Saturday, 21 September 2013

Idioms & Whakataukī

So what are these magic things called idioms, and why do we use them?

The Oxford English Dictionary says that idioms are "a figure of speech where the ‘meaning [is] not deducible from those of the individual words".

Some Kiwi examples that I particularly like include 'he went bush' (he left town for the back country and is entirely out of contact), 'on ya' ("good on ya, mate" or well done), 'a feed of greasies' (fish and chips), 'I was hooning along' (driving very fast or rushing to get somewhere), 'it's pukarooed' (it is broken), 'up at sparrow fart' (had to get up very early in the morning).

I have no idea how many words and phrases there are for being drunk, for things being broken or to describe accidents. But until I sat down to think about it, I had no idea just how creative - and lazy - we are with language; and how incomprehensible our version of English must seem from the outside.

Kiwis love idioms.  Like our partner in our bicultural partnership here in Enzed - the English culture that Kiwiland partly springs from - our world is chock full of sayings, illustrators, proverbs and metaphor. But the suggestion that Kiwis love of illustrators comes purely from English roots would be doing Māori culture and Whakataukī a huge injustice.

Māori culture equally uses sayings and metaphor to enrichen Māori language and our broader New Zealand culture. Many of the South Pacific travelling peoples have a narrative tradition relying on the spoken word to convey the essence of storytelling and nuance; far more than European nations.

For me, Māori Whakataukī are eloquent moral tales: for example, "Nā tō rourou, nā taku rourou ka ora ai te iwi"; with your food basket and my food basket, our people will flourish. These few words relate a story of what comes from true, selfless collaboration: our culture, our descendents and the collective 'we' benefit. "Te amorangi ki mua, te hapai o ki muri"; the leader at the front and the workers behind the scenes. Marae protocol demands that the Kaumātua hosts guests at the front of the Wharenui (meeting house), while workers are in the background, ensuring everything is prepared, things run smoothly and that all people are well looked after. This Whakataukī  is saying that both roles are essential; that without one of them, everything would fail. The image I have included with this article tells yet another great story; "He waka eke noa" or the canoe we are ALL on together. This means there are no exceptions on this waka journey - your loyalty to the greater cause is expected, your endurance will be drawn upon, and you must contribute as much as you possibly can, because you too will equally be affected by the outcome.

What really fascintates me is we have ended up with two levels of metaphor in New Zealand: Whakataukī for more solemn, deep meaning, and idiom for daily seasoning.

That's gotta be worth a chocolate fish :-)




  1. Idioms are always interesting and amusing because of their symbolic meanings but some idioms are really tough to understand and it's really interested to read this article.
    Thank you,
    Freya, UK

  2. Thanks Freya! Glad you enjoyed the article. Happy New Year and nga mihi mahana (warmest regards) :-D

  3. Thanks Her Royal Highness Queen Mia Joyce I


Thanks for your feedback. The elves will post it shortly.