Sa bai dee, friends! It’s time for a fun lesson on Lao idioms. Why, you ask? Because idioms and proverbs are significant aspects of any language. These linguistic tools are a reflection of a region’s culture, traditions, and ethos. Similarly, Lao idioms are a reflection of Laos’ rich linguistic culture.
Moreover, most of us who speak English, have grown up learning English idioms, like ‘a single rotten fish makes the entire pond dirty,’ or ‘living from hand to mouth,’ ‘beating around the bush,’ and so on. So, why not spend some time exploring the Laotian culture through a linguistic window provided by Lao phrases, words, idioms, and proverbs?
Let’s look at some popular idioms used in common parlance in the Lao culture. We will also try to give their English translation as succinctly as possible. However, idioms and proverbs often carry cultural nuances and might not have exact equivalents in other languages. So, the given English meanings are mere interpretations to convey the essence of these idioms.
#1 Bringing Water To The Fields – Wai Eo Khii Dii
Meaning: Doing unnecessary work or effort, providing something that is already abundant.
The English translation doesn’t convey the exact meaning of this idiom, though. That’s because most of the Laotian fields are paddy fields, which are already saturated with water.
#2 Seeing An Elephant In A Dream – Wang Nan Kuwa
Meaning: Unbelievable or unrealistic situation.
This one seems pretty ironic to me, considering the fact that the ancient name of Laos – Lan Xang – translates to “land of a million elephants.”
#3 Shouting In An Empty Valley – Chong Hai Khon
Meaning: Speaking or expressing oneself in vain, as there is no one to hear or understand.
Feels like a personal attack? This happens to me whenever I go into oversharing mode.
#4 Wishing For Rain, Fearing Getting Wet – Det Noi, Phuk Mun Yang
Meaning: Wanting the benefits without the associated challenges or risks.
Who doesn’t? I’ll probably recommend keeping an umbrella or a raincoat handy, just in case!
#5 Catching A Snake By Its Tail – San Yaow Leuat Hao
Meaning: Addressing a problem or situation from its most difficult or complex end.
I absolutely love this one! I just hope that the snake isn’t too poisonous, or too slimy, or too cold. IYKYK.
#6 A Weasel Entering The Granary – Khong Khon Yaow Din Khao
Meaning: An untrustworthy person gaining access to valuable resources.
I feel this one is targeted toward all the crooked politicians in the world, especially those who deny global warming.
#7 Sending A Tiger To Deliver A Letter – Lok Khaat Saong Kan
Meaning: Entrusting a dangerous task to an unreliable person.
The imagery itself makes me chuckle out loud.
#8 A Fox’s Heart In A Lion’s Body – Chai Khong Khan Yaow Leum
Meaning: Someone with malicious intentions disguised as someone authoritative.
Here is another one directed at our beloved world leaders. And probably your gym trainer who doesn’t let you rest after every 10 crunches. The audacity!
#9 Ants Moving A Buffalo – Yak Khwao Khi Hua Khwa
Meaning: A collective effort achieving a seemingly impossible task.
We all need to become these ants and push toward a collective global movement against bigotry and pineapple on pizza!
#10 Turtle Carrying Firewood – Teoa Aebk Fun
Meaning: Someone slow or inefficient in accomplishing a task.
This one is directed towards people who send you the data you asked for after 10 reminders and 15 emails, that too, incomplete. But I feel bad for the turtle, though. Poor guy got attacked for no fault of his.
- The Lao language is quite similar to the Thai language; hence, both native speakers are mutually intelligible with each other.
- Lao is a tonal language with six tones in place. This means that similar words convey different meanings when spoken in different tones.
- Lao has many dialects across the country, but the Vientiane dialect is considered the official or standard Lao.
- Lao script is derived from the Khmer script of Angkor.
- Lao people are famous for eating the most sticky rice in the world. Apparently, a Laotian eats more than 156 kg of sticky rice per year!
Learn Lao With Ling
These fun idioms in the Lao language are incentive enough to explore the other hidden gems the language has to offer. We, at Ling, have enough resource material for you to get on this Lao expedition, in the form of free blog articles and a gamified app.
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