NORF'K LANGUAGE WORDS
The Norfolk Island language was created by the Bounty Mutineers and their Tahitian wife’s who made home on Pitcairn Island. They took elements from 18 Century English and the Polynesian language and developed a language we simply call Norf’k.
Below are some of the words we still use today and there meaning
The name aalihau, alihau, ah-lee-hau, ahaleehau, ailhau, awliaw, ulli-hau, and alli-hau refers to a shrub found on Pitcairn Island and Henderson Island which is almost extinct, as it is eaten by goats. It has small, yellow flowers. It probably got its name from a similar shrub found in Tahiti. Aalehau, according to Alice Buffett 1996 Part 3, Page 1 is:
n. name given by Pitcairn settlers to a Second Settlement builing in Arthur’s Vale, Kingston. Dem oel salan korl aa stoen said anda daa Daem said ‘Flaegstaaf “Aalehau”. Alice Buffett suggests that the word may be related to Tahitian aravao – pronounced alavau a person that resides in the upper valleys, may have some relevance to the Norfolk name
Flint encountered the word arlihau in the meaning, ‘a sort of taro’, which might be another source of the name of this hut, as taro is found in its vicinity. Can anyone shed more light on this word and its different meanings
The Norf’k language has many expressions for what people do and what people are. Some of them are the same as in English but many are subtly different, and quite a few expressions originate here on Norfolk Island. We shall present some of these people words (in approximate alphabetical order) and share with you what is known about their origins. Noone has ever fully documented the Norf’k lexicon and the origin of its words, and we hope that our readers will be able to add to the information given here.
Our first people word is aata, arta, first documented by Shirley Harrison in 1979 in the meaning ‘to be proud of, show admiration for’. Beryl Nobbs Palmer in 1986 translated it as a ‘admire, to gaze with admiration or love’, and Alice Buffet in 1989 translates it as ‘admire’.
This word has never been documented for Pitcairn island (although this may not mean much) and this, together with the fact that it is not found in records for Norf’k before 1986 suggests a local and recent origin, rather than the Tahitian aata ‘giggling to attract attention’, or aataina ‘strong desire or longing’. Shirley Harrison suggests that it is of local origin ‘due to a person named Arthur boasting about the exploits of his children’. Who was Arthur and when did this expression come into use? There certainly was a need for a word meaning ‘be proud of’, as Norf’k praud, proud, praid means ‘cheeky, insolent, conceited’, and does not have the positive connotations that the English word has.
We would also want to know how widely the word is used, and in what different meanings, and how it differs in meaning from stig’tiith, stig-a-teeth ‘to gaze in admiration’, which accounts for the traditional joke ‘to pass someone a match for them to pick their teeth if they are caught gazing in admiration at someone’ (Buffett 1999: 94).
Agle, ugly, agli
This word in Norf’k covers a number of meanings, some of them as in English, many of them quite different. For some reason the word is not found in many wordlists and dictionaries, and there are no good records for Pitcairn Island.
Shirley Harrison in 1972 lists expressions such as agle leg ‘sore leg’ and agle suf ‘rough sea’, as well as the meanings ‘nasty’, ‘unpleasant’ and ‘ugly’. She translates mek agle as ‘being nasty’, whereas Alice Buffett translates miek agli as ‘appear to be about to cry’. Beryl Nobbs Palmer translates ugly as ‘angry’ and ‘to lose one’s temper’.
In Archie Bigg’s poem ‘Three Lettle Sucken Pig’, the Wolf is described as he dar bloomen ugly, but in the next line we are given a synonym bet Logan bin kick et. Logan, of course, was ‘a horse which kicked anything within kicking distance, causing enormous amounts of breakage and disfigurations’ (Beryl Nobbs Palmer), or ‘a horse which had a liking for kicking people in the face’ (Ross and Moverley 1964) – hence, a face as if it had been kicked by Logan means ‘ugly’.
