March 31, 2009

Word of the Day: ประมาณ /pra'maan/

Word of the Day for Tuesday, March 31, 2009:

ประมาณ /pra'maan/ quant. approximately, about; v. to approximate, to estimate

I get asked regularly by Thais how long I've been learning Thai. The answer at the moment is ประมาณเจ็ดปี "about seven years". Place ประมาณ before the number. ประมาณห้าสิบคน "about 50 people", ประมาณสองพันบาท "approximately 2000 baht", etc.

Another form is โดยประมาณ, which comes after the number phrase, sort of as a way of hedging what you just said. It's also used to modify noun phrases that don't actually specify a number. For example, ราคาโดยประมาณ "approximate price".

ประมาณ is also used as a verb. If we swap the words in the previous example, we have ประมาณราคา "give an approximate price (for goods or services)".

Bonus vocab: ประมาณ has some phonetically similar cousins that can be easy to confuse. Their pronunciations differ only in the vowel of the second syllable [ประม*น]. They are:

ประเมิน /pra'məən/ v. to evaluate, assess, appraise. Ex: ประเมินผล "evaluate results (e.g. of an exercise); ประเมินราคา "appraise, give a valuation" (note the distinction from ประมาณราคา mentioned above); ประเมินสถานการณ์ "assess the situation".

ประมูล /pra'muun/ v. to bid (e.g. at an auction). Ex: เปิดประมูลราคา "open the bidding"; ผู้ดำเนินการประมูล "auctioneer".

ประมวล /pra'muan/ v. to compile, combine, collect; n. compilation Ex: ประมวลกฏหมาย "code of laws" (literally "law compilation"); ประมวลผล "gather the results (e.g. of an experiment)" (note the distinction from ประเมินผล mentioned above).

March 30, 2009

Spoils from the National Book Fair, part 1: Anake Nawigamune

This would be a very long post if I told you about all the books I bought last Thursday, but I'd be remiss if I didn't share a few. (The ones I plan to give away in April will remain top secret for now.)

I can't resist the books of Anake Nawigamune (เอนก นาวิกมูล). I first discovered him in 2005 through the book แกะรอย ก ไก่ ("in search of k. kai"), a fantastic book that traces the history of the words associated with the letters of the Thai alphabet (ไก่ ไข่ ควาย, etc.) It's out of print and very difficult to find. I still don't own my own copy.

The man is very prolific, with more than 50 titles to his name. He uses the same English author's blurb on most of his books:
Anake Nawigamune was born on March 14, 1953 in Ranot District, Songkhla and graduated in Political Science from Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, in 1977.

He does research on and writes about art, culture, and history. He is particularly interested in Thai traditional folk songs, early photography in Thailand, in dating the introduction into Thailand of various western inventions, in collecting antiquities and in historical anecdotes, since the age of 15 gathering pictures taken by himself and others recording changes in the appearance of towns and buildings as well as in daily life.

He began serious study of the art and culture of his country in 1972 and enjoys writing on subjects in this field.
He is also the founder of the House of Museums (บ้านพิพิธภัณฑ์). His recent works are published by the small publishers สายธาร and แสงดาว.

Many of his earlier titles were published by แสงแดด. มติชน and พิมพ์คำ have also published books of his. And while several of those are technically out of print, they are also not difficult to locate, especially at the National Book Fair. Just ask around at the used book shops, or go to the booths of the publishers I've mentioned.

At the book fair last Thursday, I picked up three more Anake titles:

ชวนหัวยุคคุณหลวง, a collection of jokes and other humor from the reigns of Rama V (r.1868-1910) and Rama VI (r.1910-1925). In it he even cites the 1865 joke I wrote about from the Bangkok Recorder as the first published joke in Thai!
Published by สำนักพิมพ์แสงแดด (1998). 124 pages. ISBN 974-7162-72-5

แรกมีในสยาม ๔, the fourth volume in a series of books focusing on the introduction of western things to Thailand. This volume includes articles on the sapodilla (ละมุดฝรั่ง), legal marriage (การจดทะเบียนสมรส), and the first Thai woman to travel abroad. Back in the states I used to borrow the earlier volumes through inter-library loan from Cornell. I have yet to find them for purchase.
Published by สำนักพิมพ์แสงแดด (1998). 166 pages. ISBN974-7162-70-9

ปกิณกะ ร.๕, an assortment of articles about Rama V. It includes articles on his childhood, his photography, artistic depictions of him, his work on behalf of agriculture, and other topics.
Published by สำนักพิมพ์แสงแดด (1998). 153 pages. ISBN 974-7162-74-1

I could probably write 1,000 posts based on all the fascinating stuff in Anake's books. Highly recommended.

March 27, 2009

Word of the Day: วงดนตรี /'woŋ don'trii/

Word of the Day for Friday, March 27, 2009:

วงดนตรี /'woŋ don'trii/ n. band, music ensemble

In Thai, a band of musicians is called a "circle" วง /'woŋ/. If the context calls for it, use the full form วงดนตรี. With context, วง alone will often suffice.

Bonus vocab:
วงดุริยางค์ /'woŋ du.ri'yaaŋ/ n. orchestra.
แตรวง /trɛɛ 'woŋ/ n. brass band.
วงแตก /'woŋ 'tɛ̀ɛk/ v. (of a band) to break up; the band broke up. By extension, this also refers to other types of group breakups, like a comedy team.

