The Mashed Radish will be off the next week or so. I’m happy to be celebrating a family wedding on the island of Maui in Hawaii. Technically, that’s in Maui County, which seems like such an incongruous thing to say. One just does not associates islands with counties.

Aloha–which, in English, has come to be used as a greeting and a valediction–is Hawaiian for “love,” “compassion,” “affection,” “peace,” or “mercy.” It is cognate to the Maori aroha, and linguists have posited the Proto-Polynesian *qarofa as its yet older ancestor.  Proto-Polynesian: I don’t get to type that every day.

As far as I can tell, only Hawaii has an official state language other than English–Hawaiian, of course, which impresses me with its economical eight consonantal phonemes. But that’s sounds a bit patronizing, don’t you think? A language does what it needs to do. As W.P. Marshall wrote in Afloat on the Pacific in 1876:

Every one replied to my salutation of ‘aloha oe’ with a pleasant smile;…those two words were about all the Hawaiian I knew.

Here’s to less Proto-Indo-European and more Proto-Polynesian.

m ∫ r ∫ 


3 thoughts on “aloha

  1. Of the 32 words listed on the Wikipedia page “List of English words of Hawaiian origin” I would say that I know only about 16 and the majority of which would’ve come culturally from American TV, definitely heard “muʻumuʻu” for the first time on an old episode of The Simpsons:

    ʻAʻa (A kind of rough-surface volcanic rock)
    Humuhumunukunukuāpuaʻa (The reef triggerfish)
    Kahuna (Hawaiian priest, wizard, or shaman; used in the slang phrase “big kahuna”)
    Lei (A garland of flowers and/or leaves to be worn around the neck)
    Luau (A Hawaiian feast, Hawaiian: lūʻau)
    Mahalo (Thank you)
    Mana (Magical or spiritual power)
    Mano (Shark, Hawaiian: manō)
    Muʻumuʻu (A loose gown or dress)
    Puka (A hole or perforation. Puka shells strung together to make necklaces)
    Wahine (A Polynesian woman, a female surfer)


    1. Yes, I would say I, too, learned of these words from the place Hawaii occupies in the American imagination (and I know exactly which Simpsons episode you refer to). I would “mahi mahi” to the list. “Wiki” now occupies an interesting and powerful place, even if its meaning is invisible to us.


      1. A little fact I didn’t know and have only just learnt regarding Hawai‘i is that:

        “Captain James Cook visited the islands on January 18, 1778 and named them the “Sandwich Islands” in honour of John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, who was one of his sponsors as the First Lord of the Admiralty.[2] This name was in use until the 1840s, when the local name “Hawai‘i” gradually began to take precedence.”

        …The eponymous Mr “sandwich” himself …well, I suppose that should really be “His Lordship “sandwich” himself” …he was an earl after all.

        All this talk of things Polynesian has made me realise how Eurocentric (and its peripheries) my language knowledge and familiarity is although due to working on a port I have met Fijians, Javanese, Kiribatians and countless numbers of Filipino crew hands and heard them all speaking in their respective Malayo-Polynesian national languages.
        Due to old colonial and Commonwealth historical links, Sālote (Mafile‘o Pilolevu) Tupou III Queen of Tonga was famously a guest at the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, I might have thought there would be more words of Polynesian origin that had filtered into at least British English but minus the Hawaiian word list from the previous post, the Polynesian word list seems a bit scant:

        kava – an intoxicating drink made from plant roots. From Samoan.
        taboo – from Tongan.
        taro – tropical food plant, 1769, from Tahitian or Māori
        tattoo – from Samoan tatau.
        tiki – from various Pacific languages.

        Of the long list of words of New Zealand, Māori Polynesian origin I only recognise a handful:

        Aotearoa – “long white cloud; North Island; New Zealand”
        kea – a parrot, the world’s only alpine parrot
        kiwi – the bird, a New Zealander, or (not in New Zealand) kiwi fruit
        mako – a shark, considered a magnificent fighting game fish
        moa – extinct giant flightless bird
        ponga (also spelt punga) – the silver fern, often used as a symbol for New Zealand.
        kia ora – a greeting, lit. be healthy (made famous in the UK from the iconic 80s TV soft drink Kia-Ora commercial)
        haka – traditional Māori dance, not always a war-dance, often performed by New Zealand sports teams to ‘intimidate’ opponents.


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