Slangs are very common in languages, Thai or otherwise. As well, the origin of slangs make for interesting historical anecdotes. This article is not to make light of COVID-19, but if history tells us anything, the virus that is plaguing the world at this moment, could one day become a Thai slang for us to curse out each other in the future.
Just take a look at how we have used cholera disease as name-calling.
อีห่า (e-hah) ไอ้ห่า (ai-hah) อีห่าราก (e-hah-raag) ไอ้ห่าราก (ai-hah-raag)
Sure, these curses are a bit old school. Young kids today might not use them as much anymore, because people are ever-so inventive when coming up with new slangs. But ask your parents about it, they can tell you, calling someone “damn cholera!” is quite the insult. Or, your parents might tell you to shut up, because curse words are inappropriate.
Officially, cholera in Thai is a-hee-wah (โรคอหิวาห์). In slang usage however, cholera is known as roke-hah (โรคห่า, hah disease). The word “hah” is used to describe the “evil spirit” or “ghost” that the people took the cholera plague to be.
There have been seven worldwide cholera outbreaks. The first was in 1816. The worst was perhaps the third outbreak in 1852, when over a million people died from the disease.
Siam in times of cholera
In Thailand (known then as Siam), there was a cholera outbreak during the reign of King Rama 2, in the year 1820. At the time, the people called it hah-long (basically means, hah is upon us). An estimated 30,000 people died from the cholera plague.
Historical records say that the outbreak came to Thailand from Penang, in Malaysia. One way to deal with the dead bodies was to pile them up and burn them. The combination of the outbreak and burning piles of dead bodies caused residents to leave Bangkok for the provinces.
To fight the cholera outbreak, King Rama 2 decreed for all works to stop and for the people to stay at home and observe the Buddhist precepts. As no one went out, the disease soon disappeared.
Another cholera outbreak occurred in 1849, during the reign of King Rama 3. It took the lives of approximately 40,000 people, and was thought to have spread from Penang once again.
During the reign of King Rama 4, there was a cholera outbreak in Tak Province, but it was not severe. There were two outbreaks during the reign of King Rama 5, in 1872 and 1881. They were contained quickly as medical science advanced, and by that time, Thailand had indoor plumbing.
But still, the disease never quite went away. In 1958-59, there was another outbreak, resulting in over 2,000 loss of lives.
As you can see, the cholera plague was recurrent and devastating, instilling fear into the people in those times. As such, it was associated with evil, a devilish spirit or a ghost. Therefore, it became an insult name-call, e-hah (the female form) and ai-hah (the male form).
But of course, a slang is not a slang without a little creativity. Raag means to puke. Puking is a symptom of cholera. Hence, e-hah-raag or ai-hah-raag. Which literally means, “you damn puking cholera”; a bigger insult than just saying “you damn cholera”.