Two other expressions in Norf’k translate English ugly: 1) bas-whargus ‘ugly beyond description’ (Beryl Nobbs Palmer); or 2) baswaagas ‘person who is repulsively ugly’ (Alice Buffett), which has a synonym basas, bussarse, ‘something or someone who is ugly or unsightly’. It looks as if baswagas is a euphemism for basas, into which the meaningless syllable warg has been inserted. Is this the origin of the word, or is there a word wargas that someone can bas?
Are there any other expressions meaning ugly? Does anyone want to comment on the range of meanings of aglimek agle in Norf’k?
Aklan, ucklun, uklun
In their book The Pitcairnese language, Ross and Moverley (1964) referred to aklan as “quite the most mysterious word in Pitcairnese”. They go on to suggest that it derives from ‘little ones’ and that, like Tahitian ta’ata ri’a ‘little people’, aklan can be used to mean ‘the general run of people’, which, over time, came to mean ‘we in general.
A very different origin, the word ‘island’, is suggested in Holland’s brief wordlist of 1954, where he contrasts uckland ‘people island’ and sullen ‘people English’. Shirley Harrison in 1972 favours ‘little ones’ as the origin, but suggests another possible source – orlar salan ‘all people, everybody’ – and she notes “both developments come from phrases meaning literally all the children, presumably to be connected with the time when children made up most of the population”.
In 1999, Markus Klingel of the University of Freiburg, Germany, wrote a lengthy paper on this question. He came up with a novel conclusion which he regarded as the real McCoy: ie that the origin is the expression ‘our clan’; that the word originated with the Scotsman William McCoy who would have pronounced it aklan. He argues further that McCoy’s daughter Sally was the oldest of the children of Pitcairn, and that she became the means by which this family word was passed on to other children and the whole community. In this process, the word became a marker of Pitcairn identity, which it continues to have to date.
On Norfolk Island, the first record was Bishop Montgomery’s 1909 utluns ‘all the people’. Subsequent recorders reveal a multitude of spellings: aklen, uckland, uklun, ucklun, aklan, among many more. The use of aklan as a pronoun marker of strong solidarity according to Harrison (1985) is decreasing on Norfolk Island, and Källgård (1993) observed the same for Pitcairn Island.
Is aklan really used less than it used to be, and has its meaning changed over the years? There is another little puzzle: where does the name Ackland Hugh Christian, born 1926 on Pitcairn Island, come from?
Alligator and Tom Bailey’s Pear
The word for avocado pear in Pitkern is alligator. It is one of Edward Young’s words who brought it from St Kitts, where it is still used in this meaning. The avocado was unknown on Norfolk Island until the 1930s, when Tom Bailey (according to Bill Wiseman) bought four avocados in Auckland at the outrageous price of six shillings each for his sick mother-in-law, and carried the seeds back to Norfolk Island. The avocados growing on Norfolk today can all be traced back to this event. Some Islanders still refer to the avocado as Tom Bailey’s Pear, whilst most younger people use the English word.
Are there any other avocados with other names on Norfolk Island?
There are many spellings for this word: ama’ula, umer-oo-lar, ahmer-ulla, uma-oola (Nobbs Palmer), amaoola, ummaoola, umma-oolah. It has been translated variously as: ‘clumsy’, ‘careless’, ‘slovenly’, ‘awkward’, ‘ungainly’, and ‘without a concept of colour coordination’ (such as when wearing garments of different colours). This word is shared between Pitkern and Norf’k and appears to be derived from Tahitian uma’ura: ‘ignoramus’, ‘awkwardness’, ‘ignorance’.
It is one of the many examples of Tahitian nouns that have become verbs or adjectives in Pitkern and Norf’k. It is also one of the many words of Tahitian origin that has a negative meaning. Other worlds of this type being iyala ‘over bearing’, mea mea ‘withered, decrepit’, pontoo ‘unkempt, scruffy, neglected’, iwi ‘undersized’, and others that will be commented upon in this column.
