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.
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
เชิงผ้าซิ่น /chooeng phâa-sîn/ = bottom rim of a lady’s sarong
เชิงชาย /chooeng chaay/ = eave, the overhanging lower edge of a roof
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.
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 …
Will someone please fetch me a fan!