Thai Animals

LS is from Thailand. She says the worst thing someone can be compared to is an animal. A lot of Thai insults and swear words are animals. For example, ควาย (kwaai), which means “buffalo.” According to L, this is one of the worst things you can call someone. She says, “It is degrading to be called an animal.” Another insult is sàt, which simply means “animal.”

I can see where the insults come from. To be an animal is to be less than human. Being called an “animal” is worse than being called a “stupid person” or a “mean person.” By likening someone to an animal you are saying they do not even belong in human society. It is certainly a harsh thing to insinuate, which is the entire point of insults and swear words.

Parents will also use the bad connotations of being an animal to teach their children manners. L explained, “Parents tell their kids that if they eat while laying down they will turn into a snake.” And also, “If you don’t close the door behind you, you’re considered to have a really long tail because your tail is still coming through the door.” L told me her parents would always tell her these things, and that most Thai parents would tell their kids this; therefore, these phrases are commonly know. L told me that she would also use the familiar phrases with her friends to mock each other for fun.

I think this an interesting way to teach children. Children have such active imaginations that they probably believe they’ll really turn into animals. I believe that in most cultures parents teach their children through fantastical consequences. Using fun, imaginative punishments is sometimes easier than explaining to a child the real reason why it is inappropriate to leave the door open or something similar. A lot of folklore that is directed towards children is meant to teach simple lessons such as this.

It is clear why parents teach lessons through folklore. Children are more likely to remember to, say, close the door behind them if they associate it with something crazy like having a tail. This form of teaching clearly works, my friend L remembers the lessons more than ten years later. Folklore has this power to stick in our minds because it is performed for us in such casual, quotidian ways. It is easier to remember folklore than traditional rules or literature because it is so informal that it can be repeated and reheard daily.