August 31, 2008

Another Thai eggcorn: น่มนวม/นุ่มนวล

I came across another Thai eggcorn in the wild today. In conversing with a friend, she used the phrase นุ่มนวม /nûm nuam/, an eggcorn for the phrase นุ่มนวล /nûm nuan/.

The common phrase, นุ่มนวล /nûm nuan/ 'soft, gentle (in action or manner)', consists of นุ่ม  /nûm/ 'soft, gentle' and นวล /nuan/ 'soft-colored, delicate, gentle'. When used as a compound phrase, they refer to metaphorical softness.

As with all eggcorns, the mix-up makes some logical sense. The word นวม /nuam/ means 'padded, stuffed with soft material' or 'stuffing, padding', and is seen in phrases like ผ้านวม 'comforter, blanket'; เก้าอี้นวม 'easy chair, upholstered chair'; and เสื้อนวม 'padded jacket'.

The semantic connection with softness should be clear. There may also be some assimilation going on with the final /m/ of นุ่ม /nûm/ helping reinforce the change /nuan/ > /nuam/.

Google turns up a few hundred hits for นุ่มนวม /nûm nuam/, versus upwards of a million for the normal phrase.


  1. I can contribute a rather cute sounding one that my daughter (4) invented: She calls tissue paper "chet-choo". You'll no doubt be able to guess where that comes from. The paper in question is used to wipe your hands (เช็ดมือ)/face/mouth, right? So according to this children's folk etymology, ทิชชู logically becomes "เช็ดชู".....

  2. That's a great eggcorn. I'll have to remember that one. :)

  3. P.S. I am aware it is not technically a 'folk etymology' (because when the user corrupts the word while subconsciously tracing its origin, it becomes an eggcorn), but still..... it is sort of an imagined etymology (though it actually doesn't match with the actual word).

  4. On second thought, another thing occurred to me. It might seem a bit strange that "chet-" is substituted for "tish-" in this example, as the two bear no resemblance to each other. However, in Thai, "tissue" is not pronounced like "tish-shue", but much more like "tit-choo" (cf. what you wrote elsewhere, quoted here once more: "You have to know, say, that Thai doesn't end syllables in fricatives to know that a Thai will pronounce ชีส "cheese" as [ชี้ด]."). So I guess that explains why it becomes possible to insert a syllable ending in -t, and arrive at "chet-choo". (And/or one could maybe see the pair tish <>chet as sort of a phonetic inversion....?)

  5. It makes phonetic sense, actually. As you point out, tissue = "tit-choo" in Thai pronunciation, so tit > chet isn't farfetched. The t assimilates with the ch in "choo", and the short i to short e only requires minor movement in the mouth.

    Makes sense to me! :)