January 25, 2008

Loanwords 2: Mouth, menu, mem

It's only been, oh, seven months since the last (and first) installment of Loanwords. Time for another look at the unique ways in which Thai speakers take words from other languages and make them their own. As before, phonetics are given in brackets when the word doesn't follow regular pronunciation rules. This time up: mouth, menu, and mem:

เมาท์ [เม้า] = to chitchat, usually implying gossip. From the English word 'mouth'. I've heard my wife use this one for a few years at least. It also made it into the Royal Institute's Dictionary of New Words (พจนานุกรมคำใหม่ เล่ม ๑) that was released last year. Note, though, that they have not followed the popular spelling, rather choosing to introduce a new spelling that matches the tone of the spoken word. Their definition says:
ก. ๑. พูดคุยกัน มักเป็นเรื่องไร้สาระ เช่น ผู้หญิงกลุ่มนั้นเอาแต่นั่งเม้าธ์กันไม่ยอมทำงาน. ๒. พูดนินทา เช่น พวกหล่อนชอบเม้าธ์ชาวบ้านไปทั่ว. [p. 123]

v. 1. chat, usually about trivial things, e.g. Those women just 'mouth' all day, they never get any work done. 2. gossip, e.g. They love to 'mouth' anyone all over the place.
I believe this is a true Thai innovation, because I've never heard 'mouth' used in any sense like this in English. It's actually, ahem, eyebrow-raising to use it in English like this.

เมนู = menu; menu item.
Nevermind that this isn't how we pronounce 'menu' in English (which would be more like เม็นยู), for starters. This seems like it should be fairly straightforward, like the menu at a restaurant, but this word has another sense in Thai: a menu item. That is, it's become a classifier for a dish of edibles. The idea of 'this is my favorite thing on the menu' can be expressed quite succinctly as นี่คือเมนูโปรดของฉันเลย (literally, 'this is my favorite menu'). If you've never heard this usage, try it at a new restaurant. Ask, มีเมนูแนะนำไหม(ครับ/คะ), and come tell me how it goes.

เม็ม = to save information in one's cell phone (usually a phone number). This is almost always followed by the word เบอร์, which comes from English 'number', and refers only to phone numbers (เบอร์โทร) and e-mail addresses (เบอร์อีเมล์). You can also use it without เบอร์, though. If someone asked you เม็มเบอร์ยัง 'Did you get (my) number yet?', you could affirm that you've completed the action by saying something like เม็มไว้แล้ว. This is usually used with phone numbers, but potentially could be used for other things like e-mail addresses, too. This is also in the New Words Dictionary:
ก. บันทึกหมายเลขโทรศัพท์ไว้ในเครื่องโทรศัพท์มือถือหรือโทรศัพท์พีซีทีเป็นต้น เพื่อให้ค้นชื่อและหมายเลขโทรศัพท์ผู้ที่ต้องการจะต่อสัญญาณโทรศัพท์ได้ทันที ทั้งยังทำให้รู้ว่าโทรศัพท์ที่ต่อสัญญาณเข้ามาเป็นของผู้ใด เช่น ได้เบอร์เลขาฯ มาแล้ว อย่าลืมเม็มเบอร์ไว้ จะได้ติดต่อได้สะดวก. [p. 123]

v. record a telephone number in a cellular telephone or PCT* telephone etc., in order to be able to instantly find the name and telephone number of the person with whom you want connect with via telephone signal, as well as to know to whom the telephone of an incoming telephone signal belongs, e.g. You've got the secretary's number, don't forget to 'mem' it, so you can contact them conveniently.
I've intentionally translated this into stilted English, because I think the original Thai sounds terribly formal and unnatural. It reads like it's been written for an audience who isn't quite sure what a "cellular telephone" is. Most unfortunate. [Update: Forgot to mention that the Royal Institute New Words Dictionary says this is from 'memorize'. This is plausible, since เม็ม is a verb and so is 'memorize', but I'd add that it could also be from 'memory'.]

If you have suggestions for the Loanwords feature, write me at the เบอร์อีเมล์ at the bottom of the page.

*For those who don't know, a PCT telephone (abbreviated from Personal Communication Telephone) is a rather rare system now that let you use a single number for both cell phone and home phone. A friendly robot answers and the caller dials 0 for home phone and 1 for cell phone, and the one number would forward to the other if there was no answer. Rather handy, but unfortunately the cell phones themselves were special models specific to the system and very aesthetically unappealing. Existing numbers are still around, as far as I know, but it never caught on widely, doubtless because you know how much Thais love their fancy, expensive cell phones that do your laundry and cure cancer and whatnot, all for the low, low price of two months' salary.


  1. Interesting post Rikker, hope you can make more installments to this series. I've got a few more too, related to internet postings:

    อัพ - upgrade, update
    เม้นท์ - comment, to comment (in a blog/forum)
    ได / ไดฯ - from "diary" I guess, but seems to be used like "blog" nowadays

    As in your average Thai teenager blog which according to Google often seems to look like อัพไดฯแล้ว!!! มาเม้นท์ๆๆๆๆๆๆหั้ยเราหน่อยนะ ! :)

  2. Not meaning to spam the comments here, but I thought of another one: the verb โชว์เบอร์, to describe the somewhat annoying practice of calling someone and hanging up as soon as it starts ringing so they call you back. Is there a word for this in English ? นึกไม่ออกเลย

  3. Took me awhile to get it, but I guess เม็ม comes from "memory," and the usage means "to put it in the (phone) memory" ?

    This whole new loanword shorthand and SMS of blog-inspired jargon is pretty maddening.

  4. @Mike: Good suggestions. I don't have a ton of experience with web/blog/chat lingo, but I do occasionally have to decipher it. The โชว์เบอร์ thing is called ยิง among people I know. To ยิงเข้ามา means to "buzz" someone, like you say. Call and hang up right away, so they'll call you back. This works here, of course, because incoming calls cost you nothing. Wouldn't fly in the U.S., where both incoming and outgoing eat up your airtime.

    @Mangkorn: Yep, you've got it. And I think 'memory' is just as likely a candidate as 'memorize', because of the 'phone memory' connection that you say.