May 2020 is not only the 10th anniversary of the killing of the red shirts, but also the 6th anniversary of the 2014 military coup which overthrew Yingluck Shinawatra, the first woman prime minister of Thailand. In remembrance of the fateful event, Thai Political Slang Explained introduced '‘อีโง่’ or ‘stupid bitch', the offensive word which was terrifyingly used to bring her down.
Before we continue to the second part on the term khwai daeng and how its meaning changed, we would like to introduce between the two sections this term: ‘อีโง่’ or ‘stupid bitch.’ This May is not only the 10th anniversary of the killing of the red shirts, but also the 6th anniversary of the 2014 military coup which overthrew Yingluck Shinawatra, the first woman prime minister of Thailand whose main supporters were the red shirts. We will try to show that the junta empowered not only those who discredit the rural and lower middle class population, but also the same people who look down on women.
In the previous article, we showed that the term ควายแดง (khwai daeng) or ‘red buffalo’ implies ‘stupid’. The term was widely used to discredit Thaksin’s supporters after the military coup in 2006. It was reinforced by the yellow-shirt establishment and Anek Laothamatas’s academic work which labels them as poor, rural, uneducated voters. It is sad enough that this aderogatory term is regularly used in Thailand’s public discourse, but usage peaked in 2010 when Abhisit’s government killed 90 red shirt protesters.
However, we will see that it was not the only time when its use became so popular. After Abhisit Vejjajiva dissolved parliament in 2011, an election was held. The red shirts struck back not with bullets, but with ballots. Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin’s sister, won the election and became the country’s first woman prime minister. Despite the efforts of the network of the military, the conservative elite and the yellow shirts to take and hold onto power by staging a coup, drafting a new constitution, co-opting unelected bodies, discrediting Thaksin’s supporters and even killing them, the red shirts won power by electoral means. Again.
Like any other government, the Yingluck administration had its ups and downs. However, she was hated viscerally by the anti-Thaksin movement. Not only did the conservatives disparage her supporters, but they also looked down on her. The most popular term at the time, apart from khwai daeng, was อีโง่ (i-ngo) or ‘stupid bitch’.
What does it mean?
There are many translations of the term อีโง่. The Nation translated it as ‘stupid woman’, the Bangkok Post used the term ‘stupid lady’ (a correction of their earlier ‘dumb bitch'), and Khaosod English went with the term ‘stupid bitch.’ We agree with the Khaosod English translation because it is the most accurate as it makes clear the rudeness of the term.
‘อี’ (i) is an offensive prefix used to refer to women. The equivalence for men is ‘ไอ้’ (ai). Sometimes these can be used interchangeably between genders. You can put any name or adjective after these prefixes to show disrespect to anyone you refer to. It can also mean you have a close relationship with them or you are jokingly insulting them as a form of affection. For example, if Tom is close to you, you can call him ‘ai-Tom’ or ‘i-Tom’ (you are more likely to call him ‘i-Tom’ if you are a woman). You can also imagine the same term being used by his angry boss when Tom makes a mistake. If you add an adjective with a positive meaning after these prefixes, it will sound sarcastic. It is similar to when you call someone “Mr/Mrs Smart” in English, except the prefix “Mr.” in English is a lot more neutral.
The word โง่ (ngo) means ‘stupid’. It is a direct insult like ควาย (khwai). You can copy and paste it in Google Translate if you want to learn a mean word to use with your Thai friends. But at your own risk.
Before Yingluck rose to power, this term อีโง่ was in daily use. It still is, and if used, almost teasingly, with your close friends, it is totally okay. However, once Yingluck became Prime Minister, this term became more politically charged. Recently we searched the term “อีโง่” on Google and we found nothing but controversy about Yingluck. When some Thais hear this term, they still think about her political struggle.
Who started it?
The obvious answer is her haters, the yellow shirts who fought to bring down her brother in 2006 and labelled her supporters ‘khwai daeng’. The term อีโง่ gradually gained momentum as public criticism grew less restrained. Some argue that it started when Vanessa Race, a famous Thai writer on neuroscience, harshly criticized Yingluck on Twitter for an ineffective response to the floods in 2011. To be fair, she did not identify herself with any political group, and she said “stupid leader (ผู้นำโง่)” but not “stupid bitch (อีโง่)”, It is only an assumption that her statement may have provided a basis for the term อีโง่ later on even though it was not her intention:
“Let me say something harsh for once in my life. … Speak and then cry. ... Floods I’m not afraid of. I’m afraid of only one thing … a stupid leader, because we will all die.”
Sometimes the criticisms were unfair. Also popular among her haters was fake news about her saying “thank you three times” in public as she read a script literally. The best proof they could offer was a video on YouTube with the title “Thank you 3 times” but the content shows that Yingluck never said “thank you 3 times.”
