As you all well know most Thais are Buddhists and very few of us are Christian. However, this has never stopped us adopting interesting traditions from other religions, especially if they involve getting and giving presents or worshipping deities who might increase our chances of securing good fortune. Like Christmas, St. Valentine’s Day has by now become an adopted Thai tradition.
Last year for the Valentine’s occasion I wrote a blog post “How to call your sweetheart in Thai”. This year, I’d like to follow that tradition and explore more Thai “romantic” terms of endearment. (You’ll see why I put the word “romantic” in quotation marks.)
As I said before, Thais aren’t that big on lovey-dovey speech, compared to Westerners. Perhaps partly because we have a slightly different way of expressing affection in our language. Any sweet and romantic terms of endearment there might be I think I pretty much covered them in the last year’s post—and I might add most aren’t used that much.
What Thais tend to have is a different kind of speech in relationship context, that’s more ticklish than sweet, but in my mind no less loving and often very endearingly amusing. Those unfamiliar with Thai people and culture may find this very Thai way of expressing love a little strange.
As usual, I turned to my Twitter friends for quick input on what they call their respective sweethearts. Some terms of address they revealed expose not a little of the power balance in the relationship.
@AomNicha said “her male friend” calls “his girlfriend” ลูกพี่ /lûuk-phîi/. This is a Thai gangster term equivalent to “Boss”; how a junior gangster might call his superior.
Presumably feeling a sense of comraderie @petitpor joined in and shared that her boyfriend calls her “BB,” derived not from “Blackberry” or “baby” but “Big Boss.”
Which gave an opening to @Incognito_me to reveal she’s heard “some friend” call his lady เจ้านายที่บ้าน /jâaw-naii thîi bâan/, “The Boss at Home.”
Unlike the coy ladies above, @iPattt readily confessed that he calls his lady ผบ.ทบ. /phǎw baw taw baw/. No, it doesn’t refer to “Army Commander-in-Chief. (ผู้บัญชาการทหารบก) as the acronym is widely known, but the “Home Commander-in-Chief” (ผู้บัญชาการที่บ้าน).
These endearment terms are not too unusual. I’m sure equivalents are used in some other languages too. But the next one moves up a bit on the scale of strangeness.
A young Thai lady @ziggaga said she calls her boyfriend ลุง /lung/, which is “Uncle” in Thai. I risked asking whether that term might perhaps be used out of respect for his advanced years. But no, she said, her boyfriend is only a year older and she calls him so because he’s a sober, serious, responsible type. So I asked if he had any objection to such a term of address. Apparently if he has any he has never voiced it out loud to her. (Take note, gentlemen, silence means acceptance.) But, if his romantic enthusiasm has ever been dampened by such a term of address, I believe @ziggaga knows how to cleverly revive it: she said she alternates “Uncle” with “Honey.”
Now I recall one term of endearment I heard my old lady professor use with her (farang) husband and vice versa. They called each other จ๋า /jǎa/. Although this word really has no meaning in itself, it’s a kind of “particle of intimacy” used by Thais to express affection. My old professor and her husband addressed each other with the term in the way other couples might use “darling” or “sweetheart.” (See more on how that /jǎa/ “particle of intimacy” is used in my post about “Thai particles of endearment”).
Now to more interesting terms used by some Thais with a ticklish sense of humor and romantic sentiments. One that jumped to mind is ตูดหมึก /tùut mùek/. That’s right (for those who know Thai), it’s ตูดหมึก as in “Inky Bum.” (หมึก /mùek/ means “ink” or dark inky color like dark blue or black.) I first heard of this term last year from a Twitter friend @PanusD who startled his fellow twitterers including myself by telling us matter-of-factly that he used the term to address his beloved wife and a young niece he adored.
Yes, I did ask him why “inky bum” and what was so adorable about it. He explained, the term referred to the cute little bum of a new born baby that is still black and blue. I don’t know about you, but I’ve always thought of baby bums as soft and smooth and clean (when they’re not pooing, that is), but I guess I’ll have to take his word for it.
But that’s not all @PanusD has to offer. This year I went back to him for some more ticklish terms in his repertoire. And so I learned of another one he uses to express his affection up a notch, above “inky bum.” The term is ตุ๊ดตูด /tút tùut/. Once again intrigued and extremely perplexed, I had to confirm whether the term was to be taken literally because, I couldn’t help but wonder, how could a man—even an astonishingly creative one like him—be calling his wife “Gay Bum” (as in homosexual bum, not happy bum)! As it turns out, “Gay Bum” is a nickname of “Inky Bum”—an even more affectionate address, he said. (I would give a lot to interview his wife.)
A few other terms this affectionate man uses with his lady include หนู /nǔu/ (“Girl,” “Child”), ลูก /lûuk/ (“Child,” “Baby”) and อ้วน /ûan/ (“Chubby” or “Fat”). English-speakers familiar with old English usage may not be surprised at a husband calling his wife “my girl” or “my child,” as these are endearment terms once used (I figure from reading many historical romance novels). Many Thais may also have heard English-speaking foreigners use “baby” or “babe” as terms of endearment. But Thai people’s ears must be pricked at their Thai equivalents. Why? Thai people generally use such terms with young children and beloved pets only. (There are no Thai equivalents for “child,” “baby,” “babe” as terms of address in Thai in a romantic context.)
True, some sugar daddies may quite possibly call their young things หนู /nǔu/ (though I doubt they’ll use ลูก /lûuk/, for that’ll remind them too much of their own children). But a husband using such terms with his wife is… very ticklish indeed.
As for the last term อ้วน /ûan/, this is definitely Thai. I can detect absolutely no Western influence in calling your beloved one “My beloved fat one” or “My chubby one” as a term of endearment.
Foreigners familiar with Thai people know that Thais are not at all politically correct when it comes to making comments about physical characteristics. In fact many Thais love to tease one another with physical observations. Many of us have little compunction to say that you look fatter today than last week, or that the dress or shirt makes you look akin to a blow fish or some such comparison. Why, we say it lovingly too. So, the “fat” and “chubby” endearment terms don’t shock me at all.
In fact, I’ve heard similar physically characteristic terms used, such as ช้างน้อย /cháang nóoy/, “Little Elephant,” ตัวกลม /tua klom/, “Rounded One,” and หมูอ้วน /mǔu ûan/ “Fat Pig.”
UPDATE: More terms from @AomNicha and @petitpor – @AomNicha said a friend of hers who is from Isan calls his girlfriend ฮวก /hûaak/ which is what Isan people call a “Tadpole”. @petipor was reminded of her dad calling her mom แม่ยุง /mÊE yung/, “Mother Mosquito,” when she was fuzzing and buzzing with a small voice.
That’s all I have to share for now. If you have any ticklish terms to share, please do and I’ll add them to the list in the post. Thank you, and…
Happy Valentine’s Day to you.
Note: For those learning Thai, WomenLearnThai also has a Valentine’s special, a “Learning Thai Affirmations” technique to help you learn Thai (or fall asleep) better.