A Woman Learning Thai...and some men too ;)

Learn Thai Language & Thai Culture

Thai 101 Learners Series: Thanks for the Loan, We’ll Keep Our Word

Thai 101 Learners Series

A loan by any other name…

Anyone who has spent time in Thailand knows that Thai, like many other languages, has a generous helping of English words mixed into the vernacular. English also figures significantly in the technical and academic vocabulary of Thai, where frequently an imported version of an English term catches on more than the native equivalent.

Examples include everything from “Internet” (อินเตอร์เน็ต or อินเทอร์เน็ต, in-ter-net in Thai, with a low final syllable) to “ultrasound” (อุลตราซาวด์, pronounced more like ultrasaaw, as the “nd” invariably gets the chop in Thai).

Like many other nations, most notably France, Thailand has a governmental body charged with regulating the language. Thailand’s is the Royal Institute (RI), which is modeled after its French counterpart. One of the RI’s jobs is to come up with Thai equivalents for English jargon, though this prescribed vocabulary is subject to public approval.

But “loanwords” often take on a life of their own. They are subject to change, shortening, compounding and so on – just like any other word in the language. In any case, learning to recognize loanwords from your own native language is a good way to get a feel for Thai pronunciation in general.

Here are some English loanwords in Thai that I find interesting:

เก็ท [เก๊ท] = pronounced “gét” with a high tone.

Meaning: to get, to understand, to comprehend. As commonly happens, the borrowing language has taken just one meaning of the word and adopted it. As we know, in English get can also mean “fetch”, “receive” and “become”, but as a Thai loanword it usually means “understand”.

Example: The phrase ไม่เก็ท (pronounced “mâi gét”) corresponds to “I don’t get it”.

เวอร์ [เว่อ] = pronounced “wêr”, with a falling tone.

Meaning: to be over the top, extreme, pushing the boundaries of believability or propriety. Shortened from โอเวอร์ (“over”, with the stress on the second syllable) this word comes from “over the top”.

Example: เขา ชอบ เล่า เรื่อง เวอร์ มาก ฬง เเล้ว ไม น่า จะ จริง
kao chop lao reuang wer maak. fang laew mai naa ja jing

Meaning: He always tells over-the-top stories. They probably aren’t true.

This one comes up a lot in beer bars.

โอ /oh/ = (1) overtime work; (2) okay, acceptable.

Sense (1) is from โอที “OT”, which is also commonly used. I’ve most often heard it as part of the phrase ทำโอ, (tham oo) but not exclusively.

Sense (2) comes from “okay”, but this snippet specifically means “acceptable, tolerable, not terrible.”

Example:

Khun A: “สอบเป็นไงบ้าง” /sop bpen ngai baang/

Khun B: “ก็โอ” /gor oh/

Meaning:

Khun A: “How did the exam go?”

Khun B: “It went okay”.

I could list English loanwords all day, but are there any that you find interesting or wonder how they’ve come to mean what they do in Thai?

I’ll come back to loanwords, and I appreciate any suggestions or questions.

Rikker Dockum
Thai 101

The Thai 101 Learners Series first appeared in the Phuket Gazette ’08
@ Copyright 2008-2009 Rikker Dockum

Share Button

8 Comments

  1. I’ve been working hard at introducing words into the Thai language myself. Since meeting my girl there are 2 words introduced that are used quite often.

    Bulls**t…used with a rising tone

    &

    La Cucaracha…never pronounced the same twice…ever

    Word #1 gets a fair amount of use when speaking to or about the falang i.e. me. Word #2 not so much but it is really fun to listen to my girl fumble this one, especially when I butcher Thai so badly and often.

  2. ชิว is another interesting loan word from English.

    A : สอบเป็นไงบ้าง
    B : ชิว ๆ

    Some says it came from ‘chill out’, but other says it came from ‘children’ (which can refer to something not complicated or easy to do).

  3. Hi Talen,

    Apologies for it taking so long for the reply. My computer has been kicking up a fuss so I finally gave in and replaced it. I love new computers but I SO dread the chore of reloading! All those passwords… software… sigh…

    ‘La Cucaracha’ hah! I’d love to hear that one.

    Another one to bring to Thailand is ‘Brain Dead’. I used it quite a lot when I was learning French, and the French absolutely loved it.

    You might get a kick out of the small book, ‘700 Thai Words Taken From English’.

    There are a lot of sports words used by Thais. There is also a phrase sputtered by Thaksin in reference to Thai Airways (which I won’t post here).

    One of my favourites?

    เเบดบอย

    :-D

  4. This is really very handy. Reading sentences like ‘kao chop lao reuang wer maak. fang laew mai naa ja jing’ and the explanation makes me feel like I’m ‘quite’ close to getting the whole thing. Sutiya learnt english by watching ‘friends’ over and over with the english subtitles. I wish there was an equivalent in Thai!

  5. Catherine / Rikker – I have always been led to believe that the English word view is spoken the same in Thai but I have seen it phonetically spelt as wiw วิว , is the pronounciation the same.

    I would also like to know how the governmental body managed to turn the word Spy as in the wine cooler drink into Suhspy, bloody well beyond me that one. Maybe they were on their third bottle of Chateau de Loei at the time.

    Catherine my site is down at the moment due to a nasty DDOS attack (ask Jay) so if you or any of your readers has left a comment I will reply to it when the attack has been cleared. The site can now be viewed but I cannot access my control panel as its been down for over 24 hours so far. I will post about it when its up and running again. Cheers.

  6. Ben, there are YouTube shows with Thai subtitles, but I don’t know how good they are though (as in ‘how good the shows are’).

    Martyn, is view spelled วิว because Thai alphabet does not have a v (?)

    The Thai Alphabet Song

    Some Thais pronounce v’s as w’s. For instance, you’ll sometimes hear Sukhumwit even though it’s spelled Sukhumvit in English.

    Thai2English.com: Sukhumvit = สุขุมวิท = sòo-kŏom-wít

    Stuart Jay Ray gives an excellent explanation in his course: Cracking Thai Fundamentals.

    Edit… maybe someone else can step in?

  7. Hi Jo! Thanks for sharing the links. I’ll check them out later on today.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

*