears were groundless and I was pleasantly surprised paging thru it. First off the font was easy to read. It wasn’t one of those squirrelly Thai fonts which for some reason are so popular. You know the kind, they’re so stylized and so microscopic that you can’t tell if it’s a ไม้โท or a ไม้หันอากาศ (or at least I can’t, even with my reading glasses on!) Also I immediately noticed that the meanings were not only pretty clear, but written at level of Thai where I could make the leap in logic on what most of them meant without having to break out the dictionary. I have found the less you can use a dictionary and the more you can make out the meanings by context, the faster your Thai comprehension improves. There’s nothing worse than trying to read Thai but every other word you have to break out the dictionary because you’re reading stuff way over your current level of comprehension. I think this book would work for a high-beginner or low-intermediate reader IF they really wanted to read it. If you have a Thai native speaker/reader handy it’d be even easier!

The book is broken down alphabetically ก-ฮ and there is some bleed over, where a particular saying is in more than once place due to different ways it can be phrased. The idioms I’m going to use in this article are just ones I pulled out at random from the ones I highlighted, so they’re in no particular order.

I’ve just spent the last four months reading this book cover to cover, idiom by idiom, highlighting ones which I knew compared to an English idiom, ones which I thought were novel, and ones which would “fit” with the version of Thai I routinely speak. So far I’ve run several hundred of what I picked out as my favorites past the Thaiz I know. Some are hits, as in they know them and start reciting them as soon as I’d start saying it. Then again some were misses, and I mean by MILES! Even when I tried to explain them in Thai to Thaiz, they didn’t know what it meant. Sitting Soi side, half-cocked one night with my เพอืนฝูง’s (flock o’ Thai friendz) I actually had to go home, get the book and come back to show them that I wasn’t making up the saying. Now granted this could be due to the fact I speak pretty darned piss-poor Thai as far as clarity which could have been compounded by being half drunk as well.

During the time I’ve been going thru this book I’ve come to realize idioms are “conditions of humanity”. These are things which humans the world over have experienced, time and again, generation after generation and come up with a saying to relate it to one another in whatever language they speak. Once you take into account geography, culture, religion and background, the idioms between English and Thai are really close to each other in meaning. A couple off-the-wall examples are; in English we have “don’t count your chickens before they hatch”, in Thai they have “you shouldn’t sell the bearskin before you kill the bear” ไม่ควรขายหนังหมีก่อนฆ่าหมีได้. Now that’s a pretty strange idiom because I didn’t even know this place had bears, that Thaiz hunted bears or wore bearskins! Thai does have the actual don’t count your chicken idiom in อย่านับไข่ก่อนที่แม่ไก่จะออกไข่ more like “don’t count the eggs until the hen lays them”. Another one we have in English is; “something is better than nothing”. Strangely Thai has; กำขี้ดีกว่ากำตด “A handful of shit is better than a handful of fart”. Now any way you slice it, that idiom carries the same meaning! They have a “pig in a poke” as well with ยอมแมวขาย “dye a cat and sell it”.

It would appear that most if not all the Thai sayings are primarily agrarian based in origin. This is not surprising, seeing as not very many generations ago most of the people in the country were farmers and a good portion are to this day. It’s no different than the sayings in American English, most which have their roots tied firmly to our pioneer/farming background. In English we have “cotton’s short but the weeds are tall”, In Thai ข้าวยากหมากแพง “rice is difficult to grow, betel nut is expensive”. Both equate to hard times. Funny enough Thai has the “kill two birds with one stone” although they say ยิงปืนนัดเดียวได้นกสองตัว “shoot the gun once get two birds”.

There are oh-so many doz-don’tz, shouldz-shouldn’tz in the book. I mean the section which starts with อย่า is just staggering; in fact it’s 20 pages worth of entries! Some of the don’ts I just plain ไม่เก็ท. Here’re a couple examples; อย่ากินขี้ อย่าสี (ร่วมเพศ) หมา now that translates as “don’t eat shit, don’t have sex with dogs”. The meaning seems to say that some things you shouldn’t do in public, but even in private that’s out there. อย่าควักเอาลูกตาออกแล้วเอาเมล็ดมะกอกยัด “don’t pluck out your eye and stuff your eye socket with an olive pit”. The meaning is if you have something good; don’t think you should replace it even if it’s old with something new. They have อย่าใช้คนบ้า and อย่าใช้พ่อแม่, the first is “don’t use crazy people” and the meaning says don’t employ crazy people; the second is don’t employ your father/mother. Anyway, you get my drift. Some are so out there that I mean who would even contemplate doing that to begin with. Did so many people do this that they had to make up idioms warning people about it?

