I spent ten years studying and working in the United States. Although there were several home visits during that decade, re-adjusting after my return to the fast changing Thai society presented a few small challenges. One of them was the new slang.
Soon after my return in the early 2000s, I kept hearing one of my girlfriends comment on something as “O” – โอ /oh/– a lot. At first I had no idea what she meant. What could it be? I wondered. “O” as in something is round, or has a hole in it like a donut? Or maybe it’s a code? Surely not “O” in “overdosed”? I was baffled. So I asked, “What the heck do you mean by ‘O’?” She replied, “OK, of course.” Dumbfounded I was. “You mean you actually shorten ‘OK’ to ‘O’? Why? Isn’t OK short enough?” She laughed.
That was the beginning of my interest in the new Thai slang, and later the new, new Thai slang, then teen slang, gay slang, katoey slang, online slang, all kinds of slang words that have been popping up in Thai slang lexicon faster than mushrooms. There’s no way anyone can keep up with all of them for there are too many different mushroom nurseries of slang where they grow. Those in the mainstream will get to hear the special few that have made it to the wider public—such as the ones I’m talking about here.
In this post I’ll focus on adopted English words in the Thai slang, which we’ll call Thinglish slang.
Now you know that “O” in Thinglish slang means “OK.”
Thais’ penchant for chopping up English words is clear and persistent, although not consistent. Consider one of the “older” and now common slang เว่อร์ /wôoe/ (wer), which is shortened from “over”. When it was first used—I don’t know when exactly but at least a decade or perhaps even two decades ago—it meant “over the top”, “excessive,” “exaggerated,” “too much”. The original meaning still remains, for example, a girlfriend packs two suitcases full of all styles of wardrobe for all conceivable occasions enough to last her 3 weeks, for a 3 day trip. She’s definitely wer! (Not ver, as ‘v’ does not exist in Thai sounds.)
But as time went on this wer slang became an empathic expression, meaning along the line of “very” , “too” , or “way.” In the past few years I hear it used in this new sense a lot, for instance, แซ่บเว่อร์ /sÊEp wôoe / (“very tasty” – sÊEp being the Isaan slang for “delicious” or “tasty” (food)), เท่เว่อร์ /thêe wôoe/ (“way cool” (person)), and ร้อนเว่อร์ /rÓOn wôoe/ (“way too hot” (weather)). These are examples of the new, new slang. Note that แซ่บเว่อร์ /sÊEp wôoe / could also mean (something that) hits you so satisfactorily, perhaps it’s a film, an episode of a TV drama, a piece of writing, or a song. Something that hits you in the heart, i.e., โดนใจ /doon jai/—you totally “dig” it.
Another one among the common, somewhat oldish slang is อิน/in/, which I guess may have come from “in the mood,” though I’m not very sure. “In” describes the feeling that you have when you listen to music and are “deeply moved”; you are “captivated” in that world. The same feeling applies to any other type of beauty or world to which you might be temporarily transported. It can also mean you are “focused” on something, maybe a task, an assignment, or a project.
Sometimes Thinglish slang can be peculiarly constructed, such as อินเทรน, literally, “in trend” which actually means “trendy.” This is a characteristically Thai-grammatical construction. However, the opposite of “in trend” is เอาท์ “out,” just like in English likely because it’s monosyllable and handy for Thais to borrow without chopping it up further. As to why it isn’t “out trend”or “out of trend,” well, why utter two or three words when you can get by with only one?
Slang-creating Thais seem to really like cutting up words in half and nonchalant about which half is cut. Look at this one: เฟิร์ม from “confirm.” A friend might call you up and ask if you will “firm” the lunch appointment. (Unlike many other Thinglish slang, the full word คอนเฟิร์ม “confirm” is also used.)
Another similarly chopped up one is เม้นท์, “ment.” Given that “-ment” is a common suffix of nouns in English, it gives one almost no clue as to its meaning. Almost. In fact, most of the Thinglish slang words are amputated English verbs or adjectives. This “-ment” is what’s left of “comment”—used as a verb typically in the context of making online comments on a blog, Facebook, or under a news article.
Then we have Thinglish slang that’s more Thai-ified like ก๊อป/kÓp/ from “copy,” used in the same sense as in the original English verb: to make a duplicate of something. Another one is จูน/juun/ (pronounced like “June”), which is a bastardization of “tune,” meaning to be “on the same wave length” with someone.
Occasionally the status of the amputated slang words becomes uncertain due to the indifferent amputation. For example, someone who is artistic or sensitive (emotionally volatile as artists are believed to be) is called ติสต์, “-tist,” presumably from “artist” or “artistic.” Someone who is “creative” is simply described as ครีเอท “create.”
A highly popular new, new slang of late is ฟิน/fin/. There is more than one contender for the etymology of this one. No, it’s not a fish winglike organ. The Thinglish slang “fin” is often used to mean to “have an orgasmic experience” like when you “finish” in that, you know, climactic activity. But if that’s the case, younger Thais must be a very happy, orgasmic bunch as they seem to feel “fin” in the most mundane of activities, from eating a piece of cake or watching a TV show, to enjoying a new cool gadget. The other oft-quoted word origin is “finale,” suggesting a “climax” in the final episode of a show.
Emotion can also be “built up”—which becomes บิ๊ว /bíew/ in Thinglish slang. It is often used in the sense that someone is trying to “build up” or “stir up” a feeling or interest usually in a certain audience in a manipulative way (hence this behavior can be frowned upon). For example, someone is trying to stir up interest in his or her product or work through a thinly or thickly disguised self-promotional campaign on social media like Twitter or Facebook, or a TV host is building up a tear-jerking interview for emotional reactions.
Thailand may be well known for fake watches, fake handbags, and various other counterfeits, but like most humans Thais don’t like “fake” people. In a twist of irony, “fake” is probably among the few English words that have been adopted as Thai slang that stay unmolested and unchanged both in its sound and in its meaning. It’s an authentic “fake.” People who are “pretentious” or “insincere” are called เฟค “fake” (a noun). People who are in the act the “faking” or “pretending” are also called เฟค “fake (a verb).
Thinglish slang seems to favor psychological expressions, like นอยด์ “noid” which is sometimes spelled นอย. It’s from “paranoid.” Some expressions are hybrid like เสียเซ้ว /sǐa séew/ lit. “lose self,” meaning “to lose self-confidence.” For example, a friend tells another, “C’mon, stop being so ‘noid’. People aren’t always gossiping about you. If you worry too much about what people think, then you’ll sǐa self.”
The “noid” friend would be well advised to ชิวชิว /chiew-chiew/ or ชิลชิล “chill chill.” In other words, to “chill out,” “take it easy” and “not be serious.”
That’s all for now, folks. 🙂 There are plenty more. If I’m up to it, I might write more in the future on Thinglish slang. I hope you’ve got a taste, for those of you not so familiar with current Thai slang. Feel free to share more in your comments. Oh, I also tweet contemporary Thai and Thinglish slang words and idiomatic expressions: @thai_idioms.