Bonus bonus vocab:
วงไพ่ n. a circle of card players (see also วงเหล้า)
วงการ n. professional or vocational circle, e.g. วงการนักเขียน "writer's circles, literary circles"
ร่วมวง v. join the group, join the party

March 26, 2009

National Book Fair begins.... now

The 37th National Book Fair and 7th International Book Fair start now.

Today from 6:00pm - 9:00pm at the Queen Sirikit Center.

10:00am - 9:00pm from tomorrow until April 6th.

Come enjoy all the bookish goodness.

[Official website]

More details in previous posts:
One week until National Book Fair 2009
Countdown ot National Book Week

Word of the Day: อนาคต /a'naa'khót/

Word of the Day for Thursday, March 26, 2009:

อนาคต /a'naa'khót/ n. the future; adj. future, -to-be

As with อดีต "past" and ปัจจุบัน "present", in its noun form, the preposition ใน frequently leads อนาคต as ในอนาคต "in the future". You'll also frequently see แห่งอนาคต "of the future".

The slogan for ex-Bangkok governor Apirak Kosayodhin's 2008 campaign was เลือกอภิรักษ์ เลือกกรุงเทพฯแห่งอนาคต "Vote for Apirak. Vote for Bangkok of the Future." (The accompanying website,, is now defunct. Much like Apirak's political career.)

Also notice his clever use of design to emphasize the words รักกรุงเทพ ("love Bangkok") within his slogan. It's very clever.

The adjective form of อนาคต is rare, but used much like อดีต. You'll occasionally see a construction like อนาคตประธานาธิบดี "future president". The noun form is by far the most frequently used, though.

There is also an elegant form of the noun: อนาคตกาล /a'naa.khót.ta 'kaan/ (literally "future time"), the opposite of อดีตกาล /a'dìit.ta 'kaan/ "past time". It doesn't turn up too often, but it's best to know so you don't get thrown for a loop.

[Tip: Paste Thai words or phrases you aren't familiar with into for definitions and romanized spelling.]

March 25, 2009

Word of the Day: ปัจจุบัน /pàt.ju'ban/

Word of the Day for Wednesday, March 25, 2009:

ปัจจุบัน /pàt.ju'ban/ n. the present; adj. present, current

Following up on an earlier WOTD, อดีต /a'dìit/, we now move forward in time.

As a noun, you'll often see ปัจจุบัน paired with ใน as ในปัจจุบัน "in the present", or "nowadays", to differentiate from ในอดีต "in the past".

You may have noticed that the adjective use of อดีต is atypical for Thai, in that it acts like a prefix (as in อดีตประธานาธิบดี "ex-president"). ปัจจุบัน acts more like we would expect. It comes after the noun, and usually the classifier will be present, too, as in ประธานาธิบดี(คน)ปัจจุบัน "the current president".

Bonus vocab: ปัจจุบัน appears in a number of fixed phrases as the antonym of โบราณ instead of อดีต. In this sense it is best interpreted as "modern". In medicine, ยาแผนโบราณ "traditional medicine" (literally "ancient medicine") is contrasted with ยาแผนปัจจุบัน "modern medicine" (literally "present-day medicine"). โบราณ and ปัจจุบัน are also contrasted when paired with สมัย "era", as สมัยโบราณ "olden times" and สมัยปัจจุบัน "modern times".

Tomorrow we proceed to the future...

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.

March 23, 2009

Word of the Day: ฉิบหาย /chìp 'hǎay/

Word of the Day for Monday, March 23, 2009

ฉิบหาย /chìp 'hǎay/ v. to perish, be utterly ruined, destroyed; (slang) very, extremely.

In light of the recent parliamentary debate on this word, I think it deserves to be featured. Warning up front: be careful about using this word. If its use in parliament can derail their discussion for more than half an hour, then you know it packs some punch.

The use of ฉิบหาย can be traced to the Sukhothai era. The Wat Sri Chum (วัดศรีชุม) inscription, composed around the 14th century, includes the phrase บใหฉิบบใหหาย, or in modern spelling บ่ให้ฉิบ บ่ให้หาย. ฉิบ and หาย are actually synonyms, meaning to disappear or come to ruin. They appear again in a 1361 inscription in a similar context: บ่ใหเถิงทีฉิบหาย (modern: ให้ถึงที่ฉิบที่หาย).

The meaning I've discussed above is the traditional one. The much more common use these days is as slang. It's used as an intensifier, and generally considered rude.

For example, เบื่อฉิบหาย would mean something like, "I'm really bored." But many people would take it like, "I'm bored out of my f*ing gourd." It can be used to intensify positive things, too, as in เก่งฉิบหาย "really damn clever". But like I said, use with caution.

It's relatively common in Thai movies, and of course on the web. In these contexts, it's often spelled ชิบหาย or ชิปหาย, and pronounced with a high tone on the first syllable: /chíp 'hǎay/. Sometimes you'll also see self-censorship (like the use of asterisks in English): ฉิบห..., or similar.

I believe the stigma attached to the word must be fairly recent, and perhaps caused by the rise in prominence of the slang meaning. Just as กู and มึง were once normal, everyday words, today ฉิบหาย has been stigmatized as rude.

