คำว่า “เล่น” ในสำนวนไทย – ตอนที่ ๓: เล่นรัก
So now we’ve come to the last part of the Thai “play” series – a part which I intentionally saved for last, knowing some of you were waiting for it.
Old “Naughty” Play
Women who Love Women
When Thais talk of “naughty” play from the past one of the words that almost instantly comes to mind is เล่นเพื่อน /lên phûeaan/ (lit. “play pals”). (No, there’s no typo – it’s not “PayPal.”) The Thai “pay pals” is an old idiom meaning “to have a lesbian affair.”
The sub-culture of เล่นเพื่อน /lên phûeaan/ has long been a subject of interest. I guess girls playing naughty have always been a favorite fetish for voyeurs – even those disguised as academics. Books, book chapters, journal and magazine articles that studiously investigate the “historical tradition” of “playing pals” often associate it with the society of court ladies. That court ladies were known to engage in lesbian affairs is known the world over, found in all cultures where there were harems. Thai court ladies were no exception.
If you are interested in stories about lesbianism involving lovely Thai court ladies, see this article [in Thai] which shares such a story with a literary slant. This article discusses a comic poem by a court lady during Rama III reign who gave an insider’s view into the court ladies’ romantic drama. The said court lady was คุณสุวรรณ Khun Suwan who was one of the few well known Thai female poets. (What was special about her was that she had not only a huge literary talent, but also a wicked sense of humor.) Another blog article [in Thai] also tells a story involving a Chiang Mai princess in a love triangle with two other court ladies during Rama V reign. This one was tragic, plot developing and ending in the TV Channel 7 soap opera style. Only there were just นางเอก /naang èk/ (heroines) and no พระเอก /prá èk/ (heroes).
Back to the origin of “play pals” tradition. Well known court ladies’ romantic dramas notwithstanding, if เล่นเพื่อน /lên phûeaan/ had been restricted to the society of court ladies, there wouldn’t be the tradition of ทอม-ดี้ /tom-dii/ or หญิงรักหญิง /yǐng rák yǐng/ (lesbianism ; “women who love women”) in today’s Thailand, would it? In other words, lesbianism, the way I see it, is unlikely to have been merely a lifestyle of aristocrats in the old days, but an equal opportunity love tradition that women from all classes participated (if they had been so inclined). Just that few Thai literature covered the lives of ordinary folks (though I believe there are mentions of such relationships here and there in some literature – but one would have to look harder for those).
Men who Love Boys
Another old Thai tradition that involves sex and play is also a same-sex relationship that reminds one of the ancient Greek tradition of pederasty paiderastia meaning “love of children” or “love of boys”). In Thai the word is เล่นสวาท /lên sà-wàat/ (lit. “play love”), although the love is specific to boys. This old term means “to raise a boy to become [a man’s] own lover”, i.e. a tradition of “grooming” a “toy boy” or “boy toy”. The (toy)boy/sex slave raised or groomed by a man who เล่นสวาท /lên sà-wàat/ is called ลูกสวาท /lûuk sà-wàat/ (lit. “love child”). (which is derived from the Greek word
Obviously since sexual relations with underage children (male or female) have been made illegal, this tradition in its fullest form is no longer commonly practiced today. Likewise the term has fallen out of use, but the modern version of practice has been improvised. Sex with (male) children still happens in Thailand – as frequent news about arrests of pedophiles would indicate. Today’s version of “play love” เล่นสวาท /lên sà-wàat/ is more likely to be commercial and short-term arrangement.
(Anyone interested in another old (pedophilic) Thai tradition of grooming future husband/wife called เลี้ยงต้อย /líiang tÔOy/) or Thai terms for “toy boy” and “toy girl” see an article I wrote some months ago on that subject here.
“Play Fingering” – An Innocent Child Play Turned Naughty
An innocent child play is as seen in the picture on the left. It’s called เล่นจ้ำจี้ /lên jâm jîi/ lit. “play fingering and pointing.” The game is played along with the group singing, which is essential to the game. This website gives a concise game rules and the song lyrics [in Thai].
