There are many concerns, great and small, over COVID-19. One of which involves undocumented Thai workers returning from South Korea. They are known as Little Ghosts, and not one of them is named Casper.
A Little Ghost is a Thai national who enters South Korea, usually legally on a tourist visa, but overstays and finds work there. Hence, his or her status in the country is considered illegal.
But there’s history behind the term.
In Thai, Little Ghost literally means ผีน้อย (Phee-nhoi). But Phee-nhoi is a Thai mispronunciation of the Filipino term Pinoy, which is an informal way of calling a Filipino. This is done by taking the last four letters and adding the suffix “y”. The femine form Pinay is also used. If you google Pinoy, you would find that it’s an adjective, relating to the Philippines or the Filipinos. For example, “Hey, this is a Pinoy dish.”
Tracing the origin of a linguistic term is never easy, let alone an informal or slang term. But it is believed that Pinoy was first used to describe Filipinos living in the United States in the 1920s. Later on, the term is also used to describe undocumented Filipino workers in South Korea.
Bear in mind that, for decades, Filipinos have entered many nations as workers, documented or otherwise. For example, Singapore has Filipina nannies. The Thai restaurant industry, especially those in areas where expats and tourists are abundant, employs many Filipino waiters, because they are able to speak in English.
In South Korea, Filipino undocumented workers were among the first waves, followed by the Thais and others. Due to similarities in physical features between the Filipinos and the Thais, as well as the undocumented worker status, the two nationalities are lumped into the same group, both are Pinoy.
Whether because of the Thai tongue or the Thai sense of humor, the term is then took up by Thai undocumented workers themselves. They pronounce it as ผีน้อย (Phee-nhoi), which means, Little Ghosts.
But if you ask a westerner to pronounce Phee-nhoi, he or she will end up saying Pinoy. Go ahead, ask a westerner to try.