Royal Institute Dictionary of New Words Vol. 2 on the horizon

The Royal Institute announced last Friday that it is opening bidding to print the second volume of its Dictionary of New Words (พจนานุกรมคำใหม่ เล่ม ๒). Volume 1 was released on October 2007.

There will be an information session for interested publishers on Friday, March 27. Bids must be submitted by April 2, 2009.

Specs for the new book:

~200 pages
14.5 x 21 cm
75gsm Green Read paper
single color

260 gsm art card paper
PVC matte lamination with spot UV varnish

Binding, etc.
thread-sewn and glued
5,000 copies
60-day deadline

[Source: ประกาศราชบัณฑิตยสถาน เรื่อง สอบราคาจ้างพิมพ์หนังสือ (PDF)]

March 21, 2009

Thai parliament debates ฉิบหาย: rude or not?

Thailand's House of Representatives (สภาผู้แทนราษฎร) spent half an hour yesterday debating whether it was appropriate to use the word ฉิบหาย in parliamentary discourse, after MP Somkid Balthaisong (สมคิด บาลไธสง) of the Pheu Thai Party uttered it in in reference to Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya (กษิต ภิรมย์), saying he has brought "ruin" to the country (the Nation translates it "disaster").

The eventual ruling by the Deputy House Speaker was that it wasn't rude.

I think I know what the Word of the Day for today will be...

[Hat tip to Catherine]

Catcher in the Rye ฉบับภาษาไทย

This past Thursday, March 19, saw the launch of a new Thai translation of J.D. Salinger's best-known novel, The Catcher in the Rye. Translated by S.E.A.Write Award-winning author Prabda Yoon (ปราบดา หยุ่น), the new title is จะเป็นผู้คอยรับไว้ ไม่ให้ใครร่วงหล่น.

The new edition is published by Lighthouse Publishing (ไลต์เฮาส์พับลิชชิ่ง). The cover:

The Catcher in The Rye has twice previously been translated into Thai. Once in 1983 under the title ชั่วชีวิตของผม by "คำรวี-ใบเตย", published by สำนักพิมพ์ปิยะสาส์น, and again in 1988 under the title ทุ่งฝัน by "ศาสนิก", published by สำนักพิมพ์เรจีนา.

Covers of the 1983 and 1988 translations.

The launch was Thursday afternoon at the Siam Paragon branch of Kinokuniya. The Same Sky Books forum has photos from the event.

I plan to pick up a copy at the 37th National Book Fair next week.

[Hat tip to @Fringer, of, who was an invited guest at the book launch.]

March 20, 2009

Word of the Day: อดีต /a'dìit/

Word of the Day for Friday, March 20, 2009:

อดีต /a'dìit/ n. the past; adj. past, former, ex-

Both the noun and adjective forms of this word are common. As a noun, you might see phrases like:

วันนี้ในอดีต "On this day in history..." (a feature on the Wikipedia home page), literally "today in the past"

ย้อนอดีต "go back in time" (often used figuratively to refer to times or events past)

And as an adjective:

อดีตประธานาธิบดี "ex-president, former president"

อดีตคู่สมรส "ex-spouse, ex-husband/wife"

Less common (but good to know) is the elegant form อดีตกาล /a'dìit.ta 'kaan/, literally "past time".

[For help reading or pronouncing, you can paste full phrases into or]

'รงค์ วงษ์สวรรค์ Rong Wongsawan: 1932-2009

I am a few days late with this story, but I was out out of the country when it happened. I learned the news today from the cover of this week's Matichon Weekend (มติชนสุดสัปดาห์).

Renowned author 'รงค์ วงษ์สวรรค์ (Rong Wongsawan) passed away Sunday, March 15, 2009, at Theppanya Hospital in Chiang Mai following a severe stroke. He was 76 years old, two months shy of his 77th birthday.

A native of Chainat province, Rong was named a National Artist for literature in 1995. Always prolific, he authored dozens of books and short stories spanning five decades.

Rong's 1969 novel about rural life เสเพลบอยชาวไร่ was selected as one of the "Hundred Best Thai Books of the Past Hundred Years" 1876-1976 (หนังสือดี 100 เล่มที่คนไทยควรอ่าน, English/Thai) by well-known writer and social activist Witthayakorn Chiangkul (วิทยากร เชียงกูล).

Courtesy of this site, I present a few pieces of Rong's wit and wisdom, along with my English translations:

  • ศัตรูที่มีคุณธรรม มีค่ามากกว่าเพื่อนสับปลับ
  • A virtuous enemy is worth more than a deceitful friend.
  • พรุ่งนี้มันเป็นคำแก้ตัวดีที่สุดของคนเกียจคร้าน มันเป็นความหวังของคนที่เดินทางผ่านวันวานมาอย่างสะเพร่า
  • Tomorrow--it is the best excuse of the lazy, and the hope of those who have traversed their yesterdays carelessly.
  • ความโลภมันกระโดดขึ้นไปเกาะอยู่บนหนังตาของทุกคน จนมองไม่เห็นความวอดวายที่ยืนรออยู่อย่างหิวกระหาย
  • Greed latches onto every man's eyelids, until he cannot see the ruin standing hungrily before him.
  • ยากเหลือเกินที่คนเราจะหนีความเหงา มันร้ายยิ่งกว่าเงาหรือเจ้าหนี้
  • It is so difficult to escape loneliness; it is more vicious than a shadow or a creditor.
  • คนเราสูงเท่ากันเสมอบนเตียงนอนและในหลุมศพ
  • We are all the same height on the bed and in the grave.

