10 Top10 List: bad words that aren’t bad in Thai and vice versa

Before moving here, I was just like every ignorant turd in America when it came to Thailand. I couldn’t pronounce Thai words or places correctly. I called Phi Phi “Fee Fee” and Phuket “Fooket” or “Fucket.” And I snickered when I heard someone’s name was Porn. Now, of course, I get it. It’s normal now to hear words and names that, in the West, would sound like a sailor swearing. My ears have acclimated. So now, when a new tourist mispronounces or guffaws at this word or that name, I just shake my head. But in an effort to better educate the lingually ignorant—or just immature—I submit the following 10 Top 10 list of five benign Thai words that sound obscene to English speakers, and five Thai words that sound fine to English speakers but are actually obscene. Here we go:

Porn. This is the most commonly-used misunderstood Thai word. In Thailand, Porn is typically someone’s name, or nickname, or the name of a place. It has multiple meanings but the most common is “blessing” or “gift from heaven.” In most cases, it’s not even pronounced with the ‘r’ sound, but by some fluke of translation, the ‘r’ is in the spelling. Many foreigners who come here for the first time to teach English are uncomfortable reading their students’ names aloud from the role sheet: Pornwapee, Pornthip, Tittiporn, etc. But after a year or two, you won’t even notice it. And while we’re on the topic, pornography is actually illegal in Thailand, so be aware when travelling. You might want to move your collection from your desktop to the System folder.

Prik. This is the Thai word for “chili.” It refers to any kind of pepper or spice that adds heat to food. “Saut prik” is Thai for chili sauce. “Prik thai” is the word for black pepper.  Prik nam plah is the chilli-fish sauce condiment that appears on the tables of most Thai food restaurants. However, it’s not the same as the word for “spicy.” The word for spicy is “phet.”

Fuk. The pronunciation for this word is closer to “faahk” but to the ear of a foreigner it’ll probably sound like the F-word. It’s the Thai word for pumpkin.

Phi Phi. This is pronounced “pee pee” in Thai, which of course draws chuckles from tourists. It’s the name of one of the most beautiful and heavily-trafficked islands in the south of the country. The reason Thais don’t find it funny is because their slang word for urinating isn’t pee-pee, it’s “ching-chong.”

Poo. This is the Thai word for crab.

Now for the words foreigners find inoffensive, but that aren’t used in polite Thai company…

Jim. This common Western name is a slang term for vagina. Slang is regional, so in addition to jim, there’s “hoy” which literally means “clam,” and “hee” which is…..just a slang word, I’m not sure of the origin.

Geek. In English, this is a slang word for ‘nerd’ but in Thailand, it’s the person with whom you’re cheating on your spouse or partner. I think the correct way to spell the transliteration in English is “gig,” which is another harmless English word. So either way you use it, there’s a misunderstanding in your future. I knew a foreigner who came for a holiday and brought with him a t-shirt with the word emblazoned on the front. I told him to leave it in his suitcase.

Key. The way it’s pronounced in Thai might be closer to “chee” but when foreigners say “key,” Thais hear, “chee” which is their word for shit.

Wow. Used in conjunction with “chuck” (properly stated “chuckwow”) the literal translation is “fly kite” but it’s a slang term for male masturbation.

Boom. Thais get a kick out of all the Western pop songs with the word “boom” in them, because boom-boom is slang for sexual intercourse.

And there’s your list. I hope you will find this information helpful if and when you find yourself engaged in casual conversation with a Thai person. Now, if you say something that makes your Thai person embarrassed or confused, you’ll know why. And in the future, if you ask for sex and wind up with a pumpkin, it’s your own fault.

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