From time to time during my interactions with Thai people over the years, I am confronted with a whimsical or strange look and a giggle, mid way through a conversation only to later learn the attention I've garnered is due to the language errors I've made in conversation, primarily around the 'meanings' of these words, which can be both embarrassing and amusing.
Although a number of words we commonly use in the English language are similar in pronunciation to those in the Thai language, many of these words when translated into the Thai language have completely different definitions.
I've compiled a list of the top 25 words which fall into this category, so without further delay, here's a list of words which contribute to the typical 'lost in translation' scenario when visiting Thailand.
The word madam is used to address or refer to a lady in a polite and respectful way, however in Thailand 'ma dam means' ‘black dog’ (ma: ‘dog’, dam: ‘black’) so avoid using this term when interacting with a female in Thailand.
The word now doesn’t mean present time in Thai language, it has a totally different meaning. It means 'cold weather'.
Although pronounced slightly different in Thailand the word 'May' doesn’t mean the fifth month of the year, but the word 'no'.
The word yet must be used with caution in Thailand. It means to have sexual intercourse, the equivalent in English to the word f*#k.
Adding the prefix 'ta', the word door 'ta door' means quite literally, 'penis'.
The word 'what' means something different in Thailand. ‘Wat’ pronounced 'what' means temple in Thai.
In Thailand yay! is not a exclamation indicating triumph. In the Thai language 'yay' literally translates as ‘grandmother’ (mae yay), ‘grandfather’ (po yay), or old woman.
In English the word 'men' is the plural form of 'man', an adult male person. In the Thai language this word means 'menstruation'.
A fan is a device with rotating blades that creates a current of air, but in Thai means ‘boyfriend’ or ‘girlfriend’.
The word 'dead' in Thai language doesn’t mean ‘no longer alive’ but in fact it's the term used to describe the sun.
The word pen has two meanings in Thai language. The first one is 'it matters' and the second, one brush (Pen/fun: ‘tooth brushing’).
In Thai language the word 'can' is not a cylinder that holds food or drink but a word that means 'itchy'. To say the world 'can' in Thai, is just 'capong'.
In English a lung is a organ which is the principal part of the respiratory system and essential in order to breath. In Thai 'lung' is the word used for 'uncle'.
In English a queue is a line of people, in Thai this word means 'hungry'. For example; Queue mai? (Are you hungry?).
The word 'up' used along with the word 'nam' (water) meaning 'shower'. Up nam mai? (Did you take a shower?), Up leaw ( I’ve already taken a shower).
Two is a number or one more than one, however in Thai this word followed by the word yen (cold) two yen means ‘refrigerator’.
In Thai language 'put' is not about to move to or place an object in a particular position, it means to 'talk' or to 'speak'.
In Thai language the word pee doesn’t mean a visit to the bathroom. In Thai this word means 'older'. For example; pee sao or pee chai (‘older sister’ or ‘older brother’ respectively).
In the Thai language 'do' doesn’t mean to perform an act it means 'to see' or 'look'.
In English a tooth can be found in your mouth. In Thailand the word means something completely different, 'ass' or 'gay'.
The word 'song' in Thai translates as the ‘number two’ (2).
The word 'some' or 'som' means orange in Thai language. For example - 'nam som' (orange juice).
In Thai language 'die' has a slightly different meaning than in English. This word means 'allowed' or 'accepted'.
A 'cat' in Thai language translates as 'bite'. For example, 'yung cat' (mosquito bite).
The word 'who' doesn’t mean ‘what person or persons’ are in Thailand, this word is the term for 'ears'.
Do you know of any words that mean something different in the Thai language? If you'd like to add to this list, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or why not subscribe. Thanks for reading.