Thailand now says goodbye to this giant of the literary world.

[The above photo is by Anuchit Nimtalung]

Linguistic puzzler: Chevrolet

I've wondered this for a long time. Chevrolet in Thailand is เชฟโรเลต, pronounced [เช็ฟ-โร-เหล็ด] chef-ro-let. Why?

The company name comes from the surname of its Swiss-French founder, Louis Chevrolet. I can't speak for the French, but in English it's pronounced shev-rol-lay (the emphasis varies between first and last syllable depending on the speaker, in my experience).

It's a classic spelling pronunciation, as with many, many foreign words borrowed into Thai, and which results in Thai pronunciations like "Robert" as โรเบิร์ต row-bert (should be รอเบิร์ต), "magic" as เมจิค may-jik (should be แมจิก), and "Amazon", as in the website, as อเมซอน a-may-zon (should be แอมาซอน). I could list a hundred more.

But there is clear precedent in Thai of French-derived loanwords inheriting the silent t. Off the top of my head I can think of three: "buffet" บุฟเฟต์ [บุฟ-เฟ่], "ballet" บัลเลต์ [บัน-เล่], and "parquet" ปาร์เกต์ [ปา-เก้]. I'm sure there are others.

Looking at the company history on the website (Thai|English), I see it only entered Thailand in 2000. Why on earth would Chevrolet Thailand choose to pronounce the "t"?

I can't imagine that is good for overall brand recognition. English has prestige in Thailand, and if Thais pronounce it the Thai way to their English-speaking counterparts, they're going to sound ignorant.

This even makes it onto the Thai Wikipedia article for คำภาษาอังกฤษที่มักอ่านผิด ("English words that tend to be mispronounced"). A big marketing FAIL, if you ask me.

New feature: related posts

I've been making some minor changes lately. One recent addition is a "related posts" widget, which is only visible when you click through to the page for an individual post (by clicking on that post's title). It suggests similar posts based on the keywords I assign them. If you usually only read the main page, try clicking through to see it.

A few weeks ago I also switched to in-line comments, so when you leave a comment it doesn't open a new window like it used to. The comments form is now immediately below the post.

(BTW, I got both of these idea from Wise Kwai's Thai Film Journal.)

Please leave a comment if you have any feedback to give. I also regularly play around with the sidebar, so let me know if there's anything you like (or dislike) about all that. And if you happen to be a design genius with a weakness for philanthropy, feel free to give me ideas. I keep the blog sparse because I've never really found a theme I like.

Thanks again for reading.

Thai music blog

A fellow blogger named Peter wrote in to let me know about his blog dedicated to Thai music, มนต์รักเพลงไทย (or MONRAKPLENGTHAI, as it's styled on the header).

This is a great little blog. Each entry features an album of Thai music, with a tracklist, sample song, and a brief explanation/review.

As it happens, the latest post is about Sangthong Sisai (สังข์ทอง สีใส). Sangthong, who died in the early 80s, has been a subject of interest on the blog Die, Danger, Die, Die Kill! (in which author Todd punishes himself for what must be all the bad karma he's built up by watching the worst of Asian cinema, and often without subtitles. See exhibits A through L).

This music blog is now in its fifth month, and has about 25 album reviews so far. Definitely worth following.

March 19, 2009

I registered, which redirects to It's now easy to tell someone else about this site without writing down some long URL. I can hear you evangelizing now: "You've got to check out this life-changing website. Just go to"

Maybe those won't be your exact words, but I wouldn't complain.

Links to specific pages still require using Eventually this may change. I've been thinking for a while about switching to WordPress.

Update: Deep linking now works with It will redirect to the proper page on Blogspot.

March 18, 2009

Word of the Day: ไอติม /ay'tim/

Word of the Day for Wednesday, March 18, 2009:

ไอติม /ay 'tim/ n. ice cream

How about a little slang today. This Thai word is a corruption of "ice cream", of course. It's very common in colloquial speech. There's even an ice cream shop chain called บ้านไอติม /'bâan ay'tim/ ("ice cream house").

For the more proper word, there are actually two competing Thai spellings of "ice cream": ไอศครีม and ไอศกรีม. As a result, there are two competing pronunciations: [ไอสะคฺรีม] [aysa'khri:m] and [ไอสะกฺรีม] [aysa'kri:m]. It's only the difference in aspiration, but I've heard Thais argue about which is right before, so they're aware of the schism. (The official position of the Royal Institute is to use ก, which is phonetically correct, since English /k/ loses aspiration after /s/, as in "sky" or "school".)

Nerdy technical aside: I'm a little fuzzy on the exact phonological process that took us from /skr/ to /t/. My best guess would be that /s/ influences /k/ → /t/, a change in place of articulation but not manner. The /r/ is already dropped from the cluster in natural speech. Then the vowel /i:/ is shortened and the unstressed syllable /sa/ is also elided. Voila. [aysakri:m] → [aysaki:m] → [aysatim] → [aytim]. There is some evidence on the interwebs for the intermediate form ไอศติม [ไอสะติม], so I think my theory is probable.