This little word added at the end of a list of words means ‘etcetera, and so on’ in Norf’k. It’s usually spelt as a single word in spite of its origin en dem. The use of the third person plural pronoun dem after nouns to express ‘a collection of’ is very common in West Indian Creoles, and it is possible that this expression originated with the mutineer Edward Young, who was born in St Kitts.
This word translates as non-committal or lacking knowledge of the whereabouts of a person or thing (Alice Buffett, 1999: 5). It is not listed in any of the worldlists for Pitcairn Island or in any Norf’k vocabulary before Buffett’s encyclopedia. Alice Buffett says that “there is no such place as Upcooks in this context anyway”. The Norfolk phonebook for 2004 lists the names of Adrian Cook and Lyn Quintal in Stockyard Rd as living in Upcooks. Some islanders believe the expression has something to do with Captain Cook’s monument, or a Cook family that lived in a remote part of Norfolk Island, but its real origin is not known. Has anyone got any more information about this word?
Atlantic words in Norf’k
Edward Young, as already mentioned some time ago in this column, was an important figure in shaping the Pitcairn-Norf’k language, not just because he outlived all other mutineers except John Adams, but also because of his function as a storyteller and linguistic socialiser of the children. Having been born in St Kitts, his language is likely to have included expressions from West Indian Creole English.
In 2002, Philip Baker and Magnus Huber published a study of the common properties of languages derived from English around the world. Among other things, they present a list of Atlantic features which originated in the West Indies and subsequently spread to other parts of the world. Among these, there are a number of words that are also found in Norf’k: bang, ‘to hit’ (first documented for St Kitts in 1785), stick, ‘tree, shrub’, nasey, ‘nasty’, mekmek, ‘muddle, confusion’. There are many other words of West Indian origin, the best known ones are morla, ‘tomorrow’ and morga, ‘very thin’, but there are also a number of names of plants and animals, which originated in the West Indies. Examples are cherimoya, ‘custard apple’, alligator, ‘name of the avocado pea on Pitcairn Island’, santapet, ‘starfish’, and Irish tayty, ‘potato’. The Pitcairn-Norf’k language is more than a mix of English and Tahitian, West Indian Creole English is another significant component.
Baabahulus, bablehulu, bablehooloo
This word has been translated as ‘to thrash’ (Flint), ‘severely shake’ (Buffet), and for Pitcairn, ‘fallen to pieces’ (like after a head-on collision) (Källgård). This variety of meanings is accompanied by a variety of forms (with or without the -l, with or without the final -s, and with either short or long vowel pronunciation). Ross and Moverley (1964) suggest that Pitkern bablehulu is probably related to Pitkern huluhulu ‘to make untidy or dishevelled’, which is reminiscent of a number of Tahitian words including ahuru huru’a ‘rough looking state of a thing’, ahura ‘rotten, decayed’ mahuru huru’a ‘to become vile’; and they conclude with the cryptic remark: “There have been some assimiliations of a fairly obvious character and the Norfolkese word shows full dissimiliation”.
The word without the –s certainly looks like a Tahitian word which was probably changed by the first generation of children that grew up on Pitcairn Island, but it could also be a made-up word. How do our readers pronounce the word, and what does it mean to them?
Baala, barllo pig, leho bullock, lehoo, lehore
Baala is translated by Alice Buffett as ‘ a male pig castrated at or after maturity’. Greg Quintal uses the expression barllo pig
More is known about leho, lehoo or lehore. On Pitcairn when a billy (male goat) is castrated when small, it becomes a weda, if it is castrated when big, it becomes a lehu. On Norfolk Island the word leho refers to bullocks. Shirley Harrison observes that leho is equivalent to Australian ‘stag’ and Beryl Nobbs Palmer gives a sentence, ar paddock gut ar leho een, ‘the paddock has a bullock in it.’ Shirley Harrison could not find the origin for this word, but in all likelihood it is related to the Pitkern word lehu, ‘to scrape with a shell scraper or the sharp edge of a tin’s lid’, which derives from Tahitian reho, ‘tiger shell’, cut for the purpose of scraping out breadfruit. Can anyone add to this information?
