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Thomas Lumley called my attention to the neologism and bilingual pun "whaumau", now a Twitter hashtag:

For those who are curious, what is Te Matatini?

Te Matatini is a national Māori performing arts festival in which kapa haka performers from all around Aotearoa (New Zealand) compete in the Te Matatini festival. The name was given by Professor Wharehuia Milroy, a composite of Te Mata meaning the face and tini denoting many — hence the meaning of Te Matatini is many faces.


Back to "whaumau".  What is it?  According to Thomas:

"Whaumau" is a well-formed but non-existent Māori word, which would be pronounced /faʉmaʉ/ — that is, basically the same as the English pronunciation of the internet acronym FOMO, Fear Of Missing Out. And that's what it means.

I don't think I've ever encountered "a well-formed but non-existent… word" in one language that entered into a punning relationship with an acronym in another language.  There's always a first time for everything.


  1. Carey Evans said,

    March 13, 2019 @ 12:46 am

    This reminds me of the nickname “Warewhare” /waɾɛfaɾɛ/ for the Warehouse stores, where “whare” is, of course, the word for “house”:


  2. AntC said,

    March 13, 2019 @ 2:35 am

    Never miss an opportunity to plug the Maori Dictionary. It's a real taonga (treasure).

    Has entries for Matatini, whau and mau or māu; but not whaumau. To confirm that is well-formed, see also whānau (family/kin).

  3. IMarvinTPA said,

    March 13, 2019 @ 8:42 am

    Also, Whaumau seems to want to be pronounced in English in a similar way as just sounding like you're crying. Sort of a sobbing "Why Me?"

  4. J.W. Brewer said,

    March 13, 2019 @ 11:27 am

    I take it /faʉmaʉ/ is a reasonable approximation of how "FOMO" would be pronounced in NZEng? According to the internet, John Wells has the NZ GOAT vowel as /ʌʊ/ but more recently-published work (Bauer et al. 2007) has it as /ɐʉ/. (I don't think I know FOMO as an acronym, but I would by default pronounce it with my own GOAT vowel, which is rather different than either of those options.)

  5. J.W. Brewer said,

    March 13, 2019 @ 11:30 am

    I should have added the point that maybe the standard orthography for vowels in Maori would be different if devised anew by speakers of current NZEng and the orthography perhaps fossilizes the rather different values of vowels in whatever variety of English was spoken by those who devised the system back in the 19th century?

  6. Philip Taylor said,

    March 13, 2019 @ 11:59 am

    Would not the standard orthography for te reo consonants also [have to] be different, if "wh" -> /f/ as (a) stated above, and (b) confirmed to me in person during a recent visit to Northland ?

  7. file said,

    March 13, 2019 @ 1:35 pm

    @John Brewer: how many GOAT vowels do you keep? And what do you feed them?

  8. J.W. Brewer said,

    March 13, 2019 @ 3:15 pm

    well, there are many different breeds of GOAT vowels found in different Anglophonic regions around the globe, each one no doubt adapted to its own evolutionary niche and the available foodstuffs. I personally keep only two (or maybe you'd say three, or maybe one and a half), viz some approximation of the standard "General American" one and the strongly-fronted (and I think also tensed?) one that's characteristic of regional accents where I grew up (near Philadelphia). But I think in practice I slide back and forth between the two along some sort of continuum and am often somewhere in the middle, rather than code-switching in a binary/toggle sort of way. But in any event it sounds like the New Zealand breed is quite a ways off the pathway of that particular fuzzy continuum between the two breeds I possess.

  9. Jerry Friedman said,

    March 13, 2019 @ 3:31 pm

    J. W. Brewer: if you don't mind my horning in, I was glad to see that after file capriciously tried to make you the butt of a joke, you decided not to buck the trend but instead kidded back. (At this point someone in NZ may want to put the billy on.)

    Also, I don't think that would sound like my GOAT vowel (unshifted Cleveland) either.

  10. AntC said,

    March 13, 2019 @ 5:42 pm

    standard orthography for te reo

    Was laid down by (mostly German) linguists in the C19th. So the sound values of the letters bear no resemblance to contemporary NZ English, nor even much to the English of the settlers.

    Go to the Maori Dictionary and you can click to hear how each word is pronounced. I won't attempt to render the sounds, because I'm not a native speaker and only half a New Zealander.

    Case in point would be the leading wh-: The German linguists ~180 years ago heard it as aspirated, like Anglo-Saxon hwaet! etc. And maybe it was. But after so much suppression by the Colonialist Governments and contact with English, it's now pronounced as /f/.

