March 24, 2009

Word of the Day: มะม่วง /ma'mûaŋ/

Word of the Day for Tuesday, March 24, 2009:

มะม่วง /ma'mûaŋ/ n. mango

I'm doing an experiment today with a word that everyone probably already knows. The idea is to learn something you don't know about a familiar word.

When buying green mangoes (มะม่วงดิบ), a basic distinction to know is between sour and not sour. Sour mangoes are simply มะม่วงเปรี้ยว /ma'mûaŋ 'prîaw/. Those that aren't sour are called มะม่วงมัน /ma'mûaŋ 'man/. These range somewhere between mildly sweet to somewhat bland, depending on variety and age.

There are dozens of species of mango, and hundreds of cultivars. Some common mango varieties you find in Thailand:

มะม่วงน้ำดอกไม้ - Sour when green, commonly eaten ripe. (Literally "flower juice mango")

มะม่วงเขียวเสวย - Commonly eaten unripe. (เขียว is "green", เสวย in this usage perhaps comes from Khmer ស្វាយ /svaay/ "mango", but probably influenced by เสวย, another Khmer word and ราชาศัพท์ for "eat").

See also มะม่วงแรด, มะม่วงอกร่อง, มะม่วงแก้ว, and many, many more.

Bonus: The cashew in Thailand is called มะม่วงหิมพานต์ "Himmaphan mango" (from Himavanta, the name of a forest in Hindu mythology), probably due to the mango-like shape of the cashew nut.


  1. You know, I also wondered how Thai got เสวย ("to eat: royal") out of the Khmer term (mind you, I'm not disputing the fact that they did), since the Khmer term is actually សោយ​ (which would be rendered in Thai phonetically as something like เสาย). Khmer ស្វាយ would be something more like สวาย phonetically in Thai...

    And while it's possible, I guess (maybe the above is evidence) that the Thai word for "to eat: royal" is related to the Khmer word for mango, I'm pretty sure that the two Khmer words ("to eat" and "mango") bear no relation to each other; the Khmer word for mango is the same as the Vietnamese (xoai), which is usually a dead giveaway that the word in question is pure Mon-Khmer in origin (while royal words always come from Sanskrit).

  2. Yes, I don't have any reason to believe the two Khmer words are related. I was only thinking that เสวย in the name of the mango varieties (it's in several) could conceivably come from the Khmer word, and if so, perhaps เสวย phonologically influenced it, because that was a similar-sounding word that already existed in Thai, and vaguely semantically related (i.e. you eat mangoes). This kind of thing isn't uncommon (modeling new loanwords on existing words in the language). ស្វាយ has actually been borrowed into Thai as สวาย -- it's even listed in the Royal Institute Dictionary as a Khmer loan, but I don't think it's ever been widespread. There is a ตำบลสวาย in Surin, and a ตำบลโคกสวาย in Khorat, though.

    So it's entirely possible that the เสวย in the mango names is not related to ស្វាយ at all. Hard to say.

    But เสวย is undoubtedly from សោយ​. Jenner traces the Khmer back 1000 years.