to refer to ‘a young porker.’ We do not know what the origins of this expression are, and it has not been recorded for Pitkern.On Pitcairn there is another word mark, mack, ‘to castrate a goat’ and an expression: you kaa mark a chicken, ‘you are totally incompetent’. Is mark used in Norf’k? Barsted, bastard ‘Non-edible, less desirable, not commercially useful’ This word is found in combinations with plant names such as bastard oak ‘a tree of about 40 feet high and 18-24 inches in diameter’ (Ungeria floribunda); bastard ironwood, another tree often also referred to as sharkwood or shaakwood ‘because of its unpleasant smell of dead shark’ (sideroxyglon costatum); and bastard talo ‘wild non-edible variety of taro’. This use of the term bastard probably originated on St Kitts in the West Indies and was introduced into our language by Edward Young. In West Indian Creole we find plants such as bastard cedar, bastard cabbage, bastard mahogany, bastard sasaparilla. In West Indian Creole English, bastard has a meaning similar to that in the above Norf’k expression. Is the word bastard used in Norf’k in its Australian meaning? Does anyone know of any other bastard plants?
The Bishop of Tasmania, HH Montgomery DD, in his The light of Melanesia: record of 50 years. Mission work in the South Seas (London, 1896), made a brief visit to Norfolk Island around 1892. His book contains a brief chapter (pp 22-27) titled: ‘The Norfolk Islanders - their customs and language’, in which he mentions a particular type of people word, words recalling “Anything peculiar in your habits or appearance”. One of these is big Jack ‘to cry’: “derived from an actual person, Mr John Evans, who is a stout man and addicted to tears. His softness of disposition has added a word to the language”. Does anyone still know or use this expression?
A word with a very similar meaning is luusi, derived from Lucy, a person with a similar softness of disposition, and there may be others. As these words can refer to people who are still alive or are remembered by community members, they are rather sensitive and dangerous to use. A better-known term and less sensitive word for ‘weep’ is maio, myo, my’a, myoh. It may have originated in Tahitian io’ io’ ‘to make a noise as little children or chirp as chickens or birds’ (Ross and Moverley 1964: 241); or maybe come from a nickname of a person. It is used on Pitcairn Island and was first recorded for Norf’k by Montgomery in 1896 (myosullun ‘a crying person’). Beryl Nobbs-Palmer lists it as a noun my-oh ‘crybaby’, and a verb ‘to whimper or snivel’. Alice Buffet (1999) regards it as an adjective ‘given to whimpering, especially of a child, but not necessarily a child’. Does anyone have any comments on these words, their meanings and their use?
In Pitkern black means both grey and black. Ross and Moverley suggested that this is an internal development and not influenced by Tahitian, as the Tahitian language distinguishes those two colours. It may, however reflect a West Indian influence. This leads us to our first question: can the word black mean grey in Norf’k?
There is another expression in Pitcairn which has not been recorded for Norfolk: black water or ‘unbroken sea’, contrasting with white water, ‘shallow water with breakers or foam’.
Flint recorded the fish name black-black on Norfolk and glossed it as “a light red fish with one large circular black spot on the spines and membranes of the dorsal fin.” This fish name is also mentioned by Shirley Harrison together with another fish name black cod, an immature arbooker, abuuka.
Black in Norf’k has a range of other meanings: main yu no-black means ‘be careful you don’t get sunburnt’ and black stormy clouds as in see ar black up dare, ‘look at those storm clouds up there’.
Alice Buffett lists a couple of interesting examples in the Encyclopaedia:
blaekluk, ‘black look, disapproving look, uninviting look.’ And blaeksmael, ‘someone lingering or loitering around “like a persistent heavy smell just as black clouds linger around preventing a clear sunny sky. Considered an uncouth term. Yu henge abaut simis ‘blaeksmael, gu guu samthing yuusful. (You’re dawdling around like a bad smell hangs about, go and do something useful.) Sometimes said quite jokingly.” (p. 17).
Can anyone add to the list of expressions featuring the colour black?