  11. Jonathan D said,

    March 13, 2019 @ 7:22 pm

    This is just borrowing the acronym from English, as pronounced, isn't it? Or is there more to the 'punning relationship'?

  12. Smut Clyde said,

    March 13, 2019 @ 8:45 pm

    standard orthography for te reo
    Was laid down by (mostly German) linguists in the C19th.

    The Whackyweedia attributes it to a, 1820 collaboration of linguist Samuel Lee, and chief Hongi Hika (who was visiting the UK at the time). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hongi_Hika#Journey_to_England,_1819%E2%80%931821

  13. John Swindle said,

    March 13, 2019 @ 9:52 pm

    @AntC: Maori language was suppressed, English was dominant, and wh- changed to f-. Was there any influence from another Polynesian language?

  14. John Swindle said,

    March 13, 2019 @ 9:53 pm

    Sorry, I think I meant "hw- changed to f-".

  15. AntC said,

    March 14, 2019 @ 1:26 am

    Was there any influence from another Polynesian language?

    It was realised at first European contact (Captain Cook 1796, travelling with a Tahitian Chief) that Te Reo is closely related to a number of Polynesian languages (most closely Cook Islands Maori). But had been linguistically isolated for several centuries since the great era of Polynesian navigation. Isolated enough to have developed regional dialects; so Lee's orthography reflects Chief Hongi Hika's (Northern) pronunciation in particular.

    I'm struggling to remember where I got the "(mostly German)"linguists" bit. I suspect from Michael King's Penguin History of NZ (another treasure), which I don't have to hand now. I think it means using 'international' (i.e. IPA/German) sound values for the Latin letters, rather than idiosyncratic English values. And that would have arisen from the Missionaries' orthography for other Polynesian languages. (If that's what your q about "influence" is asking.)

    In particular note that the ng- digraph (IPA [ŋ]) is syllable-initial, unlike English: a good pronunciation test is the Mountain Ngarahoe (4 syllables: Nga-ra-ho-e).

    The wikipedia article on Maori language is not bad about the subtleties of what nowadays is spelt wh-. Note it somewhat contradicts the article on Hongi Hika/Samuel Lee. There were attempted orthographies before Lee's; neither was his taken as definitive.

    Orthography was fluid right through the time of European settlement and the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi with the British Crown. It causes nightmares for historians/geographers trying to figure out whether two differently-spelt placenames are actually the same place, for trying to settle land claims. (Added to which the different tribes were engaged in land grabs /being played off against each other by Colonialists faster than the Crown could 'regularise' the situation — not that the Crown was actually trying very hard. So the two spellings might represent two tribal/dialectical pronunciations.)

    I think I meant "hw- changed to f-"

    The sound was initially written 'w-' sez wp, but that was ambiguous with a genuine [w] as in Waitangi (and many place names beginning wai-, which means water), so later written as 'wh-'; never written as 'hw-'. It was never written 'f' and English words starting 'f-' got transcribed as 'p-', suggesting it was never pronounced [f]. What I meant was the philologically-trained linguists would hear it as Anglo-Saxon.

  16. Smut Clyde said,

    March 14, 2019 @ 1:40 am

    So the two spellings might represent two tribal/dialectical pronunciations

    And much is the wailing and gnashing of teeth, whenever the archivists and historians and tribal record-keepers agree that a place-name previously written as "Wanganui" would better have been transcribed as "Whanganui".

  17. Thomas Lumley said,

    March 14, 2019 @ 3:00 am

    The 'au' diphthong in te reo isn't all that close to the one in FOMO, but it's close enough to be how NZ English speakers are given a first approximation to the pronunciation. Without that guidance, the diphthong tends to be pronounced like the vowel in 'cow'.

  18. file said,

    March 14, 2019 @ 3:34 am

    @Jerry Friedman. Capricious? Qui moi?

    What I was actually doing was setting John Brewer for one of his famous amusing peregrinations. Riding one and a half goats is no laughing matter, though.

  19. John Swindle said,

    March 14, 2019 @ 5:32 am

    @AntC: Thanks. That's helpful. I hadn't seen the Wikipedia article.

  20. AntC said,

    March 14, 2019 @ 6:09 am

    And much is the wailing and gnashing of teeth, whenever the archivists and historians and tribal record-keepers agree that a place-name previously written as "Wanganui" would better have been transcribed as "Whanganui".

    "Whanga" means bay/cove/bight/estuary. Plenty of placenames beginning with that.

