Thai Language Thai Culture: Old Snake Heads and Butterflies of the Night

Thai Language

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Old Snake Heads and Butterflies of the Night…

The Thai language is as rich in metaphor as any language is. The kinds of metaphors that you will come into contact with will all depend on what level of society you hang out with. It is a good idea to keep the drinking buddies’ metaphors separate from the HiSo matron metaphors.

One group of metaphors goes over well with just about any crowd. They are the ones that use animals. They are also pretty easy to understand and therefore remember. Here is a sample. If you know more, drop them in a comment below.

ปากหมา /bpàak măa/
Literal meaning: Dog mouth
Metaphorical meaning: Dirty talk; crude talk; to use vulgar speech

ภาษาหมา ๆ /paa-săa măa măa/
Literal meaning: Dog language
Metaphorical meaning: To talk trash; to act silly

โรคหมาบ้า /rôhk măa bâa/
Literal meaning: Mad dog disease
Metaphorical meaning: Hydrophobia; rabies


หมาขี้เรื้อน /măa kêe réuan/
Literal meaning: Mangy dog (leprous dog)
Metaphorical meaning: Pariah

หมาเน่า /măa nâo/
Literal meaning: Rotten dog
Metaphorical meaning: A foul person

ควาย /kwaai/
Literal meaning: Water buffalo
Metaphorical meaning: Buffoon, ignoramus

แมงดา /maeng-daa/
Literal meaning: Giant water bug (male rides on female’s back)
Metaphorical meaning: Pimp, procurer, gigolo

เสือผู้หญิง /sĕua pôo yĭng/
Literal meaning: Girl tiger
Metaphorical meaning: Womanizer, lecher

เหี้ย /hîa/
Literal meaning: Monitor lizard (water monitor)
Metaphorical meaning: A despicable or bad person, a worthless character

เสือสิงห์กระทิงแรด /sĕua sĭng grà-ting râet/
Literal meaning: Tiger, lion bull, rhinoceros
Metaphorical meaning: Experienced con men

หาเหาใส่หัว /hăa hăo sài hŭa/
Literal meaning: Look for lice to put on your head
Metaphorical meaning: Looking for trouble, cause your own problems

หนีเสือปะจระเข้ /nĕe sĕua bpà jor-rá-kây/
Literal meaning: Run away from the tiger and meet the crocodile
Metaphorical meaning: “Out of the frying-pan and into the fire.”

แพะรับบาป /páe ráp bàap/
Literal meaning: The goat that takes the sin
Metaphorical meaning: Scapegoat; fall guy

ไก่ /gài/
Literal meaning: Chicken
Metaphorical meaning: Woman

ผีเสื้อราตรี /pĕe-sêua-raa-dtree/
Literal meaning: Night butterfly (moth)
Metaphorical meaning: “Lady of the night”, prostitute

ยิงกระต่าย /ying grà-dtàai/
Literal meaning: Shoot the rabbit
Metaphorical meaning: Male urination, often done at the side of the road

เฒ่าหัวงู /tâo hŭa ngoo/
Literal meaning: Old man snake head
Metaphorical meaning: Old man who runs after young girls, dirty old man

งูงูปลาปลา /ngoo ngoo bplaa bplaa/
Literal meaning: Snake snake fish fish
Metaphorical meaning: Mediocre, not very good

Hugh Leong
Retire 2 Thailand
Retire 2 Thailand: Blog
eBooks in Thailand

10 thoughts on “Thai Language Thai Culture: Old Snake Heads and Butterflies of the Night”

  1. Great post, Khun Hugh. I think that งูงูปลาปลา means ‘(to) not know something or how to do something well, have very little knowledge about something, not possess the relevant expertise’. Carrying on with the animal theme, an expression with a similar meaning would be รู้อย่างเป็ด.

  2. I don’t understand why you try to teach foreigners to learn about impolite thai words instead of the polite and good ones.May be you like them and find they ‘re more interesting.

  3. Martyn, I’ve always been envious of guys and their freedom to shoot the rabbit. And I do believe I’ve seen more Frenchmen shooting rabbits than any other male.

  4. Catherine there are some brilliant metaphors in Hugh’s post and my favourite is ying grà-dtàai Shoot the rabbit. Quite often when travelling the 65 kilometres from Udon Thani back to the village I have to shoot the rabbit by the side of the road (very wary of snakes). I am going to surprise Wi with this one and a few of the others. I’ll definitely put a few of these in my notebook.

  5. Morning N’Jessi, the new iPhone I’m talking about hasen’t been developed (a different vendor is working on improving camera capabilities). I purchased an iPhone not too long ago, so I’m good for awhile. But technology being what it is, I’m planning on the upgrade already.
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..Thai Language Thai Culture: Old Snake Heads and Butterflies of the Night =-.

  6. ชายช้างเท้าหน้าหญิงช้างเท้าหลัง
    This is a very progressive one : the traditional wife should follow her husband, but women have their revenge :
    นางหงส์บนบันลังก์มังกร. They (swan) take power over their husband (dragon), บันลังก์ means “throne”. To be used when speaking about HiSo chinese. Be careful, the word “throne” is very important, because this one :
    หงส์เหนือมังกร cannot decently be translated here. If you make the mistake and use this one instead of the “throne” one, an animal response could be :
    กวางเหลียวหลังร่านกว่า !

  7. P’Cat

    sorry this isn’t related to your latest entry, but you mean the new iPhone 0S4 is coming in 2 years+?? Really? I really need to buy a new one now. Mine is not 3G because I bought it when it didn’t come into Thailand yet. Now I’ve just sent it to upgrade to version 3. I’ve got to wait that long really?



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