From “Wet Bottom” to Masculine Guile

It all started with a wet bottom. Really. But it’s not the kind of wet bottom you might be thinking of. The wet bottom I’m referring to is the “wet bottom” of Thai stairs. Like this. Well, this one is not wet, but you get the idea.

bottom of Thai stairs

bottom of staircase เชิงบันได ตีนกระได

Since my recent dealing with the expression หัวกระไดไม่แห้ง /hǔua krà-dai mâi hÊEng/ the translation of which I mangled by confusing the top with the bottom of stairs (which I corrected and explained in an earlier post), I’ve learned more about Thai stairs—commonly known as บันได /ban-dai/ in Thai, or กระได /krà-dai /, the older of the two terms.

I had no idea that a staircase could be so complicated. I thought stairs were just a thing you step on repeatedly everyday. I certainly have gained a new respect for stairs, and take them for granted no more.

Do you realize that Thai staircases have a mother แม่กระได, children ลูกกระได, head หัวกระได, foot ตีนกระได, and steps ขั้นกระได in between? The eminent Thai language expert Professor Kanjana Nakskul กาญจนา นาคสกุล explains the whole anatomy of the Thai stairs with all their endearing names here.

Now back to the “bottom” of the stairs. I mentioned before that the bottom of stairs is called เชิงกระได /chooeng krà-dai/ or เชิงบันได /chooeng ban-dai/. Do you all know what the word เชิง /chooeng/ means? It means “foot” or “base” of something.

A Thai linguist ภาษิต จิตรภาษา Phasit Jitrphasa, who writes columns on etymology of Thai words, said that the word เชิง /chooeng/ had its origin in Chinese; /chooeng/ means ตีน /tiin/ in Chinese and that’s why the word was borrowed as a synonym for foot of stairs which was originally called ตีนกระได /tiin krà-dai/ in Thai. I don’t know Chinese, so anyone who does can educate me whether Khun Phasit’s theory has any validity.

(For those just starting to learn Thai, note that the word ตีน /tiin/ is an authentic, old Thai word for “foot” but is now considered impolite. So, unless you want to make a fool of yourself, don’t use it in polite society to refer to your own feet; use the polite term เท้า /táaw/ instead – but not บาทา /baa-thaa/, which is a royal term, unless you have a good command of Thai to play with the word… I know, even calling a foot can be a dicey affair when you speak Thai.)

Back again to เชิง /chooeng/. If you look around, you can see the word embedded in many things (at least I do – like a child learning something new, “They are ev-ery-where …”) – in things that have a foot, a base, a bottom, or a rim, like:

เชิงสะพาน /chooeng sà-phaan/ = foot/bottom of a bridge

เชิงเขา /chooeng khǎw/ = foothill, foot of a mountain

เชิงกำแพง /chooeng kam-phEEng/ = base of a wall

เชิงเทียน /chooeng thiian/ = candle stick, candle holder

ชิงผ้าซิ่น /chooeng phâa-sîn/ = bottom rim of a lady’s sarong

เชิงชาย /chooeng chaay/ = eave, the overhanging lower edge of a roof


เชิงชาย = eave in a traditional Thai house structure

To tell the truth, I’ve heard of the word เชิงชาย /chooeng chaay/ before but never, ever thought of a part of a house. (Who pays attention to that kind of thing except architects and builders, right?) I bet that most have heard of the word in the sense of “manliness,” “manly pride,” like อย่าประมาทเชิงชาย /yàa prà-màat chooeng chaay / “Don’t belittle a man’s manliness.”

Yep. Men can be very particular about such things, you know.  As women well know, they guard their manliness very jealously.

manly man

Don’t belittle this man’s เชิงชาย /chooeng chaay/

manly man2

Or this man’s

manly caveman

historical evidence: evolutionary manliness genes 

But we women should be sympathetic; they can’t help it, it’s in their genes. Look –>

But seriously, despite the graphic evidence to the contrary, manliness is not just about muscles and the physical. As mentioned, เชิงชาย /chooeng chaay/ also includes a sense of  (male) dignity and pride.

The word เชิง /chooeng/ in เชิงชาย /chooeng chaay/ also has another layer of meaning: “manner, style, personality, guile.” In this sense, the word เชิง /chooeng/ is the same as the word ชั้นเชิง /chán chooeng/ which means, “tact, stratagem, guile, finesse.”

So, there you have it:

เชิงชาย /chooeng chaay/  = “manliness,” “masculine guile,” or “masculine finesse.”

Some of you might be wondering about any positive or negative connotation of the word. Mostly I think it’s neutral to positive. Manliness is something to be proud of and to protect (a little too jealously in some cases in a macho culture). But if the focus is on the trickery (like a “player” is said to be real “smooth” and have great “finesse” with the ladies), then it can be negative.

I was going to also talk about feminine guile, but the article is already too long.  So, I’ll save that for another day.

Lastly, not wanting to give an impression that I think poorly of manly men, I’ll leave you with some pictures just to show that I appreciate (and in fact much prefer) manly men, but to be honest not all masculinity is equal.  🙂 See for yourself …

gerard butler in 300

some more manly than others

gerard butler profile

simply manly beautiful

gerard and his man bag

Manly man + man bag | Contrary to popular male opinion, real men who are secure about their “manliness” ain’t afraid of no bags! Go Gerard!

construction worker

Will someone please fetch me a fan!

4 responses to “From “Wet Bottom” to Masculine Guile

  1. Kaewmala, I never knew stairs could be so complicated either…then you have the old Thai words to contend with, and believe me if their is a chance of me using the less polite word I will, though not on purpose.

    But I can honestly say I understand completely what you are saying and I think I’ll remember very easily now the word chooeng and it’s meaning.

    I can’t really comment on the manly form so hopefully the female guile will be coming up shortly 🙂

  2. Kaewmala, first off, I apologise profusely for being tardy in coming over to comment.

    I came across old Thai words when writing a post on WLT (still to come) about Thai post boxes. You know, the ones that originally arrived from London? You can buy piggy banks in the shape of post boxes. And they are fairly true to form, so you will get Thai from 100 years ago.

    Finding out that Thai stairs have mothers is great! So, how many connections to mothers are there?

    River = mother water. When I first came across that word combination, I started falling in love with the Thai language for real.

  3. Talen, I’m still slogging over this big report, so the ‘Thai female guile’ will have to wait a little while longer.

    Cat, don’t worry about not being able to come as often. It’s not a prerequisite to friendship. 🙂

    About use of the word แม่ “mother” in Thai language. Great observation, Cat. Maybe you, or I, or we, should do a piece on that. Here are a few words that I can think of already:

    แม่นม – ‘milk mother’ (wet nurse) <- _not_ 'breast brother'
    แม่เล้า – 'sty mother' (mamasan – 555)
    แม่แบบ – 'model mother' (prototype)
    แม่ืัทัพ – 'army mother' (commander-in-chief)

    Just to give you a taste…

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