Nam pla, prik ki nu

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Wed Dec 11 02:24:58 UTC 2002

>Mary Haas wrote a classic article in the 1950's, later
>anthologized in Dell Hymes's 1964 reader _Language in Culture and
>Society_, on cross-linguistic taboo avoidance, in which she observed
>that Thai students in the U.S., not wanting to be overheard
>requesting _prik_ in its various forms, substituted "lingam", the
>Sanskrit word (familiar to those of you who have memorized the Kama
>Sutra) for the male member.

I had never heard this story. I just now looked it up (1964 Hymes book).
The idea apparently was: "Somebody said we shouldn't call this pepper
'prik' because that sounds like an obscene word for 'penis' in English. So
what shall we call it? I know! Let's call it 'leung'!" Of course 'leung' =
"penis" in Thai, which apparently is/was not considered [too] obscene in
the Thai context (all-male). I suppose this was essentially a joke among
the Thai guys. The word substituted was apparently "leung"
(orthographically "leungka" or so with the last syllable silent; "eu" = IPA
inverted-m, high back unrounded vowel [represented by "y" in Haas's
article]): AFAIK this is just a conventional Thai word, but I suppose it is
cognate with Sanskrit "lingam" as Haas says.

I HAVE heard a very analogous joke/legend from Thai students and
immigrants; I must have heard 4-5 versions since about 1975. This is about
a Thai shopper at the market looking for "fak" (Thai for "squash" or so)
which of course sounds like that F-word. I don't know whether any Thai ever
had a real problem with this word or whether it's just pure imagination.

-- Doug Wilson

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