Now I feel like getting a cone...

One week until National Book Fair 2009

One week from tomorrow, actually.

The countdown is entering its final days, assuming that you, like me, have a book-buying habit that occasionally causes you to go hungry. I can quit anytime I want. No, really.

As always, the semi-annual mega fair for book buyers and sellers will be held at Queen Sirikit Convention National Convention Center, which has its own stop on the MRT (subway) line. It runs from March 26 - April 6, open 6:00 - 9:00 p.m. on the first day, and 10:00 a.m. - 9:00 p.m. for the duration of the event.

If you've never been, you really should check it out. For those who don't read Thai, many English-language stores and publishers will be there with big discounts. For those who do read Thai, well, you get to drink from the fire hose.

You can read more about the fair in this earlier post.

March 17, 2009

Word of the Day: ประชาธิปไตย /praˈchaa thíp.paˈtay/

Word of the Day for Tuesday, March 17, 2009:

ประชาธิปไตย /praˈchaa thíp.paˈtay/ n. democracy

These days, you can't learn Thai and not know this word. The Thai public discourse is downright silly with mentions of it.

As a political buzzword du jour, it gets used and abused. The People's Alliance for Democracy (พันธมิตรประชาชนเพื่อประชาธิปไตย, or พันธมิตร /phan.tha ˈmít/ for short) continues to play tag-team demonstrations with the National United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship (แนวร่วมประชาธิปไตยต่อต้านเผด็จการแห่งชาติ, or นปช. /nɔɔ pɔɔ chɔɔ/ for short). Everyone is for democracy, and yet it's right at the heart of the struggle.

Thailand's Democrat Party uses a different derivation of the same word: พรรคประชาธิปัตย์ /ˈphák praˈchaa thí ˈpàt/.

You'll often see it with the word ระบอบ /raˈbɔ̀ɔp/ in front, too. ระบอบ means "system," but specifically a system of government. So ระบอบประชาธิปไตย is really just another way of saying "democracy", or more literally "the democratic system (of government)"

Bonus vocab: Other political ideologies include ทุนนิยม /tʰun ní yom/ "capitalism", เทวาธิปไตย /tʰeeˈwaa thíp.paˈtay/ "theocracy", and ธนาธิปไตย /tʰa.naa thíp.paˈtay/ "plutocracy". The Thai Wikipedia infobox about types of government even includes ยนตราธิปไตย /yon.traa thíp.paˈtay/, which I can only imagine must be "robotocracy". Sounds less than awesome, though some would say inevitable.

Three days left for the Thai book giveaway

I'm back from Malaysia. Turns out there were a few days without Word of the Day posts. I didn't get them written ahead of time like I'd planned, and then the Windows installation on my laptop somehow got corrupted while I was abroad, so I was completely offline for a few days.

In other news, a quick reminder that this Friday is the deadline to enter for the book giveaway. I'm giving away two copies of อัญมณีแห่งชีวิต Anyamanee Haeng Chiwit ("gems of life"), an award-winning short story collection by อัญชัน.

To enter, send an email telling your favorite Thai word to rdockum [at] gmail [dot] com. The full details are available here.

And remember, the drawing is open to anyone in the world. Postage at my expense.

March 12, 2009

Word of the Day: คุณภาพ / ˈphâap/

Word of the Day for Thursday, March 12, 2009:

คุณภาพ / ˈphâap/ n. quality; adj. quality

Officially, this word is a noun, similar to -ภาพ words like สุขภาพ /sùk.kʰa ˈpʰâap/ "health" and มิตรภาพ /mít.tra ˈpʰâap/ "friendship". Mary Haas' dictionary and the Royal Institute Dictionary only list noun senses.

It clearly has an adjective sense, though. Have a look at the slogan of Matichon (มติชน) newspaper, as seen in the title bar of their website:

หนังสือพิมพ์คุณภาพ เพื่อคุณภาพของประเทศ
/naŋ.sʉ̌ʉ ˈpʰim khun.naˈphâap ˈpʰʉ̂a khun.naˈphâap kʰɔ̌ɔŋ praˈtʰêet/
"A quality newspaper, for the quality of the country."

March 11, 2009

Word of the Day: ถีบ /ˈthìip/

Word of the Day for Wednesday, March 11, 2009:

ถีบ /ˈthìip/ v. to kick, give a forceful shove with the foot.

This word can be impolite, if you use it to describe things you will do to someone's face. But it has its legitimate uses. ถีบ is often used with bicycles in the sense "pedal": ถีบจักรยาน /ˈthìip jàk.kraˈyaan/. Note that ปั่น /ˈpàn/ ("spin") is also common: ปั่นจักรยาน /ˈpàn jàk.kraˈyaan/. (Lao has a word for bicycle ລົດຖີບ /lot tʰȉip/, equivalent to Thai รถถีบ /rót ˈthìip/, since Thais sometimes use it, too.)

หนูถีบจักร /ˈnǔu ˈthìip ˈjàk/ (literally, "rodent that runs in a wheel") is an informal name for either a mouse or a hamster, depending on who you ask.