Even though the exact time and date of the term อีโง่ being widely used cannot be identified, we can pinpoint the politician who pushed it into the national conversation: Abhisit Vejjajiva. Here is what he said at a Democrat Party rally in 2013 when Yingluck’s popularity was starting to decline:
This morning I saw a bit of what she was doing: What was the project? ‘Smart Lady’ [the Thai original uses the English words]. What does it mean? I don’t really understand it all. It’s like they are going to have contest to find to a Smart Lady. I have asked Apimongkol [Apimongkol Sonakul, then a Democrat MP and the son of the current Minister of Labour]. It means a clever woman. But then I asked, hey, if they are doing this project, why do they have to? Why do they have to have a clever woman competition? Because they say that if they had a competition for a stupid bitch [อีโง่], no one could compete.
If this was said by other ordinary politicians, it might have been not a big deal. But this was from the leader of opposition who happened to be an elite from Eton and with a face Thai media and many considered as handsome. So, it was quite shocking. This was when searches for the term ‘อีโง่’ peaked according to Google Trend.
Did he hold a grudge because voters loved her more than him? As we discussed in the previous section, Abhisit was Prime Minister from 2008 to 2011. He became Prime Minister not by winning the popular vote in an election, but by the defection of a faction of MPs which evolved into the Bhumjaithai Party of the current governing coalition. Many questioned his legitimacy.
When the red shirts gathered in 2010 to demand the dissolution of Parliament and fresh elections, he ordered in armed troops who killed almost a hundred of them. The following year, after the election laws had been amended to favour his party, he dissolved parliament and called elections. The country promptly voted a Shinawatra back into power right before his eyes. He was defeated by a woman with virtually no political experience and became for the second time the leader of the opposition.
We may never know if he held a grudge, but the comment triggered responses from many groups. An op-ed was written in defence of Yingluck in the Bangkok Post by Kaewmala, who produced the thaiwomantalks blog. Jaded Chouwilai, Director of the Women and Men Progressive Foundation (WMP), said that listening to what Abhisit said, he could not expect any good from the opposition. Pheu Thai MPs pressured Abhisit to apologize. But he disingenuously claimed he was not referring to Yingluck when he mentioned ‘อีโง่’. The Democrat Party spokesperson also asked the government to file a complaint with Google because when people search for the term ‘อีโง่’, Yingluck’s face showed up all over the page and it hurt Thailand’s international reputation.
Yingluck was also called other things as the protesters doubled down on offensive usages: “a whore,” “an animal,” “slutty moron”, “barbie” etc. Famous among these was a political cartoonist Chai Rachawat’s post on Facebook which led Yingluck’s legal team to file a defamation lawsuit against him. Chai was called by police to learn about the accusation in May 2013, but there has not been reported progress until now.
“Please understand. A whore is not a wicked woman. A whore just peddles her body, but a wicked woman peddles the nation.”
Despite all this, Yingluck persisted. The rice pledging scheme, the first-car tax rebate scheme, raising the minimum wage, and other policies were implemented. They were criticized as ‘populist’ - giving a short-term stimulus to please voters but bad for the economy in the long run. However, her real mistake was when in 2014 she tried to pass an amnesty bill to acquit everyone accused of previous political crimes. Some said that she was betrayed by the opposition who had made a ‘superdeal’ agreement with her. Suthep Thaugsuban, a former Deputy Prime Minister and Democrat MP, resigned from the party and became the full-time leader of anti-Yingluck protesters.
The protests were successful in shutting down Bangkok and creating a political vacuum. Yingluck dissolved parliament and called a new election. The protesters knew that the red shirts would vote her back again, so they obstructed the polls. The Constitutional Court later nullified the election because of the chaos caused by the protesters. They also disqualified Yingluck from the premiership for illegally removing a bureaucrat from office. The anti-Yingluck protesters finally celebrated when Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha staged his military coup in 2014. During this period the term ‘khwai daeng’ peaked again.
After that, we all know the story. Gen Prayut has been Prime Minister for 6 years now. Yingluck is in exile and now has Serbian citizenship. The political meaning of the term ‘อีโง่’ has been gradually forgotten even though traces of it can still be found. However, the term ‘ผู้นำโง่ (stupid leader) which Vanessa invented and the term ‘khwai daeng’ have changed their meaning in unexpected ways.
About this section
Thailand is a country with one of the most complicated political systems in the world, and one way of understanding it is through Thai political slang, which for the uninitiated can be just as complicated. Perhaps as you read this section, you will see how crazy Thai politics is and be inspired to work as hard possible to avoid it from happening in your country.
The Bangkok Post has had a Learning English from the News for years and Prachatai English thought it might be a good idea to do something a little more advanced and cutting edge by explaining Thai political vocabulary to an international audience. If you like it, please subscribe or donate.