That is the innocent “fingering play” version. The not-so-innocent version, though using the same expression เล่นจ้ำจี้ /lên jâm jîi/, can perhaps be literally translated as “play hanky-panky.” Need I say more? But in case one needs some visual aid, here’s a page where a couple was described as เล่นจ้ำจี้. Half of the couple happened to be the famous Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon star, Zhang Zi Yi. In this case, the couple was “playing hanky-panky” in public (not at all approved of in Thai culture). Given public display of intimacy (especially the erotic kind) is still generally frowned upon, Thais like to engage in such a “play” in private.
Contemporary “Naughty” Play
The picture on the left is admittedly shows “naughty play” from yesteryears (recorded on a temple mural at that). I use a small segment of this temple mural because I think it represents quite appropriately the sentiment of “play love” เล่นรัก /lên rák/ – at least in my perception of the word. I can’t say whether this expression was used in the old days but I’d guess most probably. So I reckon was its synonym เล่นกาม /lên kaam/ lit. “play lust.” These two expressions involve typically a man and a woman in a romantic or erotic relationship but there’s nothing preventing them from being used in same-sex relationship as well.
Needless to say the tradition of “naughty play” in Thai culture and language lives on and thrives with creativity and diversity made possible by import and exchanges of erotic ideas and technologies. Yet, the two expressions above are still widely used today. Don’t believe me? Try googling it.
But the real 21st century lingo is probably เล่นเสียว /lên sǐaw/ lit. “play thrill”, meaning more or less the same as the last three expressions: “to have sex” or “to fornicate.” But this slang term’s got more of a titillating quality to it – (เสียว /sǐaw/ = (sexually) thrilled).
Another modern erotic play term is เล่นเซ็กส์ /lên sék/ lit. “play sex” – replacing the Thai words รัก /rák/ (love) and กาม /kaam/ (carnal lust) with the imported English term “sex”, hence making this new expression a Thai-farang hybrid. In the past 10-15 years or so the word “sex” has become part of the Thai lexicon – somehow I think using a foreign word tones down the directness and makes it less “crude” to talk of, well, sex, but it also makes it seem more urbane.
Here comes the technology part – เล่นเซ็กส์โฟน /lên sék foon/ lit. “play phone sex.” I suppose, like in English this “play” involves both the kind that you pay for and the kind that you don’t. Note the word order: the Thai expression translates in the exact order as “play sex phone.” Thai word ordering in imported English terms are common.
Now, this is an old sexual play that gets a (presumably) modern slang: (vulgarity alert) เล่นตูด /lên tùut/ lit. “play anus.” If you google the Thai term [assuming you can read Thai], you’ll see that it applies to both opposite-sex and same-sex, uh, sex.
Then there’s a kind of sexual play with an illegitimate, unsanctioned partner – adulterous play. The play that involves cheating on a spouse/lover is called เล่นชู้ /lên chúu/ lit. “play lover” – also คบชู้ /khóp chúu/ lit. “consort with a lover” or มีชู้ /mii chúu/ lit. “have a lover.” One interesting thing about the Thai word ชู้ /chúu/ is that in the old days it actually meant “lover” in a legitimate and positive sense (seen in old classical literature) but over time the original meaning has faded and turned negative. Now the word only means a “lover” in an extra-marital affair or outside of a committed relationship.
Sometimes an adulterous play involves a “plaything” or two: ของเล่น /khǑng lên/ lit. “plaything” or “toy.” But these playthings are the human kind, not children’s toys. The two-legged ของเล่น /khǑng lên/ is played by an adult male or female (married or otherwise) in a casual affair. Once bored with, the player discards the “toy.”
Thai erotic play isn’t limited to just the bedroom, of course. Even before love blossoms and sex is in the offing, there is usually a play of flirtation – well, at least by the coquettish type.
Flirtation is a playful art, and part of such an art involves use of the eyes: เล่นตา /lên taa/ lit. “play eyes,” which means “make (amorous/flirtatious) eyes.” Such a play is also described by the longer (possibly stronger) version of the act: เล่นหูเล่นตา /lên hǔu lên taa/ lit. “play ears, play eyes,” which, mind you, doesn’t mean that the player wiggles the ears as well, but the double emphasis conveys the intensity of the “come-hither” playful flirtation (with some disapproval).
Another play that is often employed in the flirtation or courtship stage is เล่นตัว /lên tua/ lit. “play body.” No, this is not anatomical sort of play. Rather it means “play hard to get.”
I’m pretty sure that some “erotic plays” have slipped through my fingers. If you know what I’ve missed, please let me know. Thanks.