Homework: If you want to read an amusing story that uses the word ถีบ, have a crack at this thread on The title: โดนช้างถีบมาค่ะ!! ("I was kicked by an elephant!!") It's a tad saucy, but fun. Extra credit if you get the "airbag" joke. :P

P.S. I'm leaving tomorrow for a conference in Kuala Lumpur for a few days. I'm going to try to schedule WotD to automatically post on each day I'm gone (as I likely won't have time to manually post while in Malaysia).

P.P.S. Thanks for all the positive feedback on Word of the Day. The best part (for me) is that it keeps me updating the blog on a regular basis.

March 10, 2009

Word of the Day: ภัตตาคาร /phát.taaˈkhaan/

Word of the Day for Tuesday, March 10, 2009:

ภัตตาคาร /phát.taaˈkhaan/ n. restaurant.

Yep, today's word is just a fancy word for a fancy restaurant. At the very least, if you don't accept credit cards, I don't think you get to be called a ภัตตาคาร. :P

The word ภัตตาคาร is a compound from Pali, combining ภัต /phát/ "food" + อาคาร /aaˈkhaan/ "building".

Bonus vocab: Thais distinguish between a few types of eating establishments:
  • สวนอาหาร /ˈsǔan aaˈhǎan/ (literally "food garden") is an outdoor restaurant.
  • ห้องอาหาร /ˈhɔ̂ŋ aaˈhǎan/ (literally "food room") is a restaurant within a larger building, such as a hotel.
  • ร้านอาหาร /ˈráan aaˈhǎan/ (literally "food shop") is everything else. It's the basic general term, though, so it tends to encompass everything.
  • ศูนย์อาหาร /ˈsǔun aaˈhǎan/ (literally "food center") is a food court, like at Tesco Lotus or a mall, with lots of little shops for the choosing.
  • แคนทีน /kʰɛnˈthiin/ (from UK English "canteen") is a cafeteria, like in a school or office building. Unless you're British, in which case it's a canteen. Formally, this would be a โรงอาหาร /rooŋ aaˈhǎan/.

There are legal definitions for some of these terms as determined by the Ministry of Public Health (กระทรวงสาธารณสุข), but you'll often see restaurants self-identify as one or the other on their signs.

March 9, 2009

Word of the Day: เสมอภาค /saˈmə̌ə ˈphâak/

Word of the Day for Monday, March 9, 2009:

เสมอภาค /saˈmə̌ə ˈphâak/ v. to be equal (in a legal sense)

Commonly used in the noun form, ความเสมอภาค /khwaam saˈmə̌ə ˈphâak/ "equality".

Examples from the web:

ความเสมอภาคในสังคมไทย "Equality in Thai society"
เศรษฐกิจอิสรภาพ เศรษฐกิจเสมอภาค "Free economy, equal economy"
โลกนี้ไม่มีความเสมอภาค "There's no equality in the world"
ความเสมอภาคหญิง-ชาย "gender equality" (literally "male-female equality")

Thai Community Radio ( offers 1000+ free mp3s

If you're on the lookout for free material to fill your iPod and practice your Thai listening skills, take a visit to, Thai Community Radio. All downloads are in mp3 format.

The catalog is truly expansive. There's a daily 30-minute program called โลกของเรา ("Our World"), covering public interest stories around the globe. The audio archive for this program alone go back nearly two years, which means many hundreds of episodes.

Another long running series is เส้นทางสู่ประชาธิปไตย ("Road to Democracy"), a weekly hour-long program which is up to nearly 250 episodes.

In addition, there are hundreds of other radio documentary programs, sometimes in shorter series, many times in single episodes.

In all, there are more than 1000 free mp3 programs on this website. Wow.

March 8, 2009

Word of the Day: ระบุ /raˈbùʔ/

Word of the Day for Sunday, March 8, 2009:

ระบุ /raˈbùʔ/ v. to specify, mention specifically

This is a nice specific word (har har), so you don't have to resort to a more generic verb like บอก. A couple examples:

"The report said that..."

"The evidence specified/showed that..."

The negative form, ไม่ระบุ /ˈmây raˈbùʔ/ is useful to correspond to English "it doesn't say", so often uttered in reference to things that don't actually speak -- like menus, pill bottles, or furniture instructions. How many ounces does the menu say that steak is? ไม่ระบุ ... Does the bottle say this medicine is supposed to be taken with food? ไม่ระบุ ... What's the difference between an A screw and a B screw? ไม่ระบุ

Not to be overused, but another good word to know. Try fitting it into a conversation.

March 7, 2009

Word of the Day: 555 /hâa hâa hâa/

Word of the Day for Saturday, March 7, 2009:

555 /hâa hâa hâa/ LOL; onomatopoeic for the sound of laughter

I'm a smart aleck today with my "word" choice, but this is actually a useful thing to know. It's the Thai equivalent of LOL. Increase the number of digits and you go from LOL to ROFL to ROFLMAO to ROFLCOPTER.

Ubiquitous anywhere informal Thai is written. See Facebook, Hi5, Pantip, and a million more.

If you were to write it using regular Thai script, it would be ฮ่าฮ่าฮ่า.

Bonus vocab: Other ways of "spelling" laughter in Thai include อิอิ, ฮิฮิ, ฮาฮา and so forth. Note that ฮา is also an adjective meaning "funny" (ex: หนังฮาดี "the movie was pretty funny"), and a verb usually used with groups of people meaning "to laugh and have fun" (ex: ฮากันใหญ่ "everyone was laughing").

