Warning: this column contains explicit language and a little bit of attitude.
Now that I have your attention, let me clarify: I mean “explicit” as in “fully and clearly expressed; unequivocal; outspoken,” not as in “clearly depicting sexual acts or nudity.” There’s nothing here you can’t show the kids. In fact, I hope you’ll share this column with them.
In this space, I aim to brighten your Wednesday morning with laughter or, at least, a little smile. Often, I’ll reminisce about the good ol’ days, jogging fond memories for kamaaina and informing the more recent arrivals about the smaller, sweeter Maui in which we grew up. Sometimes I’ll forego humor in favor of poignancy, but generally, I stay away from unpleasant, controversial or provocative subjects.
Today I am departing from the usual, because there’s been a rant building inside me for a long, long time. Today I simply must air one of my pet peeves.
It’s about the way so many of my fellow local broadcasters and public speakers mispronounce the name of our state. I’m not talking about whether the second syllable begins with a “v” or a “w” sound, as in the old joke about the pair of newly arrived visitors discussing Hawaiian pronunciation. They agree to ask a bystander.
“Is it Huh-wai-ee or Huh-vai-ee?”
The gentleman says, “Huh-VAI-ee, of course.”
They thank him for resolving their dispute, and he replies with a smile, “You’re velcome!”
According to the generally accepted authority, the Hawaiian Dictionary by Mary Kawena Pukui and Samuel H. Elbert, either pronunciation is acceptable. When beginning a word or after the letter “a,” the “w” may be pronounced as a “w” or a soft “v.” When the “w” follows an “i” or “e,” it is usually pronounced “v,” as in Ewa Beach or Hurricane Iwa. After an “o” or “u,” it’s usually pronounced “w,” as in Olowalu or auwe. There are exceptions, of course; Uluwehi, as in Guerrero, comes to mind.
What’s not acceptable is dropping the “i” from the diphthong “ai,” turning the word into Huh-wuh-ee instead of Huh-wai-ee (or Huh-vai-ee, as the gentleman in the joke properly says).
Lately, I have found myself speaking sternly to the television or radio, sometimes even shouting in frustration. It annoys me when professional announcers get sloppy with enunciation. And it really drives me crazy when they take pains to emphasize the ‘okina, or glottal stop, before the last “i,” but don’t bother to finish the second syllable properly. They smile smugly at the camera while they proceed to tell us what’s going on in “Huh-wuh-ee Nay.” Even some who properly say Honolulu (instead of Hana-lulu) and Kahului (instead of Kahalui) mispronounce Hawai’i. Why is the wai so elusive? Is it laziness? Maybe they just don’t know any better. They should, though.
It doesn’t bother me when lay people mispronounce words, Hawaiian or not. But when you get paid to talk, proper pronunciation should be a requirement of the job, especially for news broadcasters and commercial voice-over artists.
I wonder if my obsession stems from my days as a young fan of pro wrestling. One of the most hated villains in the 50th State Big Time Wrestling stable was Ripper Collins, who enraged locals by declaring himself King of the Hawaiian Islands and deliberately mispronouncing the names of our beloved homes. He’d point into the camera and address “my loyal subjects of Moh-wee.” I guess that’s also where my unseemly habit of yelling at the TV began.
OK, I feel better now. I hope I haven’t offended anyone. Next week, no rants, I promise. Explicitly so.
* Kathy Collins is a storyteller, actress and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.