    "nui" means large/abundant/etc. Plenty of placenames include that.

    The river running through the town is spelt "Whanganui".

    "wanga" is not a word in Te Reo. But it would have been how the bay/cove word was rendered before orthographies started being more careful.

    And "Wanganui" acquired a spelling pronunciation amongst Pākehā something like wong-ə- noo-ee; which is neither a word in English nor in Te Reo. It's nonsense sounds, because '-ng' is appearing syllable-final.

    As I recall the issue, there was no gnashing of teeth by any of the professionals you mention. The gnashing came from a particularly prominent and particularly obnoxious/culturally crass talk-show radio 'celebrity' and renegade ex-MP, who would be affronted if anybody dropped the silent 'h' in spelling his name — which 'h' arrives by transcription from Hebrew.

  21. Christian Weisgerber said,

    March 14, 2019 @ 7:52 am

    I'm struggling to remember where I got the "(mostly German)"linguists" bit.


  22. Jerry Friedman said,

    March 14, 2019 @ 11:06 am

    file: I hope my little pun didn't get your goat. You set J. W. up very nicely.

  23. Andrew Usher said,

    March 14, 2019 @ 9:15 pm

    The sound change from [hw]~[ʍ] (are those really distinguishable?) to [f] is not that hard to imagine (it happened in part of Scotland with our 'wh'), but it does seem odd that it happened under our noses, and universally, without anyone specifically noting it (example to the contrary welcome).

    I assume that English-speakers followed primarily because they'd lost the wine/whine distinction anyway (already mostly gone when NZ was settled) and so could not preserve the older pronunciation.

    k_over_hbarc at yahoo.com

  24. Philip Taylor said,

    March 15, 2019 @ 4:17 am

    Can you adduce an example of [hw] (or [ʍ]) -> [f] in Scots, Andrew ? And is it really true that "English-speakers […] [had already] lost the wine/whine distinction" ? I retain that distinction to this day, at least in formal contexts. amd I am certain that I am not alone, although a Cambridge-educated friend once denied that the [hw] pronunciation existed, and had to be dragged off to view the OED in the College library …

    Even today the online OED admits of no pronunciation of "whine" other than /hwʌɪn/

  25. Jerry Friedman said,

    March 15, 2019 @ 10:38 am

    Philip Taylor: If you'll accept fiction,

    "'An' fat hae ye to say against gweed sweet neeps to yer sipper, I sud like to ken?' demanded the irate matron."

    William Alexander, Johnny Gibb of Gushetneuk

    I don't have access to the OED right at the moment, but I bet that if you look up "what", you'll find "fat" under "Forms".

    On your other question, I hear [wh] now and then here in northern New Mexico.

  26. Philip Taylor said,

    March 15, 2019 @ 3:01 pm

    Aye, I'll accept fiction the noo … But that is a most unusual Scots spelling of "good"; I would have expected "guid".

  27. Philip Taylor said,

    March 15, 2019 @ 3:38 pm

    Jerry F — no signs of "fat" under "Forms of 'what'", I'm afraid : Forms: OE hwæt, huæt, huæd, OE–ME hwet, ME hwat, wet, ME wat, ME ( Orm.) watt, whæt, wæt, ( waht, wæht, whæht, weht, ȝwat), ME whet, (ME huet, wad), ME ( Orm.), ME whatt, ME–15 whate, (ME whad, wath), ME–15 whatte, (18 dialect or vulgar wot), ME– what; ME northern quat, (ME quuat, ME quatt, qwat, ME qhat), ME–17 Scottish quhat.(Show Less)

  28. Jerry Friedman said,

    March 15, 2019 @ 3:46 pm

    Philip Taylor: Sorry, I should have told you that I did eventually check the OED and "fat" wasn't listed under "what" (and the "what" meaning isn't listed under "fat"). So I lose my bet.

    You can find "fat" meaning "what" with more conventional Scots spelling, as in The English Dialect Dictionary. There's also "fan" for "when".

  29. Andrew Usher said,

    March 16, 2019 @ 7:16 pm

    In any case, that sound change certainly did take place in Maori, seeing as the sound went from being never equated with English 'f', to always being so, over 200 years at most. And it's just curious that it to me seems to be accepted without any inquiry. My reference to Scots was just off-hand but I know anyone could quickly find more with one simple Google search.

  30. John Swindle said,

    March 19, 2019 @ 7:28 pm

    … which is why I asked whether contact with some other Polynesian language might have been involved, since cognate words have f- in some of them.

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