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Farang (Thai: ฝรั่ง [faràŋ]) is a generic Thai word for someone of European ancestry, no matter where they may come from. The Royal Institute Dictionary 1999, the official dictionary of Thai words, defines the word as "a person of white race".
Edmund Roberts, US envoy in 1833, defined the term as "Frank (or European)." People of mixed African-European descent were called farang dam (Thai: ฝรั่งดำ; 'black farang') to distinguish them from white people. This began during the Vietnam War, when the United States military maintained bases in Thailand.
It is generally believed[by whom?] that the word farang originated with the Persian word farang (فرنگ) or farangī (فرنگی), meaning "Frank, European". This in turn comes from the Old French word franc, meaning "Frank", a West Germanic tribe that became a political power in Western Europe during the early Middle Ages, and from which France derives its name. Because the Frankish Empire ruled Western Europe for centuries, Eastern Europeans and Middle Easterners associated the word "Frank" with Latins who professed the Roman Catholic faith. Frangistan (Persian: فرنگستان) was a term used by Muslims and Persians in particular, during the Middle Ages and later periods, to refer to Western or Latin Europe.
According to Rashid al-din Fazl Allâh, farang comes from the Arabic word afranj. In Ethiopia faranji means white/European people. In either case, the original word was pronounced paranki (പറങ്കി) in Malayalam, parangiar in Tamil, entered Khmer as barang, and Malay as ferenggi. From there the term spread into China as folangji (佛郎機), which was used to refer to the Portuguese and their breech-loading swivel guns when they first arrived in China.
Another possibility is that "farang" derives from the phonetically closer word, Varangian. Around the same time as Frankish hegemony over most of Western Europe, the Varangians (Old Norse: Væringjar; Greek Βάραγγοι, Βαριάγοι, Varangoi, Variagoi), were Viking warriors who established the Kingdom of Rus, as well as forming an elite unit of the Byzantine Army, roamed down and throughout the Near East, interacting and trading with the Islamic world.
Farang is also the Thai word for the guava fruit, introduced by Portuguese traders over 400 years ago, which of course can lead to jokes when foreigners are seen eating a guava in Thailand. Farang khi nok (Thai: ฝรั่งขี้นก) is a particular variety of guava, feijoa. Scruffy Westerners, especially backpackers, may also be called farang khi nok. This means "bird-shit farang", as khi means waste and nok means (wild) bird; but, while khi nok may mean guano, it is also a species of fish, Diagramma pictum, a species of grunts Haemulidae.
Varieties of food/produce which were introduced by Europeans are often called farang varieties. Hence, potatoes are man farang (Thai: มันฝรั่ง), whereas man (Thai: มัน) alone can be any tuber; culantro is called phak chi farang (Thai: ผักชีฝรั่ง, literally farang cilantro/coriander); and chewing gum is mak farang (Thai: หมากฝรั่ง). Mak (Thai: หมาก) is Thai for betel, which many rural Thais chew for the euphoria it gives.
In the Isan Lao dialect, the guava is called mak sida (Thai: หมากสีดา), mak being a prefix for fruit names. Thus bak sida (Thai: บักสีดา), bak being a prefix when calling males, refers jokingly to a Westerner, by analogy to the Thai language where farang can mean both guava and Westerner.
ฝรั่ง ๑ [ฝะหฺรั่ง] น. ชนชาติผิวขาว; คําประกอบชื่อสิ่งของบางอย่างที่มาจากต่างประเทศซึ่งมีลักษณะคล้ายของไทย เช่น ขนมฝรั่ง ละมุดฝรั่ง มันฝรั่ง ตะขบฝรั่ง ผักบุ้งฝรั่ง แตรฝรั่ง.
Connected with this department is that of the Farang-khromma-tha," Frank (or European) commercial board
SEE-DA สีดา BAK-SEE-DA บักสีดา or MAHK-SEE-DA หมากสีดา. Guava fruit; Foreigner (white, Western.) BAK is ISAAN for mister; SEE-DA สีดา, BAK-SEE-DA and MAHK-SEE-DA are Isaan for the Guava fruit.
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