The Breath of Life: In Latin and Hawaiian
And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
KJV Genesis 2:7
Nefertari Receives the Breath of Life from Isis, the breath symbolized by the ankh sign.
Ha as an Hawaiian verb means ‘to breathe, to exhale the breath of life.’ Ha is onomatopoeic. As a noun, ha is the breath of life. Polynesian ha imitates the sound of a human exhaling, and thus demonstrates the same linguistic ploy, imitation of the sound of the concept being defined by the word itself, used by the ancient Romans when they needed a Latin verb meaning to breathe and came up with halo, halare ‘to breathe.’ Both words imitate the sound of inhaling and exhaling.
The most interesting island term that contains ha is the Hawaiian word for foreigner or stranger or non-islander. The story, possibly apocryphal, concerns the traditional Hawaiian mode of greeting. Two people say hello by touching foreheads, then breathing in and breathing out alternatively. Thus one’s breath of life is exhaled into the person you are greeting, and then she or he inhales your breath-spirit and reciprocates.
The tale is told that, in 1778, when Captain James Cook (shown above) became the first European to visit the islands, he was revolted when King Kalaniopuu puffed a greeting into his mouth. Cook turned away in revulsion at this very unBritish and to Cook unsanitary act. Thus were these strange white creatures dubbed in Polynesian haole ‘humans with no breath of life in them.’ Still today haole is the common word for foreigners. But it is an insult. There are more neutral words in Hawaiian for foreigner and the most common one is malihini ‘stranger, newcomer, tourist, guest, one unfamiliar with a place or custom; new, unfamiliar, unusual, rare, introduced, of foreign origin.’
This is the most famous Hawaiian word that does NOT have ha in the word.
The word aloha derives from the Proto-Polynesian root *qarofa, with. cognates in other Polynesian languages such as Samoan alofa and Maori aroha, also meaning ‘love.’
A spurious and false folk etymology — but a beautiful thought nonetheless— claims that aloha is a compound of the Hawaiian words alō meaning presence, front, face or share + ha, meaning breath of life. But alō is spelled with kahakoō (macron or long vowel mark) over the a, whereas the word aloha does not have a long a. O pshaw, you say. Does a mere macron make any sort of difference at all? In a language with far fewer vowel sounds and consonants than our Roman alphabet, it certainly does! Every little vowel lengthening has a meaning of its own. Aloha’s prime meaning is ‘love.’
Many words throughout all the languages of the world use imitation when coming up with words about breathing, living. Consider Latin animus.
In Latin, animus named the sentient, thinking center of a human, the rational soul, the mind, and some mental powers like courage and passion. The Proto-Indo-European etymon was *ane ‘to blow,’ hence ‘to breathe,’ with reflexes in most later PIE languages, for example: Greek anemos ‘wind,’ Welsh anadl ‘breath,’ Old Iranian animm ‘soul’ and Old Norse anda ‘to breathe,’ and Sanskrit aniti ‘he breathes.’
The root produced dozens of current English words like animal, animation, animated, equanimity, animadvert, magnanimous and pusillanimous.
Controversial Meaning of the Place Name Hawaii
Elsewhere in Polynesia, Hawai i or a cognate is the name of the underworld or of the ancestral home, but in Hawaii the name has no meaning.(!) So state innumerable tourist-as-chump brochures and pamphlets of travel blather. But, really, does that seem compelling to reason?
The hypothetical Proto-Polynesian ur-form of the word is perhaps *Sawaiki with a reconstructed meaning of ‘homeland.’ Cognates are found is other Polynesian languages such as the Maori word Hawaiki, the Rarotongan ’Avaiki and Samoan Savai‘i.
Everywhere else in Polynesia the word has a double semantic cast: in its negative sense, Hawaii means hell or underworld; in its positive sense it means homeland or ancestral home. But in the very islands of Hawaii, it doesn’t mean that. It has no meaning? Shark shit! No word is void of reference or empty of meaning. Even nonsense words are nonsensical. What that denial of its root meaning represents is mealy-mouthed, suck-hole linguists who have been told by tribal chieftains or the viler sort of politician (native or not) not to sully the fair name of vacation paradise with a label that means ‘hell.’ What a trembling, cringing, crawling coterie of abject toadies and lickspittles!
The ancient Romans were asked where the name Roma came from. They had no clue. So they made up an ancestor named Romulus and derived their city’s name from this unhistorical, quite mythical founder. Hawaiians did the same thing. They made up a traditional discoverer of the islands named Hawaii Loa, of whom there is not the scantiest evidence anywhere. No such plumed and plumeria-leied dude ever lived.
Poster shows Lassie Surfing
As in every other language, illiterates and fools can find any root they want in a word, never mind linguistic sense or historical proof. Sometimes, on cheap postcards that show comely maidens hula dancing, you’ll see this nonsense about the origin of Hawaii.
Means the "breathe of life".
There is no literal English translation. (Hey, fool, you just gave a translation)
In literal English means, "fresh water."
(No, it does not, fool)
This word is literally, the word or tone denoting or implying
the concept of a supreme God. (Utter poppycock and twaddle)
Correct Spelling of Hawai‘i
The state’s name should be spelled with an apostrophe or comma indicating that the penultimate letter of Hawaii is a glottal stop. The glottal stop is actually a letter of the short Hawaiian alphabet. When you produce a glottal stop, you open and close your glottis at the back of your throat. When you say ee-ee, you have to open and close your glottis to produce the second ee sound. Ditto at the end of Hawai‘i. The Hawaiian name of the glottal stop letter is ’okina.
Vog: New word from Hawaii
In common use in the Hawaiian islands, vog is volcanic smog or fog, a form of air pollution that results when sulfur dioxide and other gases and particles emitted by an erupting volcano react with oxygen and moisture in the presence of sunlight. Vog is a portmanteau word, a blended compound made up of volcanic and smog.
And so, to all my isle-minded readers, aloha oe!
copyright © 2012 William Gordon Casselman
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