Engrish in the wild

I snapped this at Dusit Zoo the other day. It's just so adorably Asian:

I intentionally tried to find more Engrish, but couldn't. The zoo does quite well at keeping blatantly bad English off of public signs. And Thailand on the whole is nowhere as bad as some other Asian countries (I'm looking at you, mainland China).

March 6, 2009

Word of the Day: แห่งชาติ /hɛ̀ŋ châat/

Word of the Day for Friday, March 6, 2009:

แห่งชาติ /hɛ̀ŋ ˈchâat/ adj. national

Literally "of the nation". This is one of those constructions that isn't hard to understand, but you have to run across it to know the right word. Be sure to note that แห่ง /hɛ̀ŋ/ is pronounced with a short vowel.


หอสมุดแห่งชาติ /hɔ̌ɔ saˈmùt hɛ̀ŋ ˈchâat/ National Library

อุทยานแห่งชาติ /ˈùttháˈyaan hɛ̀ŋ ˈchâat/ National Park

It's mostly found in the names of organizations and such, perhaps better literally translated as "The Nation's X". You wouldn't use แห่งชาติ to say something like, "X is of national importance." In that case you could still use ชาติ, perhaps X มีความสำคัญต่อชาติ or X มีความสำคัญต่อประเทศชาติ.

Also note that ชาติ also occasionally means "national" on its own, as in เพลงชาติ /phleeŋ ˈchâat/ "national anthem".

Bonus vocab: Phrases with ชาติ are very common. Those with the particular sense of "national" include นานาชาติ /naaˈnaa ˈchâat/ "international" (literally "many nations"), and ชาตินิยม /ˈchâat niˈyom/ "nationalist" (literally "favors the nation").

Thai 101 Giveaway: อัญมณีแห่งชีวิต by อัญชัน

It's time for March's Thai 101 Giveaway. Who doesn't like free stuff, right?

This time around, up for grabs are two copies of the short story collection อัญมณีแห่งชีวิต Anyamanee Haeng Chiwit ("gems of life"), by อัญชัน Anchan, the pen name of Anchalee Vivatanachai (อัญชลี วิวัธนชัย). Read about her on Thai Wikipedia (no English yet), or in the preview of Who's Who in Contemporary Women's Writing on Google Books.

This collection won the 1990 S.E.A. Write Award. (A second collection, ลายสือ Lai Sue, was on the S.E.A. Write shortlist in 1995, too.)

To enter the drawing, send me an email at rdockum [at] gmail [dot] com, telling me your favorite Thai word. It can be based on any criteria of your choice. Sounds nice, fun to pronounce, looks good on paper, tastes good on a sandwich.

You have two weeks to enter. I'll announce the winners shortly after Friday, March 20.

If you don't care to enter for the drawing, you can always share your favorite Thai word in a comment instead. I'll kick things off: I remember a few of my favorite Thai words from my first weeks of learning Thai were กระตือรือร้น and เปลือยเปล่า. I read the Mary Haas dictionary a lot.

If you're selected, I'll email you to request your mailing address. If you've won something in the past, you're still eligible. Open to anyone in the world. (If I start giving away heavy books, I'll have to change that, since the postage is on me.)

I picked these books up at last October's book fair. They're not used, but they've got some shelf wear.

Speaking of book fairs, we're only three weeks from the National Book Week Fair (งานสัปดาห์หนังสือแห่งชาติ). I'll be making the rounds there as usual, expanding my collection and looking for something suitable for April's giveaway.

March 5, 2009

Word of the Day: รำคาญ /ramˈkʰaan/

Word of the Day for Thursday, March 5, 2009:

รำคาญ /ramˈkʰaan/ to be annoyed, irked.

Used both intransitively (e.g. รำคาญจริงๆ "I am seriously annoyed") and transitively (e.g. รำคาญเพื่อนบ้านฉลองกันเสียงดัง "I'm annoyed by the neighbors' loud celebrations").

Even though you use it to describe yourself, it's a passive aggressive way of saying something/someone else is annoying. So that last sentence is a way of saying, "The neighbors are being really obnoxious (with their noisy celebrations)". And if uttered alone as an interjection in contemptuous tone, it is a strong rebuke indeed.

Bonus vocab: The sister word of รำคาญ /ramˈkʰaan/ is น่ารำคาญ /ˈnâa ramˈkʰaan/ "annoying, irksome, bothersome".

This word is all too fitting for me today. In one of those irksome moods. Which means that today I'm trying not to overtly act ขี้รำคาญ /ˈkʰîi ramˈkʰaan/ "irritable".

March 4, 2009

Loanwords 6: In the car

The influence of English permeates much of Thai life, particularly in technological areas. Compared with Web 2.0, iPhone mania, and other trends hitting Thailand, the good ol' automobile seems so last century.

But being as cars were the high technology of their time (and with fancy innovations continue to be), many loanwords have become fixed in Thai that relate to the automobile:

เบรก = brake. Used as both noun (เหยียบเบรก "apply the brakes") and verb (เบรกไม่ทัน "couldn't brake in time"). Also used figuratively by extension, meaning to attempt to stop or hinder something. Cf. similar expressions in English like "put the brakes on (a plan, etc.)".