It is also not surprising that a LOT of the sayings are class/face based (or they sure come across to me like that); given these peoples penchant for putting everyone neatly on some mythical ladder rung of success and their fixation on giving, gaining, not losing and saving face. Also there seems to be a real slant towards telling women how to act in relation to their husbands, by an overwhelming factor. However, I didn’t see a whole heck of a lot of idioms which went the other way and told husbands how to act towards their wife!

There’s also TON of Buddhist related stuff in it too. So, if those kinda philosophical, yet wordy saying float your boat, this book will be right up your alley. It’s not that I don’t like those idioms, I do, and they’re good. It’s been pointed out to me, if you nail one of those idioms with a Thai; you’ve got the upper hand for sure. It’s just a lot of them are way too wordy for me to throw into the conversation.

For me an idiom/saying has to meet several criteria; it has to be relevant to whatever I’m talking about, it has to be short enough to spit out without hemming ‘n hawing AND has to drive home the point I’m trying to make using it without the need for me to say more than that idiom.

Some really funny ones about doing something just for the sake of getting it done without regard to quality are เหมือนหมาเลียน้ำร้อน “like a dog licks hot water” and เหมือนลิงล้างก้น “like a money washing its ass”. They’ve got a TON of stupid/foolish comparatives too like สมองหมาปัญญาควาย “brain of a dog, intelligence of a buffalo”. I got quite a kick out of มาไทยไปฝรั่ง for someone who “shows up to work perpetually late, yet leaves right on time”.

While this is a great book chock full of tidbits o’ wisdom, where it’s really lacking is; there should be some notation letting you know if an idiom is ancient, just old, or fairly contemporary. There’s nothing telling you which ones are diamonds and which ones are coal, it’s almost totally hit and miss. Some of the ones I ran past the Thaiz, they’d say, “wow, I haven’t heard that since my grandfather was alive!” To me that sort of saying is a keeper. Mostly because I’m old, and I don’t want to be spouting ภาษาวัยรุ่น-isms as they aren’t age appropriate. It actually struck me as sad to hear some of the sayings aren’t said any more. The younger guys who sit with me had never ever heard quite a few of them, yet they all agreed they had value. There’re some real good sayings in the book and I’d hate to see them fall by the wayside, in today’s modern age.

What I immediately noticed was that there were a LOT of comparatives in relation to a person’s personality (or status in life) by using animals. They have เข้าฝูงกาต้องเป็นกา “enter a flock of crows become a crow” conversely they have เข้าฝูงหงส์ต้องเป็นหงส์ “enter a flock of swans become a swan”. Of course both of these are close to the “birds of a feather flock together” saying. Now they also have crows shouldn’t mix with swans and if that’s not a not so subliminal classist remark I don’t know what is. At one school I regularly visit the teachers teach that same old hack saying “when in Rome do as the romans” with the Thai phrase เข้าเมืองตาหลิ่วต้องหลิ่วตาตาม “enter a town of squinty eyed people, you must squint your eyes too”. I told one of the teachers they should use the crow idiom; เข้าฝูงกาต้องเป็นกา. She said, “oh Tod, we can’t do that because here we have only swans!” I thought it was a great comeback, especially as much of a pain in the ass I probably am for those teachers.

They also have a lot of the same comparative idioms we have in English too; “black as coal” ดำเหมือนถ่าน, “black as gunpowder” ดำเหมือนดินปืน, “black as a crow” ดำเหมือนอีกา, “white as cotton fluff” ขาวเรากับปุยฝ้าย, “white as the pith from a banana tree” ขาวเรากับหยวก, Most of their “hard as” ones are the same; “hard as nails” แข็งเหมือนตะปู, “hard as diamond” แข็งเหมือนเพชร, “hard as a stone” แข็งเหมือนหิน. They also have “dark as ducks liver” ดำตับเป็ด, “black as a banana you covered and forgot about” ดำเหมือนกล้ยวหมกลืม and “black as the bottom of a rice pot” ดำเหมือนดินหม้อ. There are a lot of beautiful as a … and ugly as a … too.. If you’re rich or a high status girl who marries a poor guy, นางฟ้ากับหมาวัด “angel with a temple dog”, conversely, it would appear if a poor girl marries a rich high status guy, she’s a หนูตกถังข้าวสาร “mouse that fell into a tank of raw rice”. For the idiom we have “you can’t fight city hall” they have กินขี้หมาดีกว่าค้าความกับราชการ, which is pretty close, even though I think it fosters the innate fear of people in authority I see Thaiz exhibit more than ours does.

