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Post Info TOPIC: Body parts and their meaning


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Body parts and their meaning

A study of terms for body parts and metaphorical use of these terms reveals another interesting aspect in the Thai cultural personality.
          Face is the most notable part of the body. Like in many languages, face or "naa" comes to mean "reputation, honor, respectability, credibility and integrity." A Thai can lose "khaai", save "raksaa", earn or gain "dai", and salvage "koo" his face.
          Mouth is another interesting body part. The figurative meaning of mouth or "paak" is verbal skill and words. A person's mouth can be good "dii", bad "sia", light "bao", heavy "nak" and numerous "maak". "Paak dii" means to have a good speech skill. "Pak sia" means to be unrestrained with criticisms and comments. "Paak bao" means to be able to learn language at a very tender age. "Paak nak" is to refrain from voicing one's opinion and feeling.
          Neck or "khaw" is associated interestingly with preference and taste. A "kaw kafae" likes coffee while a "khaw chaa" likes tea. "Kaw footbon" is a person who loves to watch football. "Kaw nang phleng" prefers musical films.
          "Myy" or hand can figuratively means expertise, in addition to the ability to use one's hand to work and to touch. A "myy patiwat" is an expert in staging a coup d'etat while a "myy haasiang" is an expert in political campaigning. A thief can be called a "myy gaaw", literally meaning to have a hand with glue on it.
          A most interesting observation in the study of body part terms in Thai is the distinction made in the Thai perception between one's head "hua" and one's heart "jai". This distinction is observed in compounds with the words "hua" and "jai".
          The compounds can be divided into two structural types. In one type the word "hua" or "jai" is in the subject position of a predicate. In the other, it is in the object position. Semantically, the first structural type describes a person's intelligence and nature as in these examples.

 a.hua dii
jai dii
= intelligent (lit. good head)
= generous, kind (lit. good heart)
 b.hua on
jai on
= obedient (lit. soft head)
= sensitive, having a tendency to cry easily (lit. soft heart)
 c.hua khaeng
jai khaeng
= stubborn (lit. hard head)
= firm, unbendable (lit. hard heart)

          This type of compound also describes a person's psychological and emotional state.

 a. hua sia
jai sia
= upset (lit. damaged head)
= discouraged (lit. damaged heart)
 b. hua mun
= confused (lit. spinned head)
 c. jai haai
jai ron
jai yen
= sad, distressed (lit. lost heart)
= impatient (lit. hot heart)
= patient (lit. cool heart)

          The second type of compound describes what one can do or what can happen to a person's head or heart.

 a. pan hua

sum hua
faad hua
= to confuse a person into taking an unwanted action (lit. to spin a person's head)
= to gang up with (lit. to pile up heads)
= to bribe (lit. to hit a person's head)

 b. sia jai
tok jai
cham jai
= sad (to lose one's heart)
= shocked, scared (to drop one's heart)
= distressed (to have one's heart bruised)

          If frequency of occurrence can be taken as an indicator of the degree of attention and interest, Thai people seem to put more emphasis on their heart than their head. There are more compound words with "jai" than with "hua".
          Three of these "jai" compounds tell a great deal about interpersonal relationships of the Thais. These are

 ow jai
khat jai
= to please (lit. to take a person's heart into consideration)
= to displease (lit. to block a person's heart)
= to give high priority to how another person feels or thinks about something( be respectful to a person's heart)

          The Thais are taught from an early age to "kreng jai" other people, which means they have to be careful with what they say and what they do so that they will not in anyway offend, upset or displease others. As a consequence,Thai people usually try their best not to "khat jai" others. The eventual outcome is that most Thais seem to be very good at "ow jai" or pleasing others. What this means is that conflicts are to be avoided at all cost so that harmony can be maintained and the way to do it is to be attentive to those one comes into contact with. This confirms the "mai pen rai" nature of the Thai as demonstrated in their linguistic experience as discussed earlier. An interpersonal conflict is resolved usually with an intervention of an arbitrator, usually more senior in age, social status or rank and respected by both parties.
          The Thais seem to have an extra body part. This is an abstract or spiritual part of their body. It is called "kwan". "Kwan" is where one's morale and psychological health resides. An age old practice which is still found in rural village is the "suu kwan" or "riak kwan" ritual. This is performed to welcome visitors as well as returnees. A piece of cotton string will be tied around a person's wrist by the elders, regarded as parents or grandparents by all in the community, who will be calling his "kwan", which wondered away during the trip, to come back to his body. The importance of "kwan" is observed also in the event when a baby or a small child falls. When his mother picks him up she will give him a hug and call his "kwan". The belief is that a person's "kwan" has to reside peacefully within one's body for the person to be healthy in body and in spirit. Any unusual experience, such as a fall, a shock or a long trip, can disturb "kwan", which has a tendency to always leave the body in fright. When a person sleeps, his "kwan", a wonderer by nature, will leave for a tour of the world outside. It will return when the person wakes up. The Thais are then taught to wake a sleeping person up as gently as possible.
          The following compounds illustrate the Thais' perception of this spiritual body part.
 kwan sia
thamlaai kwan
bamrung kwan
= to be demoralized (lit. to lose "kwan")
= to demoralize (lit. to destroy "kwan")
= to give moral support (lit. to maintain "kwan")

          The sweet sounding of all is the line said by a mother when she picks her child up when he is frightened after a fall.

 kwan euy kwan maa
 Oh, Kwan, oh Kwan.Come back.

          The Thai term for gifts and souvenirs is "khong kwan", which means objects for one's kwan.
          This concept of spiritual and psychological well-being is later coupled as well as confused with another concept, "winyaan". The latter can be equated with soul in Western thinking. For the Thais, "winyaan" remains with a person as long as he is alive. It leaves him when he dies to take up residence in the body of a new born baby.

Kae S


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Posts: 8

Excellent piece Kae, a very good read !!
It's just a pity that us foreigners can't really hope to get the full value simply because the pronunciation once Thai words have been spelt in English letters is completely lost.
If there was some way that you could put this into a sound file that could be opened up on demand, it would be a very good learning tool for all the Aussies that are interested in learning some Thai.



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Posts: 14

Thank you Dale! yes I understand how the pronounciation confused you guys sometimes.... but as long as you understand the talking then you are already good! for the demo file... I have to go fix my voice first.. come back soon confuse 

Kae S
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