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Thai Language Thai Culture: Primer on Thai Disaster Words

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Primer on Thai disaster words…

The Thai great floods of 2554 have affected almost everyone in the country. The rains in Chiang Mai, where I live, have subsided and the floods only lasted a short while. But the water had to go somewhere, and it did. Ayudhaya and Bangkok are now getting the water that fell here. If you’d like to help with a donation for flood relief a good way is to make a donation at the Krung Thai Bank, a government run bank. Looks like it will be much needed.

For those living in Thailand, it would help to learn Thai vocabulary being used (sadly, quite often used) in daily conversation, on TV, and in the newspaper. Here’s wishing that these words will be used less and less in days to come.

Flood: น้ำท่วม /náam-tûam/
– water: น้ำ /náam/
– inundated: ท่วม /tûam/

This is the general word used for flooding. It is a compound word.

Flood: อุทกภัย /ù-tók-gà-pai/
– equivalent to the English prefix “hydro”: อุทก /ù-tók/
– danger: ภัย /pai/

This is the word for “flood” that you might hear on a news report. It is not commonly used in everyday speech but these days you hear it quite often on TV. It is another compound word.

Danger: อันตราย /an-dtà-raai/

The everyday word for “danger” or “dangerous” in Thai is อันตราย /an-dtà-raai/. But when talking about danger on the “disaster” level the Thais use some words with a little more impact.

The Thai word ภัย /pai/ also means “danger” but is most often used as a prefix/sufix with other words of dangerous situations.

Besides อุทกภัย /ù-tók-gà-pai/ (flood), here are a few more compound words using ภัย /pai/:

Jeopardy: ภัยอันตราย /pai-an-dtà-raai/
– danger: อันตราย /an-dtà-raai/

Catastrophe; tragedy: ภัยพิบัติ /pai-pí-bàt/
– catastrophe, calamity: พิบัติ /pí-bàt/

Disaster; calamity; catastrophe: ภัยพินาศ /pai pí-nâat/
– destruction: พินาศ /paí-nâat/

Natural disaster: ภัยทางธรรมชาติ /pai taang tam-má-châat/
– by, via: ทาง /taang/
– nature: ธรรมชาติ /tam-má-châat/

Drought: ภัยแล้ง /pai láeng/
– dry: แล้ง /láeng/

To be safe (from danger): ปลอดภัย /bplòt-pai/
– free from, safe from, without: ปลอด /bplòt/
– danger, jeopardy: ภัย /pai/

And of course we can’t forget FROC (ศปภ.) short for Flood-Relief Operations Command (ศูนย์ปฏิบัติการช่วยเหลือผู้ประสบอุทกภัย). The title of the organization is made up of the following:

Center: ศูนย์ /bpà-dtì-bàt gaan/
Action: ปฏิบัติการ
To help: ช่วยเหลือ /chûay lĕua/
Flood victims: ผู้ประสบอุทกภัย /pôo bprà-sòp u-tók pai/
Person: ผู้ /pôo/
To encounter: ประสบ /bprà-sòp/
Water: อุทก /u-tók/
Danger: ภัย /pai/

Crisis: วิกฤต /wí-grìt/

This word is used for all kinds of situations from flooding to political unrest. “Political crisis” (วิกฤตการเมือง /wí-grìt gaan-meuang/) was heard often when the Red Shirts clashed with the Yellows.

Time of crisis: ช่วงวิกฤต /chûang-wí-grìt/
– time period: ช่วง /chûang/

Crisis, emergency: วิกฤตการณ์ /wí-grìt-dtà-gaan/ (alternate spelling วิกฤตกาล)
– event: การณ์ /gaan/

Some other words you might encounter when the subject is disasters:

Landslide: ดินถล่ม /din-tà-lòm/
– land, soil: ดิน /din-/
– cave in, collapse: ถล่ม /tà-lòm/

Critical (emergency); urgent: ฉุกเฉิน /chùk-chěrn/

Emergency: เหตุการณ์ฉุกเฉิน /hàyt-gaan-chùk-chěrn/
– event, situation: เหตุการณ์ /hàyt-gaan/

Emergency room, ER: ห้องฉุกเฉิน /hông-chùk-chěrn/
– room: ห้อง /hông/

Tsunami: คลื่นยักษ์ /klêun-yák/ (also used is a loan word from Japanese สึนามิ /sèu-naa-mí/)
– wave: คลื่น/klêun/
– giant: ยักษ์ /yák/

Drought: ความแห้งแล้ง /kwaam-hâeng-láeng/
– dry: แห้ง /hâeng/
– dry, arid: แล้ง /láeng/