One I thought was quite funny was “curse someone like a chicken pecks the eye of a rat” ด่าเหมือนไก่เจาะตาหนู, which means you just keep on and on at it. A couple good ones when you’re offered food but it isn’t all that tasty are “better than eating dirt” ดีกว่ากินดิน and “better than being hit in the mouth with a stick” ดีกว่าไม้ดีดปาก. “Strike while the iron is hot” or do what needs to be done when it’s appropriate would be กินแกงเมื่อร้อน “eat curry when it’s hot” or ตีเหล็กเมื่อแดง “forge metal when it’s red”.

Not surprisingly Thai has just as many idioms relating to sex as we do. There’s กุหลาบริมทาง “rose on the edge of the path”, ดอกไม้ใกล้ทาง means the same but uses flower, there’s ไก่หลง a “lost chicken” and for a guy there’s จับไก่หลง “catch a lost chicken” and “beat the rice pot” ตีหม้อ. For something that finishes much sooner than expected they have “the sparrow didn’t even have a chance to drink water” นกกระจอกไม่ทันกินน้ำ. They have “meet a beautiful tree when the axe is chipped” เจอไม้งาม เมื่อยามขวานบิ่น, which is to meet someone beautiful when you are otherwise engaged. For a marriage that failed early on they had ก้นหม้อไม่ทันดำ “the bottom of the rice pot didn’t have a chance to blacken”. For a woman who is err, umm, energetic, they have ไฟแรงสูง “high voltage”!

This is getting to be a long book review but I wanted to give you guys a taste of what the book can yield. Believe me there’re a LOT of valuable material in it. I’ve worked some in when taking taxis, talking to Thaiz I’d never met before and to a person they light up. They ask how I knew that and then we’re off to the races talking about this or that. It is easily the best ice-breaker I’ve ever come across.

Cat suggested I write a follow-up to this of a list of idioms and their meanings. So, if you guys think there’s value in learning “Thai idioms according to Tod”. Lemme know I’ll pound ‘em out for you.

Tod Daniels | toddaniels at gmail dot com

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Review: Domnern Sathienpong Thai-English Dictionary

Domnern Sathienpong Thai-English Dictionary

Review: Domnern Sathienpong Thai-English Dictionary…

Title: Domnern Sathienpong Thai English Dictionary 4th Edition
Authors: G. Domnern, W. Sathienpong
ISBN: 9789742129200
Pages: 800
Price: 395baht (hardbound CD and larger font) 255 baht (paperback)
Availability: Just about anywhere which sells Thai books, Se-Ed, B2S, Asia Books, Kinokunia, Chula Books, etc.

I normally write reviews about Thai language schools and articles about my trials and tribulations in learning Thai. This is my first book review, so please bear with me.

I have several English-Thai dictionaries scattered around the house. Before I could really read Thai to any degree of proficiency I relied on them heavily. Problem is, looking up English words to find the Thai equivalent is often a hit or miss endeavor. True, you’ll get whatever the author of the dictionary thinks the appropriate Thai word or words for the English word, but what you won’t get is usage, example sentences, and compound words the word is tied to. And you often won’t get critical information about the word as far as if it is colloquial, formal, official, or used primarily in written Thai. And this is information a non-native speaker of Thai needs to use new vocabulary. These shortcomings had me giving away my English Thai dictionaries to Thai friends.

While browsing the dictionary section at B2S (the bookstore chain of Central Group) I happened across the bright blue cover of the Domnern Sathienpong Thai-English Dictionary. Now, at that time I could read Thai fairly well, meaning I could read something and mostly comprehend what it was saying. After I looked through the paperback edition I immediately bought it. Once I got it home I started reading it. I know, reading a dictionary doesn’t seem like an edge of your seat thing to do, but the way this dictionary presents information makes it quite an interesting read.

After a couple of days reading the paperback edition I realized that saving the 140 baht between the cost of the paperback and the hardback edition was short-sighted. The print in the paperback is noticeably smaller and often I couldn’t tell which vowel was which. A trip back to B2S to purchase the hardback edition solved and I was good to go.

The hardback version comes with a CD. I immediately installed it on my PC with disastrous results! It totally changed the entire desktop to the Windows default of giant icons, oversized printing, etc. An uninstall and system restore took care of the problem and I now use the CD as a coffee table coaster.

