Thai Dog Idioms – Part 1: Pissed for My Canine Friends

UPDATE: 10 November 2011

Amidst the historical Thai floods, I’ve seen evidence of positive changes in Thai people’s relationships with their dogs. While many pets are abandoned to fend for themselves by their owners, many are not. One the most touching pictures I’ve seen during these floods is the one below. I will have to return to write Part 2 and Part 3 of dog idioms, but for now I”m not at all “pissed”. What love! The picture of this canine and human pair brings tears to my eyes.

สำนวนไทยหมาๆ – ตอนที่ ๑: โมโหแทนหมา

Humans and dogs, we’ve had a long and enduring relationship. But like an old couple –many millennia old – being together hasn’t always been warm and fuzzy, though a mammal would be hard pressed to find two closer species.

Dogs have seen humans’ worst and best and everything in between. They have lived with us in caves and in fancy condos. More are now living better as we prosper. But like most things there’s always a downside.

Canine humiliation: หมาถูกปล้นศักดิ์ศรี (ต้องขายหน้า ใส่ผ้า เอาตัวรอด)

Better food and lodging often comes with “better” clothing, which actually may be humiliating for dogs with dignity or sense of style. But dogs endure. At least wearing ridiculous outfits sure beats being eaten or left out side on the sure path to starvation and death, doesn’t it? (A wise dog logic.)

Funny_dog_outfit1 - Victim No.1
Canine Humiliation Victim No. 1
Funny_dog_outfit2 - Victim No.2
Canine Humiliation Victim No. 2
funny_dog_outfit3-4 _ Victims No.3-4
Canine Humiliation Victims No. 3 & No. 4

Badmouthing “man’s best friends”: อุเหม่ พูดหมาๆ กับ “เพื่อนที่ดีที่สุดของมนุษย์” เนี่ยนะ

Seriously, dogs have given us love, security, companionship, entertainment, not to mention free and slave-like labor. (Where do you think “work like a dog” comes from?) Dogs will endure just about anything with humans. But what have “man’s best friends” got in return for their doggie loyalty to us? A long tradition of badmouthing against them is what they got – at least from their Thai humans. As a dogophile, I am pissed on behalf of my canine friends. Yes, indeed I am! Utterly, positively dog-mad!

My 14-yr-old Thai dog

My 14-year-old Thai dog, clothless and still has his dignity

Thai dogs, before the days of “Little Doggie”: หมาไทย กว่าจะได้เป็น “น้องหมา”

In English there are several expressions that speak of English-speaking people’s love of dogs, or at least viewing them in a positive light. I’ve rummaged through all my Thai idioms books and found no expressions that show Thais hold dogs in endearment. None. Zero. Zilch.

Man's best friend

Man's best friend

There are no Thai equivalents for “love me, love my dog,” “man’s best friends,” or “puppy love.” I do know of one that exists, however, but it’s not included in any of my Thai idioms dictionary. It’s a saying in Kham Muang (northern Thai language): หล๊วกหยั่งหมา /lúuak yang mǎa/ lit. “smart like a dog.” (I’ve never heard or seen similar expression in standard Thai.) That comes as close to positive as I could find.

น้องหมา "little doggie"

น้องหมา “little doggie” - One of my four-legged kids when he was a puppy - evidently

Things have changed a bit in recent years, as more and more Thais have adopted farang bourgeois lifestyles, including keeping dogs as pets or substitute children. Given the changed sentiment (still in a limited circle of urban well-to-do Thais), many canine pets, “kids” or “siblings,” are referred to by bourgeois Thai dogophiles as น้องหมา /nÓOng mǎa/, something like “little doggie” or “baby doggie.” Sometimes you’ll hear น้องสี่ขา /nÓOng sìi khǎa/ lit. “four-legged little brother/sister,” or ลูกสี่ขา /lûuk sìi khǎa/ lit. “four-legged kid.”