Sandbag: กระสอบทราย /grà-sòp-saai/
– bag, gunny sack: กระสอบ /grà-sòp/
– sand: ทราย /saai/

Submerge: ดำน้ำ /dam-náam/ (same word is used for snorkeling)
– submerse: ดำ /dam/
– water: น้ำ /náam/

Here are a few disaster words I picked up scanning recent newspapers:

Collapse (structure): ถล่ม /tà-lòm/
Dike: คันกั้นน้ำ /kan gân-náam/
Evacuate: อพยพ /òp-pá-yóp/ (also means migrate)
Panic: แตกตื่น /dtàek dtèun/
Storm: พายุ /paa-yú/ (also sometimes used is the word loan for monsoon มรสุม /mor-rá-sǔm/ (Sanskrit?)
Typhoon: ไต้ฝุ่น /dtâai-fùn/ (also ลมไต้ฝุ่น /lom-dtâi-fùn/ and พายุไต้ฝุ่น /paa-yú-dtâi-fùn/)

Hugh Leong
Retire 2 Thailand
Retire 2 Thailand: Blog
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Hugh Leong loves explaining things. And during his 40 plus years of trying to learn Thai and its culture, he learned to love the cross-cultural aspect of living in a foreign country and speaking its language. His series, Thai Language Thai Culture, covers various aspects of learning Thai, and how the Thai culture influences how we say things.

8 Comments

  1. I was just watching the news at noon about the floods and found another disaster word being used often.

    Disaster victim – ผู้ประสบภัย /pôo bprà~sòp pai/

    ผู้ /pôo/ – person
    ประสบ /bprà~sòp/ – encounter, experience
    ภัย /pai/ – danger

  2. Thanks Hugh! Another good one. I need to stop hanging around the BBC coverage of the disaster – there’s no Thai (so I’m missing out).

  3. monsoon / มรสุม has an interesting etymology.

    They come from a single word — the Arabic mawsim (موسم “season”).

    It went into northern Indian languages, and hence to Thai, as acknowledged by the RID.

    The other way, it went to Portuguese (monção), early Dutch (monsun) and then to English.

  4. Thanks Rick,

    I just love it when a plan comes together. Would love to know some other Thai/English words that have similar etymology. Sort of ties us all together in a way.

  5. I have been watching Thai TV this evening and find it very hard to believe how bad the flooding has become. The flood victims’ stoicism is quite impressive. Unlike in the foreign language press (Nation) and the ThaiVisa crowd I haven’t heard anyone playing the blame game. It’s an interesting contrast.

    Here are some words I picked up just this evening from a story about how some flood gates got damaged at the Prabaa Canal.

    ชำรุด /cham-rút/ – damaged, out of order
    เอ่อล้น /er lón/ – to spill over (liquid)
    เอ่อ /er/- to well up
    ล้น /lón/ to spill
    ตลิ่ง – bank (river or canal)
    ระบายน้ำ /rá~baai náam/ – to drain (away)
    ระบาย /rá~baai/ to drain
    น้ำ /náam/ – water
    ประตูระบายน้ำ /bprà~dtoo rá~baai náam/ – flood gate
    ประตู /bprà~dtoo/ – door, gate

    Also, it turns out that most banks are taking donations now for flood relief. The Krung Thai Bank is government owned and the donations go to their disaster relief program. The other banks have their own relief programs. Also Ch 3 is doing lots of relief work.

    You can also donate to help the thousands of stranded dogs and pets who are also suffering

    Donations can be given at :

    Veterinary Network
    Kasikorn Bank
    Branch Siam Square
    Account-No. 0 2 6 – 2 – 2 5 0 0 4 – 2
    or
    Bangkok Bank
    Branch Siam Square
    Account-No. 1 5 2 – 4 – 7 2 7 4 0 – 9

  6. Here is a word I am beginning to hear, sadly, as the flood waters linger and it begins to cause a health problem.

    น้ำเน่า /nám-​nâo/ – polluted water
    น้ำ /nám/ – water
    เน่า /​nâo/ – bad or rotten

    Interestingly enough it is also the word used for the Thai soap operas. Go figure.

  7. Hugh, thank you for adding to this post. The flooding news keeps on coming, some pretty overwhelming (I didn’t realise that the Bangkok Post and Nation were so prolific!)

  8. I feel sad for the victims and the people in Bangkok. I can’t stop feeling worried. I will donate as much as I can. Thank you for sharing a little of the Thai vocabulary. I will take my time learning each one.

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