Bugged by a Thai Phrase

Given that I’m still struggling to write long blog posts, I’ll experiment with some short ones. Here’s the first.

There is a new Thai phrase that’s been bugging me these last few days: กระชับความเหลื่อมล้ำ /krà-cháp khwaam-lùeaam-lám/. What the hell does it mean? And who was the genius who coined it? (I couldn’t help wondering.)

Among the 7o+ twitter feeds I currently follow, one is @thaireform, which is the twitter account of the Isra Institute (สถาบันอิศรา) information center, tweeting (in Thai) news and information relating to reform efforts in Thai society and politics. On June 1, 2010 @thaireform tweeted:

เปิดแผน “กระชับความเหลื่อมล้ำ” ของคุณหญิงสุพัตรา มาศดิตถ์ (ประชาชาติธุรกิจ) http://bit.ly/bLUNzo.

I could not believe my eyes and saved the tweet to ponder over. Why? Well, this is basically what it says in English:

Reveal “Tightening Inequality” Plan by Khunying Supatra Masdit (Prachachart Thurakij). http://bit.ly/bLUNzo.

You see what bugged me?

So I followed the link to read the original article to find out if the name of the plan in quotes was really for real. And to my surprise it seems this was an official name of a government project. Of course, I could very well guess that the plan had something to do with *narrowing* the gap (in status). The second word in the phrase certainly gave me a clue: ความเหลื่อมล้ำ /khwaam-lùeaam-lám/ means the “gap” or “inequality” in socio-economic statuses of people in society.

I understand that no government of any ideological persuasion would be crazy enough to advertise that it would “tighten,” “strengthen” or “reinforce” inequality among the populace. But that is what the word กระชับ /krà-cháp/ means, as a verb.

Sure, the word could also mean “compact” (as an adjective), or if you stretch it a bit, “to contain” (as a verb) as it was used in the case of Operation Containment in Rajprasong: กระชับพื้นที่วงล้อม /krà-cháp phúuen-thîi wong-lÓOm/ (lit. “to tighten/secure the perimeters” – “to contain the [protest] areas”).

So, the project name could mean “compact inequality” or “contain inequality,” though the first sounds strange and almost cute (though I hope it is a general opinion that there is nothing cute about inequality) and the second suggests that inequality has a right to exist but only needs some containment. Neither lives up to the noble goals of the project.

Strictly speaking, in this project title กระชับความเหลื่อมล้ำ” the first word กระชับ functions as a verb, which, again, means to “tighten,” “strengthen” or “reinforce.”

With all due respect to Khunying Supatra (who might have had nothing whatsoever to do with naming the project), the choice of the word กระชับ is very ill advised – on two important counts.

  1. First, it is confusing and misleading, if not entirely wrong in meaning or syntax.
  2. Second, it gives a wrong imagery and a very unpleasant vibe.

After the May 2010 “incident” I’d guess that half of the target populations of this project would not take very kindly to the word กระชับ /krà-cháp/ or to having themselves or their situation “tightened,” “strengthened,” “reinforced” or “contained” – unless it has to do with their waistline.


There are two obvious words for this project (โครงการ /khroong-kaan/) to consider. Depending on whether the project wants to appear realistic (which, I guess, is probably the case) or idealistic, one of the two following phrases will work perfectly well for it. Neither would cause any confusion or raised eyebrows.

  • “ลดความเหลื่อมล้ำ” = “Reduce Inequality”
  • “ขจัดความเหลื่อมล้ำ” = “Eradicate Inequality”

Perhaps the project designers/managers wouldn’t minding “tightening” their language skills a bit? 🙂

—–UPDATE (6 June 2010)—–

Thanks to someone who commented on Twitter (@Nok_Kasama), I can now articulate why the word กระชับ in the project title would give a wrong imagery (and finally connect my two favorite subjects – politics and sexuality). 🙂

Here it is: the word กระชับ /krà-cháp/ is also often used when women want to “tighten” their, er, certain feminine parts, from exterior parts like buns and boobs, to the interior ones like wombs and (*blush blush*) “there,” you know. Like when a (often “mature”) lady wants to rejuvenate, i.e. “re-create” her virginity (Thai word = ทำสาว /tham-sǎaw/, lit. “make virgin”), her part that needs to be “rejuvenated” will be surgically “tightened”.

Now, I’m wondering if the project in question had people who speak Thai as the first language name the thing. And I’m not talking about Thais who speak Thai as their first language like George Bush speaks English as his first language.

—–UPDATE (7 June 2010)—–

Yet another usage of the troublesome word I thought of today – this time in the context of relationships.

กระชับความสัมพันธ์ /krà-cháp khwaam-sǎm-pan/

The above phrase, when used within the context of social relationships or relations between countries, it means “to strengthen ties” or to step up the level of connections or relations. When used in romantic relationship context, it means “to become closer” or “to be more intimate” in the relationship.

And I’m still bewildered by how social inequality can be “tightened” – let alone “strengthened,” “intimate” or “stepped up.” Someone please give the government a dictionary!

4 responses to “Bugged by a Thai Phrase

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Bugged by a Thai Phrase « Thai Woman Talks … Love, Sex, Language & Politics -- Topsy.com·

  2. Ashley, Thanks for stopping by again. It was indeed an official project and the project name is consistently quoted. Still blowing my mind. 🙂

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