Some things I’ve found of interest in this dictionary are: the Thai word กระ, which can mean freckle, liver spot, or tortoise shell as a stand-alone word, is also the prefix for about 10 pages worth of words! Similarly the prefix ประ, which can mean to strike, touch, add, attack or pat on has nearly 9 pages worth of words.

What I like most about this dictionary is the use of example sentences in many of the definitions. I also like that the authors delineate slang from formal words, and seem to have no reticence in providing example sentences for some pretty coarse slang words. Now, granted, the slang is quite dated and not that much contemporary (ภาษาวัยรุ่น is included). Still, at 54 years old, it’s more age appropriate slang for me.

Another thing I really like is the incorporation of compound words related to a base word. I can’t begin to tell you the times I’ve looked up a word and then found myself reading the dictionary for 5 or 10 minutes. And all because there were so many compounds that can be made from the single word I was looking up. The dictionary has 71 listings for word compounds which start with ใจ and 36 for words which in which ใจ is used as a suffix.

In the back of the dictionary are appendices devoted to: birds, mammals, reptiles, insects, plants, aquatic life, geographical names, Thai dishes and ingredients, military and police ranks, Thai governmental, state, financial institutions, public universities and abbreviations. These are also very interesting to read thru, especially the section about police/military rank and the abbreviations. You can’t begin to read a Thai newspaper without a sizeable vocabulary in Thai abbreviations so this indeed is a helpful section.

Another asset, this dictionary is captioned with icons to denote polite, formal, slang, royal, etc.

Some of the downsides to the dictionary…

There is no Thai pronunciation for words, so you’re left to your own devices on whether a particular word has a double functioning consonant (used as a final and then again as a stand-alone sound too). Even if they’d included the pronunciation Thais are used to reading, it would have been an improvement, especially for a non-native reader/speaker.

I’ll relate a pronunciation fox-paw (faux-pas) I had 6 or so months ago in Thai language class. Now I’d learned the word อวยพร by looking it up in the dictionary when I was reading a teen romance novel, but I’d never spoken it aloud. In the lesson at school during the read aloud part, I unfortunately got stuck with a passage that had the word อวยพร in it. I pronounced it as อะ-วะ-ยะ-พน. The teacher who was in the process of taking a drink from a bottle of water almost blew it out her nose at my horrific mangling of the word. Honestly, if there had been a Thai pronunciation in the dictionary when I first looked up the word, I’da never made a fool out of myself like that. Still, hardly anyone else in class knew I mispronounced it so badly, until the teacher (after composing herself) pointed it out to everyone. We had a good laugh and I took it in stride. But really, sometimes you just don’t know how to pronounce an unfamiliar Thai word and a pronunciation guide would be a valuable addition.

They also have the irritating penchant for listing a word, but instead of providing the definition saying “see such and such other word”. I mean come on, how hard would it have been to put the definition in two places?

As I said earlier, that CD is a disaster waiting to happen so DON’T load it into your PC. I did Google around for a fix but came up empty. Also, it won’t display Thai font correctly on Windows 7, so using it as a coaster to set drinks on is probably the best you’ll get out of it.

Those are minor shortcomings and certainly shouldn’t stop anyone who can even read Thai marginally from getting this dictionary. I’ve found I’m about as fast (sometimes faster) looking up words with it than some technophiles are using the Thai-English dictionary app on their smart phones. It certainly gets you dialed in to the order of the Thai alphabet (which I still can’t recite BTW), and the progression of Thai vowels in a dictionary format. While I can’t recite the Thai consonant alphabet in order, I can look at the dictionary and guess pretty accurately what letter is what by the thickness of the sections.

Who will get use out of the dictionary…

I’ve recommended this dictionary to foreigners learning Thai almost any time I run into one. Truth be told, I’ve even bought copies to give them out to people studying Thai. Recently I ran into one foreigner I’d given a copy to months before. He promptly took 400 baht out of his pocket and gave it to me, saying it was the best thing he’d come across to help build his Thai vocabulary. I mean, how cool is that?

Cat wanted me to include some of my favorite words and example sentences in this review. However, my version of spoken Thai is coarse, blunt, direct, littered with profanity and far from suitable for a website like this. I think readers should invest in the dictionary and find their own pearls of wisdom rather than me providing examples (which might not be viewer appropriate).

I hope this review was of interest. If I continue to review books I’m certain to get better…

Tod Daniels | toddaniels at gmail dot com

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