As I said earlier, there weren’t any Thai terms of endearments for dogs before these. These new terms of endearments stick out like a couple of strange-looking trees in the dog-hating Thai forest of expressions. The remaining of this post will contain just the first of the three parts of Thai anti-dog expressions I’ll present. See for yourself how dogs have been viewed in Thai culture. I’ll put them in small groups for easier digestion – not literally of course.

Cursed dogs

ชาติหมา /châat mǎa/ lit. “[damned] life of a dog” or “[cursed] reincarnated dog”

When Thais really want to insult someone, we go straight to comparing them to dogs. I have not seen this curse explained anywhere, so I’m totally taking liberty here. Given that Thais believe in reincarnation I think to call someone ไอ้ชาติหมา /âi châat mǎa/ (or อีชาติหมา /ii châat mǎa/ if female) is to say that that person is [living a damned] “life of a dog” or is a [cursed] “reincarnated dog.”

ชาติหมา? "cursed reincarnated dog"?

ชาติหมา? "Damned life of a dog"? "Cursed reincarnated dog"? Me?

Though the person being insulted is evidently a human in this life, his or her doggie badness and baseness from the past life (or lives) still shines though. (ชาติ /châat/ in this expression means reincarnation.) The curse may sound strange to non-native Thai speakers and you may question if it’s really insulting or really vulgar. Take my word for it – yes on both counts. Don’t go testing it with a Thai. Or you might go on to the next reincarnation a little too soon.

เลวกว่าหมา /leew kwàa mǎa/ lit. “worse than a dog”

It’s not enough to compare someone to a dog reborn. To inflict even more insult, call them “worse than a dog.” That’s really, explosively insulting to Thais. Explosive as in if the insulted had a gun or a weapon nearby, the insulter may get a hastened opportunity to find out if he will go on to the next life (and be reborn as a mangy dog!).

ชิงหมาเกิด /ching mǎa kòet/ lit. “stolen the birth of a dog”

Reincarnations may sometimes experience glitches, so dogs’ and humans’ can be switched before birth. Yes, before birth – not at or after birth. Someone who has “stolen the birth of a dog” has long been (in many lifetimes) so cursed (due to extreme badness presumably) that s/he got switched with a dog before birth. In other words, that particular human’s life should have been lived by a predetermined dog, but s/he hijacked that dog’s birth and is living the life of that dog! Man, how cursed is that?! (Not sure if we should feel sorry or happy for that dog that was robbed of its birth.)

tough-chewy neighborhood dog

“You humans, go to dog hell!”—one tough-chewy dog in my neighborhood (best hairdo ever if you ask me)

So I ask you, my reader, what have dogs done to deserve such a hateful characterization?

I bet if dogs knew how to speak the human tongue, they would tell the humans who abuse them with the above sayings to go to dog hell.

Pariah dogs

That was just a warm-up. Thai dogs have been so vilified even their most pitiful state of being is taken to be the most undesirable, the untouchable, the non grata. Look at these.

หมาขี้เรื้อน /mǎa khîi rúeaan/ lit. “mangy dog”

A mangy dog is pitiable. Imagine being mangy yourself. Horrible, eh? But at least to Thai humans, a “mangy dog” is not pitiable. Just undesirable. A person compared to such a dog is treated much like a mangy dog – unwanted, unloved, disrespected, deemed unfit for society, and inevitably ditched.

หมาหัวเน่า /mǎa hǔa nàw/ lit. “rotten-headed dog”

If being a mangy dog is bad, there’s a worse fate: being “rotten-headed.” I don’t know if any dog or human could survive such a state, but “rotten-headed dog” is what Thais call a pariah, an outcast, someone who’s presently disgraced and naturally unwanted. There’s a rare glimmer of hope, though; many Thais have short memory. So if a “rotten-headed dog” can find the right doctor (or more likely the right fixer) to change the state of rottenness and give it an appearance of passable health, s/he may be forgotten or forgiven, whichever comes first (usually the former).