ล็อค = lock. Also spelled ลอค, ล๊อค, etc. Mostly used as a verb in Thai -- อย่าลืมลอครถ "Don't forget to lock the car." The mostly-ubiquitous keyless entry thingamajig is known as a ที่ล็อครถ or more formally, อุปกรณ์ล็อครถ.

เลน = lane (i.e. a painted division of a road). This is what I call a Chameleon English, because it has no indicators in its spelling that it's not a native word. It's widely preferred to the "official" terms ช่อง, ช่องทาง, and most formally ช่องทางจราจร, which you'll see in signs.

ยูเทิร์น = U-turn. The Thai is กลับรถ (or จุดกลับรถ, for the place you make a U-turn), but since all the signs say "U-turn" in English, this is another common one to hear Thais use as a verb, where ยูเทิร์น = "to make a U-turn."

สมอลล์ทอล์ก [สะ-มอ-ท็อก] "small talk" = hands-free headset, i.e. the headphone with dangling mic that you plug in to your cell phone to talk on while driving. Thailand recently made it illegal to use your phone while driving without one, and this is now the generic term for all such corded devices. Not sure of the origin -- a brand name, I'd guess. And if it's a wireless earpiece, it's called a บลูทูธ "Bluetooth". (Some Thais I've talked to don't realize this is the name of the wireless protocol, but then "Bluetooth" is used as a noun for Bluetooth-powered wireless earpieces in English, too.)

I'm sure there are more car-related English loans in Thai. These are just off the top of my head. Any others come to mind?

Word of the Day: ข่าวลือ /kʰàaw ˈlʉʉ/

Word of the Day for Wednesday, March 4, 2009:

ข่าวลือ /kʰàaw ˈlʉʉ/ n. rumor.

This one's pretty straight forward. ข่าวลือ /kʰàaw ˈlʉʉ/ is literally "rumored news".

Example: เรื่องนี้อย่าไปเชื่อเลย เป็นแค่ข่าวลือเฉยๆ "Don't believe that story! It's just rumor." (Click for the word-for-word.)

ลือ /lʉʉ/ on its own means to be widely spoken about, to spread around by word of mouth, carrying the connotation of rumor or lack of confirming facts. The phrase ลือกันว่า... /lʉʉ kan wâa/ means roughly, "Word on the street is..." or "It's rumored that..."

Bonus vocab: ลือ /lʉʉ/ is also found in many compounds dealing with renown and rumor. The connotations aren't necessarily negative. Compounds with ลือ include ลือชื่อ /lʉʉ ˈcʰʉ̂ʉ/ (or ลือนาม /lʉʉ 'naam/), เลื่องลือ /lʉ̂aŋ ˈlʉʉ/, or the elaborate expression เลื่องชื่อลือนาม /lʉ̂aŋ ˈcʰʉ̂ʉ lʉʉ 'naam/.

March 3, 2009

Word of the Day: พก /ˈpʰók/

Word of the Day for Tuesday, March 3, 2009:

พก /ˈpʰók/ v. to carry on one's person.

A handy verb for cell phones and the like. If you forgot your phone, you might say ลืมพก(มือถือ)มา /lʉʉm pʰók (mʉʉ tʰʉ̌ʉ) maa/.

Or if you want to remind a friend not to forget to keep their cell phone on them because of some important call, try อย่าลืมพกมือถือนะ /yàa lʉʉm pʰók mʉʉ tʰʉ̌ʉ ná/

This is less likely to come up in daily life, but it's also used with weapons, e.g. พกปืน /pʰók pʉʉn/ "carry a gun (on your person)". (In fact, a pistol or handgun is called ปืนพก /pʉʉn pʰók/.)

Bonus vocab: The alliterative double พกพา /pʰók pʰaa/ means the same thing, but it's also used as an adjective meaning "portable" or "pocket" as in พจนานุกรมฉบับพกพา ("pocket dictionary").

March 2, 2009

New Feature: Word of the Day

For those readers on Twitter, I'm trying out a new feature: Word of the Day. I'll tweet a new vocab word every day, along with its romanized form and definition, plus a link to the dictionary. I'm using "word" looesly -- could be a phrase, an idiom, or whatever. Whatever strikes my fancy.

If you don't know what Twitter is, it's a sort of micro-blogging service, where you "follow" whoever you want to. That means you see the updates (known as "tweets") that they post. If they follow you, they see yours. Each tweet has a 140-character limit.

Read more about it, along with suggested clients, in David Pogue's recent New York Times writeup. Or try the Wikipedia article.

If you want to start following, head to the Thai 101 page at Twitter. You can also see my Twitter updates in the sidebar right now.

For Word of the Day, I'll use the modified-Haas romanization employed on the Thai Dictionary. (That way I can just copy-and-paste it.) I'm including romanization to allow everyone who doesn't read Thai to get something out of it, too.

I could also post the Word of the Day on here, or do a weekly roundup, or even add it to the sidebar. Let me know what you'd like to see.

And by the way, today's WotD (the very first) was this:
Word of the Day: สองจิตสองใจ /sɔ̌ɔŋ ˈjìt sɔ̌ɔŋ ˈjai/ To be of two minds (about something), undecided, hesitant.