Monday, August 06, 2007

Al Talk Thai Real Good

I only moved to Thailand last week, and the last thing I want to be is one of those asinine Westerners who blither on about the uniqueness and beauty of Thai culture. Yes, it does seem like an endlessly fascinating country, but who cares what some random white guy has to say about it? Especially when so many of the white guys in Thailand seem to be mullet-haired German bricklayers on disability leave, with khaki shorts, nicotine-stained teeth and lonely, lonely hearts. I’m not sure the world is dying to hear their - or my - deep thoughts on Thai culture.

BE THAT AS IT MAY, I, a random white guy, did just see something interesting while leafing through the Thai dictionary.

You can get some insight into a culture by noticing the words that it borrows from other languages. Loan-words are often borrowed because the concept originally didn’t exist in the one country and spread from somewhere else.

For example, we borrowed the words for “ninja”, “glasnost”, “smørgasbord” and “ménage à trois” into English, presumably because those things were very rarely encountered in Merrie Olde England. Some stealthy Japanese person or filthy-minded Frenchman had to import them.

So, while perusing the English-Thai dictionary yesteree’n, what do I see but the following entries:

Lock: láwk
Lock: mâe kuncae
Key: kuncae

It seems pretty probable that the Thai word “láwk” is a loan word from English. And “kunci” (pronounced koon-chee) is frickin’ Malaysian for “key”. By the way, the expression “mâe kuncae” for “lock” is a typically adorable Asian way of defining a lock by saying that it’s... a key’s mother. Why not? As the box my desk lamp came in puts it, “Give happiness to all families”.

Results of study: Thai people had no word for “lock” or “key” until some English and Malaysian guys came over and sold them some.

Conclusions: Thais are a charming and peaceful bunch who knew no thievery until recent times? Maybe. I’m pretty sure the truth is more complicated than that, so draw your own conclusions. I’m off to feather my mullet.

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