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"Snake Snake Fish Fish" in Thai

Week 34, Episode 68

If your Thai is so-so or even if you know zero words in this language, there is a phrase you might enjoy using: งูงูปลาปลา (ngoo-ngoo-bplah-bplah). The literal translation from Thai is "Snake snake fish fish", meaning "so-so". How good you know Thai now? Snake snake fish fish, obviously :)

This phrase is sometimes used by the Thais when speaking in English, which puzzles their interlocutors. Another common feature of spoken Thai is repeating the same adjective or adverb twice, called reduplication, that turns the meaning into a less precise one (like adding -ish in English). This way, phrases like "Same same" or "Near near" said by a Thai mean "Almost the same" and "Somewhere around", respectively.

By the way, did you know that words for "near"—ใกล้ (glâi)—and "far"—ไกล (glai)— sound pretty much the same. The distinction lies in the tone with which each word is pronounced: falling tone for "near" and mid tone for "far". It takes time to distinguish between the two, in the meantime remember that the Thais normally say "near" using reduplication—ใกล้ ๆ (glâi glâi), where the sign ๆ serves as a repetition of the previous word.

A word for "girlfriend"/"boyfriend"/"wife"/"husband" may be misleading, too, as one word stands for all of these statuses in English: แฟน (fair-n). I guess, it is better to figure out whether that couple is married or not by asking additional questions, like:
คุณแต่งงานแล้วหรือ (Khun tàeng ngaan láew rěu?)—"Are you married?".

Compound Thai words can help you progress in your learning, just like in English, gaining vocabulary from the "formula", as I read somewhere, "word you know" + "word you know" = "word you don't know".

Meet น้ำ (náhm)—"water". Now let's play "compounding" with it:

  • น้ำ + แข็ง [water + hard] = น้ำแข็ง (náhm kah-yeng) —"ice";
  • น้ำ + ส้ม [water + orange] = น้ำส้ม (náhm som) —"orange juice";
  • น้ำ + ปลา [water + fish] = น้ำปลา (náhm bplah) —"fish sauce";
  • น้ำ + ตา [water + eye] = น้ำตา (náhm dtaa) —"tears";
  • น้ำ + ขิง [water + ginger] = น้ำขิง (náhm khíng) —"ginger ale";
  • แม่ + น้ำ [mother + water] = แม่น้ำ (mèh náhm) —"river";
  • ไอ + น้ำ [vapor + water] = ไอน้ำ (ai náhm) —"steam"
  • etc.

Same works for many other words:

  • เครื่อง + บิน [machine + fly ] = เครื่องบิน (krèu-ang bin) — "airplane";
  • ผิด + กฎหมาย [wrong + rules] = ผิดกฎหมาย (pit got-mai) — "illegal";
  • โรง + โรง [building + movie] = โรงหนัง (rong nang) — "cinema";
  • โรง + เรียน [building + learn] = โรงเรียน (rong ree-yen) — "school",
  • etc.

Here is another tip for newbies in Thai: remember the word "mai". With this one word you can create a whole sentence (though in Thai the words are spelled differently, as well as have different tones and vowel length): ไหมใหม่ไม่ไหม้มั้ย? (máai mài mâi mâi mái?), which means "New wood doesn't burn, does it?" I mean, at least you can say something now :)

If you know Thai names for months, you'll never have a question how many days a certain month has for each name itself holds the answer: it finishes with -kom for months with 31 days (มกราคมmók-gah-rah-kom, January; มีนาคมmee-nah-kom, March; etc.) and with -yon for those that have 30 days (เมษายนmay-săh-yon, April; กันยายนgun-ya-yon, September; etc.). For February the ending is -pun: กุมภาพันธ์ (goom-pah-pun). Enjoy 3 minutes of examples:

The word translated as "fun" from the Thai language—สนุก (sah-nook)—is something much more profound. It is not just about spending certain amount of time in entertainment, it is more like striving to achieve satisfaction and pleasure from whatever you do, throughout each day. Sah-nook is the Thai way to remind yourself of the importance to live in the moment, it is also a way to cope and conceal negative emotions.

Similar concept is conveyed in the famous Thai phrase "ไม่เป็นไร!" (mâi bpen rai), which can be translated as "Don't worry", "No problem", "Never mind" or used as an answer to "Thank you" as "You're welcome", "Don't mention it", "It's no big deal". This phrase shows that easy-going attitude to life that the Thais have and says a lot about Thai culture.

Not sure if learning the Thai language will also feel that relaxed to you, but hopefully its sounds and words can charm you and inspire to really follow through and have sah-nook all the way along your journey in Thai.

For me it is time to say สวัสดีค่ะ (Sah-wat-dee kâh), or "Goodbye", to the language full of pinguins and snakes and funny game of spotting words.

ไม่เป็นไร! (Mâi bpen rai!) Don't worry!

" Sah-nook and put your like to the article! "

Discover more about Thai and other languages at!

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