10 common Thai proverbs … and what they mean in English
Just like any other language, Thai has many proverbs and sayings. Here are my top 10 favourite proverbs and what they mean in English:
- สีซอให้ควายฟัง (see sor hai kwai fang)
Translation: To play the violin for the buffalo to listen to.
Meaning: Talking to a brick wall. (The person you are speaking to does not listen.)
- หนีเสื่อประจระเข้ (nee seua pa jo ra kay)
Translation: To escape from the tiger to the crocodile.
Meaning: Out of the frying pan into the fire. (When you get out of one problem, but find yourself in a worse situation.)
- ปิดทองหลังพระ (pid tong lang pra)
Translation: Putting a gold leaf on the back of the Buddha image.
Meaning: Doing something good without seeking for attention.
- ได้อย่างเสียอย่าง (dai yang sia yang)
Translation: You have to lose something to get another thing.
Meaning: You can’t make an omelette without breaking any eggs (Something that you say which means it is difficult to achieve something important without causing any unpleasant effects.)
- ชั่วเจ็ดทีดีเจ็ดหน (chua jet tee dee jet hon)
Translation: Bad seven times, good seven times.
Meaning: Every cloud has a silver lining. (There is something good even in a bad situation.)
- น้ำขึ้นให้รีบตัก (nam keun hai reep tak)
Translation: When the water rises, hurry to get some
Meaning: Make hay while the sun shines. (If you have an opportunity to do something, do it before the opportunity expires.)
- จับปลาสองมือ (jab pla song meu)
Translation: Catch a fish with two hands.
Meaning: You can’t have your cake and eat it. (To spend or used something up but still have it; to have two things when you must choose one.)
- ขวานผ่าซาก ( kwan par sak)
Translation: Splitting a hard wood with an axe.
Meaning: Calling a spade a spade. (To speak frankly about something, even if it is unpleasant.)
- แมวไม่อยู่หนูร่าเริง ( meaw mai yoo noo ra reng)
Translation: When the cat is not there, the mice are happy.
Meaning: When the cat’s away, the mice will play. (When no one in authority is present, the subordinates can do as they please.)
- รำไมดีโทษปี่โทษกลอง ( rum mai dee tod pee tod glong)
Translation: Those who can’t dance blame it on the flute and the drum.
Meaning: A bad workman blames his tools. (Something that you say when someone blames the objects they are using for their own mistakes.)
You might be interested in this blog which explains how politeness is expressed in the Thai language.
About the author: Poi Tongchai is a 15 year old student at Richard Lander School in Truro where she currently studies English, French and Chinese for her GCSEs. She loves the city and the beach and hopes to work as a translator or teacher in the future.