Nam pla (1955)

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Tue Dec 10 07:30:52 UTC 2002

A few remarks about these Thai words, according to my naive notions.

The adjective or attributive follows the modified noun, the reverse of the
usual order in English.

"Nam" = "water", also "juice", "liquid", etc. "Pla" = "fish". Thus "nam
pla" = literally "fish juice/sauce". I believe "nam pla" in Thai now refers
to a variety of salty sauces, some of which may not actually be from fish.
[Cf. English "ketchup" which also etymologically once meant more or less
"fish sauce".]

Generally a type of fish X in Thai is named "pla X" = "X fish", so "pla
soi" is the "soi" fish (I don't know whether this word "soi" is simply the
fish's name or whether it also has some other meaning: e.g., cf. "daeng" =
"red", "pla daeng" = "red snapper"). Google search identifies pla soi =
Jullien's mud carp.

If you like *hot* pepper, you can ask for prik ki nu: "prik" =
"pepper"/"chili", "ki" = "shit", "nu" = "mouse", thus "mouse shit pepper",
a little pepper which resembles a mouse dropping. An appetizing
appellation? Conventional in Thai, apparently. Caution is advised in
ordering these; your Thai chef may have a mordant sense of humor.

It is my impression that neither "nam pla" nor "prik ki nu" qualifies as an
English word. Thai persons of my acquaintance virtually always have
referred to nam pla as "fish sauce" when speaking English. The little
mouse-dropping peppers are conventionally called "birdseye" peppers/chilis
in English, I believe. "Pad Thai" OTOH refers to a specific and nowadays
conventional dish in the US (AFAIK), and I believe this is just as English
a word as "sukiyaki" or "gyros" for example. Of course I concede that these
things are not black-and-white.

-- Doug Wilson

More information about the Ads-l mailing list