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Thai words you can’t translate to English

The ability to speak and communicate in another language gives you insight into some of the shortcomings of your own language as well as the other. Sometimes I’m speaking English to other foreigners wanting to just say some Thai words because it’s just easier to say or sometimes in the case of Thai describes something more accurately.

Now the Thai language certainly has a lot of shortcomings the ability to distinguish between a gate and a door or if you start talking about second and third cousins you’ll find yourself lost in translation (plus much more).

As much as Thai annoys the hell out of me sometimes there is some beautiful and unique qualities about the language and the Thai’s express better with words many feelings that when you learn these words you understand the meaning but find it difficult to translate.

Two of the most difficult words to translate are เกรงใ่จ and หมั่นไส้

How to translate เกรงใ่จ

Pronounced “Graang Jai” is a word I doubt there are few who have lived in Thailand who have never heard this word. First thing you’re probably going to do is go to Google Translate, this is what it says “Fearing Noted” like Bing? Well Bing tells me it means “Fearful” a little better but not exactly accurate. Here is the Thai definition.

V. be (too) courteous
    def:[ไม่อยากจะให้ผู้อื่นรู้สึกลำบากเดือดร้อนรำคาญใจ]
    syn:(เกรงอกเกรงใจ)
    sample:[เขายังย้ำเกี่ยวกับเรื่องการเป็นพรรคทหารอย่างไม่เกรงใจอีกว่าทหารมักจะทำอะไรโดยไม่จำเป็นต้องอธิบายเหตุผล]

The Thai definition is also a little vague but it’s a really cool word. My definition for Graang Jai would be “I don’t want to put you out”. So how it’s normally used is if you are at someones house and they offered you to eat you would say “Graang Jai Krup”. This is probably the best way I can explain it.

An example of someone being Not Grang Jai or ไม่เกรงใจ would be someone smoking at an inside restaraunt. They ไม่เกรงใจใคร “Mai Graang Jai Kraiy”. Basically they don’t care about anyone else in the room.

Graang Jai is a cool word in English we would have a million different ways to say the same thing that Thai’s can say in one word.
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Thai words you can't translate to English

How to translate หมั่นไส้

The word หมั่นไส้ or in Karaoke “Mun Saiy” is another cool word they have in Thai but doesn’t translate well or if at all. Google Translate says it means “Dislike” and Bing says it means “Hate”. Again while these are correct they aren’t exactly explaining it correctly. In fact Mun Saiy could also mean you are in awe as well, envious as well as jealous but you like it too. It’s one of those words that in English you’d have to explain many different ways depending on the situation. Here’s the Thai translation:

V. dislike
    syn:{มันไส้}{ชังน้ำหน้า}
    ant:{รัก}{ชอบ}
    sample:[ดิฉันหมั่นไส้เธอมากที่ทำกิริยาดีใจเกินควร เมื่อเขาชวนเธอไปกินข้าวด้วย]

Let’s say your neighbor won the lottery, you might say Mun Saiy when you hear the news, you don’t hate the person actually you’re probably really happy but it would be that your more jealous than anything.
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Do you know of any other words that are difficult to translate or want something translated please post your comment below.


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About Chris

Chris founded Living Thai and author of the books Learn the The Thai Alphabet and How to make money in Thailand also the Blueprint for Living in Thailand. Chris started this blog with the aim of educating westerners on how to have the best time in Thailand, to make new friends and to vent his frustrations Chris is also fluent in both written and spoken Thai.

4 Responses to Thai words you can’t translate to English

  1. Krypton April 2, 2013 at 12:05 pm #

    Another word I can’t translate into English properly would be งอน or น้อยใจ. Google says touchy and hurt, but I feel it’s not the right answer. Another funny stuff is the genders, I can’t think of a unique word for ดี้ and ตุ๊ด, I just call them bisexuals although the Thai have more words to describe these things. Furthermore, when they ask how to call a person who sleeps with anybody of any gender (a เสือไบ) in English, I’m just stuck with it. I can’t just say a “bitiger”, can I?

    • Chris April 2, 2013 at 3:12 pm #

      ดี้ would be lipstick lesbian and ตุ๊ด would be gay but i think you’re right about bisexual you have to really explain it instead of using just a word. งอน and น้อยใจ yeah hard to put them into a word, I say them all the time but i wouldn’t say something like that in English. Thanks for your comment

      • Krypton April 7, 2013 at 10:16 am #

        You’re welcome. I agree with you.

      • buarai July 11, 2013 at 7:34 am #

        ตุ๊ด is a ladyboy, actually there are more categories for gay, lesbian in Thai.

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