‘very thin’ or ‘to have many bones’ of fish or a kind of fish.
The word is found both on Pitcairn and Norfolk Island. Ross and Moverley (1964), in their Pitcairnese language, expressed the view that “English words are often reduplicated under Tahitian influence”. In fact there are only a handful of such words, boney-boney being one of them. It is listed both by Beryl Nobbs-Palmer bony-bony ‘emaciated, skin and bones’, and Alice Buffett boeni boeni ‘just skin and bones, a nickname’. Ross and Moverley also mention that it is the name of a fish (does anyone know what fish is referred to?)
There are a number of old Norf’k words with a similar meaning. Morga ‘very thin, skin and bone’ originates in the West Indies and was one of the words used by Edward Young from St Kitts. Breman, ‘very thin’, was first used by Montgomery in 1896 “Poor Mr Breman was … a casual visitor, and was remarkably thin. The fact that he was a stranger called attention to his personal appearance and “breman” now stands for thin, and probably will continue to do so forever, or till some thinner person attracts their notice”. One wonders if such a thinner person has been found and if a new word has come into being. Finally, Alice Buffett lists aali ‘very slender waisted’, which may be related to pi alli, piali ‘tiny, stunted’ and derived from Tahitian paen ‘lank, lean’. Does anyone use the word aali these days? And is breman still known?
Brud, brad, brudda, faad, fard
The word brud or brudda in Pitkern is used as a form of address among men and does not necessarily indicate a family relationship. It is also used in this sense in Norf’k. Beryl Nobbs Palmer (1986:5) says about brud, “A friendly or comradery term, used in the same context as the Australian ‘mate’. “Hey brud, whuttawaye?” (Gooday mate, how goes it?)”. ‘Brother’ as a form of address is found in several English dialects and the pronunciation of brud may have been influenced by West Indian Creole. Faad can be used in Pitkern as a familiar form of address, ‘friend’, and this use is also common in Norf’k.
Alice Buffett adds that faad is ‘also a common title to a grandfather.’ There are conflicting views about the origin of this expression. Ross and Moverley suggest that it may derive from Tahitian fatu, ‘laird, master’, but Shirley Harrisson argues that it derives from English ‘father’. She recorded a pronunciation with a short ‘a’ (fud) but both Flint and Alice Buffett suggest that it is a long vowel (faad).
There is, of course, a word father or faada in Norf’k which means either father or men from the grandfather’s generation. It is pronounced with either a ‘d’ or a ‘th’ sound. Can anyone add to this information and tell us about other Norf’k names for brother, father and grandfather?
The word boohoo, buhu was first recorded by Flint on Norfolk Island, there is no record of the word in Pitkern. Flint translates it as either a ‘lump or swelling’ or se buhu, ‘to get lumps on’. Shirley Harrison identified Tahitian pu’u ‘lump, to swell’ as its source. Beryl Nobbs Palmer adds that boohoo “usually refers to a lump on the forehead and that it is caused by a bump or a heavy blow.” Alice Buffett also says that it results “from an injury which did not break the skin.” Greg Quintal remembers that the word bona means the same as boohoo, i.e. it is a swelling. This word is usually reduplicated and was first recorded by Wiltshire in 1938 as banah-banah, ‘lumpy’. Flint found this meaning confirmed by his informants in the 1950s and collected the sentence: myse leg se bonah-bonah, ‘my leg is hard and nobbly.’ On Pitcairn bona-bona is used mainly to describe sugar-cane which has a lot of joints and very little space between them, and Beryl Nobbs Palmer says that it is “used mainly to describe the lumps which appear in some fruit.”
Alice Buffett translates bonabona as “hard and knobbly like sugar cane and as the joints in the fingers and knuckles.” This confirms that the main difference between buhu and bona is that the former is caused by external force, and the latter develops from within. Alice Buffett also lists a word bona, ‘hairdo consisting of a tight bun.’ Both bona in this meaning and bonabona from Tahitian pona, ‘joint of bones and bamboo, knob lump and ponapona, ‘knotty, lumpy.’ Whilst bump, bamp in Norf’k does not refer to a bump on one’s head, it is used in the meaning ‘heap, hillock, mound’ and Flint recorded it in the 1950s. Bump also used to mean this on Pitcairn Island and by the1980s, the word had become obsolete. Is this word still used in Norf’k?
