English language idiosyncracies on the streets of Bangkok
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English language idiosyncracies on the streets of Bangkok

by James Goyder

I am regularly amused and occasionally amazed by the misuse of the English language which I encounter on a daily basis while out and about in the nation’s capital. At first I assumed that this was largely caused by well meaning people whose grasp of the English language fell a little short of fluent trying to be a bit too clever with their slogans or posters. However the more time I spend here the more I begin to detect the work of someone who speaks excellent English but has a healthy sense of humour.

I can imagine how an advertisement can come to carry the slogan  ‘hopefully you’ll find original super special road it’s so great future’  because the intended optimistic message is fairly obvious even if the exact wording leaves a little to be desired. One t-shirt monikor which leaves me much more mystified reads, ‘Dear Santa it was my crazy Mother’s fault’. In this instance the actual use of English is refreshingly clear but the exact message the t-shirt is attempting to convey is anything but.

There seems to be a bit of a trend for ‘funny’ t-shirts. Be it a picture of two overweight people struggling to have intercourse with one another above a caption reading ‘Mission Impossible’ or a picture of a husband wife with the words ‘Game Over’ more and more people, obviously oblivious to the fact that even the best joke will eventually wear thin, appear willing to spend entire days walking around with the same single entendre on their chest.

There are very few circumstances under which a t-shirt can be genuinely funny and it is almost always all about context. For instance an obese person walking around with something along the lines of ‘I beat anorexia’ emblazoned across their chest is quite amusing, at least the first couple of times you see it.

T-shirts in Thailand occasionally make me laugh but rarely for reasons the wearer would appreciate or understand. I don’t know where the person I saw driving a scooter along Sukhumvit got a top which had ‘Spring Break Afghanistan 1995’ on the back but it certainly brought a smile to my face.  My all-time favourite was one being worn by quite an attractive young Thai girl which bore the simple slogan, ‘unregistered sex offender’

One which I found a little more disturbing carried the message ‘I swear I didn’t know she was six’ accompanied by a picture of a child’s shoe. It was being worn by a slightly overweight Thai man at the Muay Thai and I remember hoping that he had brought the t-shirt at random rather than had it made up specially to celebrate avoiding some sort of criminal conviction based on that particular line of defence.

It’s not just t-shirts. Anyone that has walked up and down Sukhumvit enough time will have seen the stall selling adult DVDS accompanied by a large cardboard sign with the words ‘Porno. It was wonderful. It was perfect’ inscribed on it in felt tip. Presumably this is a problem with tense and the message is meant to be that the dirty movies on offer are both ‘wonderful’ and ‘perfect’.

Whenever I read it I can’t help thinking it’s meant to imply that the actors and actresses involved had really enjoyed themselves. I’ve never been tempted to buy any of this filth, friends inform me that you can download that sort of stuff for free anyway, but if I did I think I would be reassured to know that the protagonists had had a good time.