MRT_dogs in BKK

หมาข้างถนน Street dogs taking refuge in an MRT station in Bangkok

หมาข้างถนน /mǎa khâang thà-nǒn/ lit. “street dog”

Street dogs have got to be the lowest of the low in dog hierarchy, even worse then temple dogs who still have monks to feed and protect them. Street dogs have no one who cares enough about them to take them home or to hang out with them for a long period of time. They must fend for themselves. They are often badly treated by society and few come to their rescue, hence they predictably meet a pathetic end. Some unlucky humans share this pitiful state of being and are called by that name.

Bad, foul-mouthed, unworthy dogs

เล่นหมาๆ /lên mǎa mǎa/ lit. “play like dogs” = play dirty

I love playing with my dogs and watching my dogs play. I think the Thai anti-dog genes I inherited must have mutated, since it’s clear my ancestors didn’t think kindly at all of dog play. To “play like dogs” is to “play dirty” in their eyes. Most of my fellow Thais seem to still hold this view (their original genetic coding apparently in tact).

ปากหมา? "dog-mouthed"? Me?!

“Do I look foul-mouthed to you, huh, huh? My mommy kisses me all the time! How could I be foul-mouthed? And I’ve never snitched on no dogs either! I only love to smooch.”—another one of my four-legged kids

Do dogs really have a foul mouth? True, sometimes a dog’s mouth may smell foul, but much more so than humans’? I don’t know but that’s probably beside the point as far as my Thai ancestors were concerned. To use a “mouth like a dog”, or be “dog-mouthed” as they coined it, means to be “foul mouthed,” as in to badmouth others or tell others’ secrets. I doubt dogs tell other dogs’ secrets but what do I know about coining anti-dog expressions?

เล่นกับหมาหมาเลียปาก /lên kàp mǎa, mǎa liiaa pàak/ lit. “play with a dog, a dog licks one’s mouth”

On this one I must agree. It’s literally true, when you play with dogs they tend to want to be friendly with you, so they do often try to lick you face and your mouth. But that’s good natured, isn’t it?

เล่นกับหมา หมาเลียปาก

“If you badmouth me and my doggie pals again, I’ll give you a French kiss!”—yet another one of my four-legged kids

Dogs are generally obedient so you can tell them not to do that, or keep your face out of their tongues’ reach. How hard is that? (On second thought, I admit they can be very quick. I’ve been “kissed” on the mouth by my “kids” a few times. But what’s the big deal? Pretend a dramatic gagging and wash your mouth! End of anti-canine drama!) But nooooo, dogs are too lowly for humans. As a higher species we humans don’t condescend to touch mouths or tongues with as lowly a species as dogs!

What can I say?

If you have a stomach for more Thai anti-dog sayings (and my anti-anti-dog-badmouthing rants), come back for Part 2 and Part 3. Coming next.

Thai dog idioms

"Stay tuned. We'll be back!"

5 responses to “Thai Dog Idioms – Part 1: Pissed for My Canine Friends

  1. I see ridiculously outfitted pooches being delivered to the near by doggy palour for a mud spa and down right heat breaking sick and neglected dogs, only metres away in the sois. It’s an extremity I can’t quite fathom. Your post sheds some light on the topic and I look forward to reading part 2 and 3.

  2. Pingback: The Cursed Day in a Thai Dog’s life | International Crime Authors Reality Check·

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  4. I am sorry for your loss of Benjamin. It has been years since he passed, but I am just now reading your story and of your love for him. You have my sincere condolences. ~Kim

    • Thank you so much for your sympathy, Kim. Yes, it’s been over a year but Benjamin has never been gone from me. I still think of him and remember how a wonderful little dog he was. He’s still very much in my heart and I still love him so. I’ve got another chi hua hua who’s female and wonderful as well, she’s different (more timid) but as loving and lovable. 🙂

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