This article was originally posted on WomenLearnThai.com.
Too much fetmot and you’re det-sa-mole-ay
I am munching on a delicious fetmot as I write this column, and –
I’m sorry, what was that? You don’t know what a ‘fetmot’ is? Come on. How long have you been in this country?
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I was reminded of fetmot this week as I made one of my infrequent visits to Emporium, where I used to work. Ah, Emporium. Wasn’t that an exciting place to work for a while? Anytime you had a dull patch at work you could catch the lift down to the airy, khunying (คุณหญิง) infested walkways and escalators and pop into shops like Giorgio Armani to check out the latest overpriced shirts from Italy, making a mental note of their designs in order to pick up an identical one for one-twentieth the price at Chatuchak that coming weekend.
And the food! Cuisines from around the world, including my favorite, fetmot, which I purchased whenever I was in a rush and had no time to assume my faux hi-so persona.
Yes I will get to its meaning in a moment, but isn’t Thai a wonderful language? Since its inception – if a language can indeed incept – it has borrowed liberally from other sources, such as Chinese, Cambodian, Portuguese, Hindi and English. One simple Thai sentence these days is like falling into an atlas. But for me, one of the more interesting aspects of the language is how English words get picked up and used within the context of Thai.
We farangs often get hot under our western collars at the way Thais mispronounce even the simplest of English words, but there is often a good reason. Some sounds in English simply don’t exist in Thai, and vice versa. For this reason, English words get moulded into a new form within the context of Thai.
And English words enter and leave the Thai language quicker than smelly English teachers restamping their tourist visas in Hat Yai. Ten years ago the country fell into crisis and suddenly every Thai knew what “IM-Ebb” was. (It was IMF, but Thais don’t have an F sound at the end of their words.) I remember being a little surprised by the first Thai who shoved a plate of food in front of me and said: “Or Derb” (ออเดิป). Of course, he was saying “hors d’oeuvres” which has sneaked its way into the Thai language. Of course he was. But before you snigger at the crazy pronunciation, peer into the gaping chasm that lies between the way we westerners pronounce this word and the ludicrous way it is spelt, thanks to its shameful French origins.
In more recent times a verb has entered the Thai language which means “to stand up and make a speech in public”. This verb is to “hye-bark” (ไฮป๊าร์ค). Can you guess where this verb comes from? A hint: It’s not even a verb in English. It’s a place.
The answer is “Hyde Park”. In Thai, “to Hyde Park” means to get on your soapbox and make a protest speech. If you asked 100 Thais where Hyde Park is situated, you’d have a handful who could tell you. But they’d all know the verb. For example: “He will Hyde Park tonight at Sanam Luang.” “Do you know who will be Hyde Parking today?”
(I figure the past tense would not be an irregular verb … or would it? “Last night I Hyde Pack outside Parliament.” “I’ve Hyde Puck so many times I’ve lost my voice.”)
If you think that’s ludicrous, I have an even better one for you.
One slang word for “dead” in Thai sounds like this: “Det-sa-mole-ay.” For example: “I think Somchai will be det-sa-mole-ay if he doesn’t pay his debts.” “If that fat guy with the Jatukarm Ramatep amulet around his bulbous neck doesn’t stop hogging the karaoke microphone, he’ll be det-sa-mole-ay before midnight.”
I would like you now to put down your copy of Brunch and say that word out loud. “Det-sa-mole-ay” (เด็ดสะมอเร่). Sound familiar?
It should. It’s an English word. Or rather, the name of an English song. In Italian. Back in 1954 Dean Martin scored a #1 hit with a song called “That’s Amore.” “When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore …”
How … the … hell … does … a cheesy English song … from 50 years ago … become a Thai adjective …. for “dead”?? Somewhere along the line, a Thai decided “dead” sounded like “That’s amore” and used the title of this song in its place. As crazy as it sounds, he or she was right – with the first syllable anyway. That’s why the title of a hideous old love song by a det-sa-mole-ay singer means “deceased” in Thai.
Sometimes I wonder why. I remember when the first taxi hit the Bangkok traffic with the plastic TAXI METER sign screaming for attention from the roof. Was it so difficult not to have written METERED TAXI? The same goes for those ubiquitous BAR BEERS in places like Chiang Mai and Pattaya, where westerners way past their use-by dates empty their hearts along with, ultimately, the contents of their fake leather wallets to girls one-third their age. It wouldn’t have taken much to have called them BEER BARS like the rest of the world does. Or am I just being bitter and twisted?
I love the Thai language and the way English words enter it. But pity the intrepid English word that ventures its way into the labyrinth that is the Thai language. By the time it has passed through all the twists and turns, it emerges a shadow of its former self.
Like “fetmot” (เฟดมาด). And what, pray tell, did it start out as? Why, “Fresh Mozzarella Tomatoes And Pesto Sandwich”, a popular choice at any Au Bon Pain shop. Only it’s shortened by the delightful Thai staff to “Fresh Mozarella,” then “Fresh Mot”, then “Fetmot”, then …
… Fot? Only time, dear reader. Only time.