Is Farang an Offensive Term

Is Farang really an offensive or racist term? Actually, this word is not of Thai origin. It was probably widespread by the Muslim world during the Crusade. Majority of the Christian army were Franks, an ethnic group whose kingdom occupied approximately modern France. From then on, Europeans were collectively referred to as ‘Frank’ regardless of nationality. Somehow, this word ‘Frank’ entered Thai vocabulary and became read as ‘farang’ as ‘fr’ cluster doesn’t exist in Thai and ‘nk’ is also not allowed in Thai phonology. Coincidentally, ‘farang’ also means ‘guava fruit’.

This was posted on the Farang Can Learn Thai Facebook page by one of the members, Veradej Wisetjarkhun. This topic comes up regularly and is still debated hotly. The origin of the term has previously been discussed many times. Here is the view of Rikker Dockum on the subject:

‘The short version: farang doesn’t come from the Thai word ฝรั่งเศษ /farangseet/ “Français”, since its use predates the arrival of caucasians in Thailand; nor does it come from the fact that white people have skin like the inside of a guava.

Likely cognates of farang are found in many languages and many countries, stretching from the Middle East out to Oceania. It was almost certainly spread by Persian traders across mainland Asia many centuries ago. Such traders arrived in Siam by the 16th century, bringing along with their wares the word farangi, meaning Westerner or white man, from the Arabic word “faranji”, and ultimately referring to the Germanic tribe the Franks, dating from the crusades, perhaps as early as the turn of the first millennium, AD.’

So what do you think. Is the term offensive or racist?

Please let us know your views by using the comments form below.

5 Comments

  1. Nick

    Not a simple question.
    First point to make is that the meaning of words change over time. They can become less or more offensive. Take the common swear words “the f-bomb” and the “s-bomb” both once considered highly offensive but now in almost everyday common speech.
    In Australia changing values have changed our ability to use once common words. Who would use “Nigger” anymore,as an example?
    I personally have an issue with the word Farang. But mainly how it is used.
    It is very noticeable when you walk into a room or a shop or a business or just down the street you hear “farang” being said a lot. You cannot tell me that Thai people spend their lives talking about “Farangs”. Obviously the topic of conversation has altered when people became aware of my presence. The reverse is simply not so in Australia. When a non european enters my business premises or area of view or place where I am hanging, there is not a sudden change in conversation and people pointing out that an Asian or other nationality is present.
    Europeans and other Nationalities have been visiting Thailand for hundreds of years, surely our presence is not so peculiar that it needs commenting on.
    I am Australian not Farang.

    Reply
    1. satiht t.

      – I am Thai and I think “Farangs” is not a negative term.

      “Obviously the topic of conversation has altered when people became aware of my presence.”
      – I would compare to a situation when I enter a meeting room as a boss. I heard my name and my subordinate stop talking non-sense. This will be very common in working environment that Japanese are the boss or Thai boss that is a very stricted person.
      – Try to imagination if the “Farangs” entering the room is a good friend of those people.
      – When I still working with a european firm in BKK, my austria boss enter the room, no body said “farangs” and there is no changing of the topic. Beacuse we are talking about a problem in the project.

      Reply
    2. lochiel

      I agree with the proud Australian. I am a proud Kiwi not a farang. Any way one needs a white skin to be Farang so it is racist.

      The Romans called the warring Germanics Franci. The Crusaders were much the same people and called themselves Franks. The Arabic pronunciation was Farangi and so on.

      Reply
  2. Christophe Clugston

    IF it weren’t meant as a derogatory term then why is the classifier for it not human? Isolating languages with counting systems that use classifiers have immense semantic weight on the classifier. In this case it belies the put down.

    Reply
    1. Luke

      The classifier is human. You say เมื่อกี๊เห็นฝรั่งสองคน not สองลูก. If you did say the latter, I would interpret most likely as irony of the fact that Thais use a fruit name for Westerners and not as an actual insult. I agree a lot with the long post from Nick.

      Reply

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