UI Theory

No, not User Interface. Nor Ugly Imperialist. (for the purposes of this post, anyway.)
Simply put, “ui!” is the sound of a Thai person in distress. Variations on this include, “uuui!,” “uuii!,” and “uuuuuuui!” (can you see my linguistics major paying off now?)
If I unprovokedly poke my wife in the side, she might exclaim, “uui!” (she might just as soon sock me in the stomach and then demand to know what the hell I’m doing, but I did say “might,” right?) [English equivalent in this example: “Hey!”]
If a Thai dude catches a whiff of (presumedly spicy) gas passed by his friend, he might say “ui!” and pinch his nose in the universal sign for “that’s stanky!” [English equivalent: “Jesus!”]
If a Thai hears something remarkable in a conversation, they might reply with a long “uuuuuii.” [“Ooooh,” or, “uh huh” – just a simple affirmation or acknowledgment of what previus speaker stated, mixed with real or exaggerated amazement or wonder]
The mighty ui is also used for oh shit moments. For instance, if The Sorcerer’s Apprentice had ever been subtitled in Thai, it would have looked something like this:
A couple weeks ago, T and I were sitting in a taxi, stuck in that good old Bangkok traffic (for perhaps the 47th time in one week). Conversation turned to the subject of bar fights in Thailand. T has seen many since he is a professional lounge lizard; I have seen only a few, all in Patong Beach. One curious observation we both had is that when a farang (gaijin) gets into an actual fight with a Thai, the place usually explodes with hordes of angry Thais swinging barstools, glass ashtrays, and beer bottles at the foreigner’s head. It’s really quite a trip to watch. They will fuck you up in defense of their Thai brethren, no bullshit on that count, man. Which bring us to the point of this post…
If a foreigner of Asian descent is fighting with, say, a white guy in a Soi Cowboy bar fight, would he be helped out by the Thais? Would Powder be stomped into oblivion by angry bar girls in gogo boots?
In such a situation, if the said Asian starts making loud “uuuuii!” noises when he gets hit, the fury of a thousand Suryothai cannon-bearing elephants will strike down upon the white man. There are at least three possible reasons for this:
1. The Asian man may have been mistaken for a Thai, hence kicking in the Thai Brethren Response
2. Even if he isn’t mistaken as Thai, he may receive enough Asian Sympathy Points to trigger a response
3. Regardless of looks, he may trigger an involuntary response with his tactical use of ui
Regarding that last point, we may need to run some field tests between two white guys to see if what we have coined the Thai Brethren Response is actually just a Pavlovian response to the utterance of ui (and hence must be renamed to the Ui Response).

6 thoughts on “UI Theory

  1. Hi. “ui” is for Isan people. “Bangkok people say “o-i”, and South people say, “oi(short)”.
    Am I correct or not?

  2. woah! how about ooooweeee. actually, I need to hear this ‘ui’ thing. in trying to imagine what it sounds like – there is a US version spelled like it – but sound is another issue. I believe the US version emanated from the cowboyish areas as an exclamation for magnitude – like seeing a cow pattie being thrown over 200 feet……’oooooowee’!!

  3. Okay, about pronunciation: “ui” sounds like an “oooooowee” but without the “w”, if you can imagine that. “oo” as in “moo” and “ee” as in “eat”. All pronounced in one short syllable.
    Regarding t’s point about regional pronunciations, I have to confirm and will post my findings later.
    One other thing I misunderstood was the meaning of the word farang. I thought it meant foreigner. Actually, it only means caucasian. I need to amend that in the main post.

  4. I have heard something with an h more like hui. That I use all the time now. Being a white guy I can be quite a good subject for your test. Let me know when you want to do that so we can have a couple of beers together. If you are around. I couldn’t come to Kansai but now you are in Bangkok 🙂

  5. Maybe it is more “hui” – I can’t figure out if the h is really silent or not in some Thai words.
    Nico, I’m back in Japan now until October. As soon as I move to Thailand, let’s go out for some beers.

  6. Man you have to start noticing the h or you will have your fried rice with egg all the time instead of chicken (just like me once)
    Also for being a farang I have to confirm that farang is only for caucasian people. Even though I’m from Africa (Mauritius Island really). Apparently what matters is the color. I guess a Chinese mauritian would pay just a normal thai price to go watch thai boxing.
    That actually is the only thing that pisses me off with Thai people. I would like them to make a difference between french and english or Americans for example.
    It’s a bit like a Japanese going to somewhere in Europe and in that country everybody call them chinese because there is no other words…

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