Buss, bas, bus
The word of the week is buss or bas (from English ‘burst’). In Källgård’s Pitkern wordlist of 1998, we find the entry:
‘burst – buss
A common word used in expressions such as ha man burst you’s pants, said of someone who caught no fish.’ He also mentions bussup ‘broken in pieces’. The first mention of a buss expression is in Bishop Montgomery’s Observations on the Language of Norfolk Island of 1909 –
“I mussa buss for sorrow for you” – said when saying farewell to someone. Bussup, ‘broken up’, was listed by Sir Charles Rosenthal in 1939. There are quite a few other buss/bas expressions in Norf’k: bussup/basap can mean ‘separated, as in a marriage’; and according to Beryl Nobbs-Palmer, bus is used to describe one’s emotions either from joy, sadness or pride:
I moosa bus fe glaed
‘I am bursting with joy’
I moosa bus fe sorry
‘I am very very sorry’
I moosa bus fe wawaha
‘bursting with conceit’
Alice Buffet mentions shi musa bas f’ praud ‘she is almost swelled to bursting point with pride’, and basen ‘be feeling or bursting with extreme emotion, either positive or negative’.
New expressions involving buss/bas are still making their appearance, for instance in the form of the well-known food outlet ‘Se Moosa Bus’. Some of these expressions have parallels in Australian and American English, but many appear to be unique to Pitkern and Norf’k. The loss of the final consonant ‘t’ from the English word ‘burst’ is common in many other Norf’k words of English origin, such as fus/fas ‘first’, or mus/mas ‘must’, and ‘t’ is not pronounced in some varieties of English, and certainly not in rapid speech. Can anyone supply more buss/bas expressions, and can anyone comment on their use in polite company?
A word that has been recorded only once by Shirley Harrison is kali, ‘curly’ (of hair). It is not to be confused with carlee, kaali ‘to carry’ which has a long vowel.
is one of a number of words where the English form, as in the English sound in girl or surf, has become u in Norf’k. Other words are:
and at times bud ‘bird’ as in ghosebud.
Daunle, dowley, daule
Dowly was the nickname of Arthur Quintal (b 1816) who went to Norfolk Island where he died in 1902. The origin of this name is an English dialect word meaning “lonely, solitary, poorly, sick, sad, dull”. When he left Pitcairn he left his land in trust for the landless of the future, and the name of this land is Dowly. The meaning of the word has changed little from its English origin, but it appears that as the memory of Arthur Quintal faded, the word was reinterpreted as being derived from English ‘down’.
Alice Buffett translates daunle as “depressed, dejected”. Is this word still used? Are there other more recent Norf’k words for ‘depressed, dejected’? Dem theeg an’eh thogue This expression for ‘thieves and rogues’ is still remembered by some Islanders, and it appears in Greg Quintal’s Wordlist. It was recorded first by Flint in the 1950s in a text which also gives its origin:
I gonna hawe er tell ah thing fer Aunt Tabo’s again – some o’ dem theegs an’ eh thogue ser full up ah saddle fer pine gum.
Flint comments that this was the toothless lady’s way of saying thieves and rogues.
A variant pronunciation teagues and togues is also heard.
Sometimes two words can become one as in English smoke and fog ‘smog’. Shirley Harrison collected the word deng in the sentence ar kau se deng orf ar klef, ‘the cow has fallen off the cliff’.
Deng appears to be a blend of dew, dehw ‘to fall’ and beng, behn ‘to strike, hit, bang’. Has anyone heard this word?
Another blended word of the Norf’k language is laembuutiet, ‘to remove swiftly, give someone or something the boot’, a combination of ‘lambaste’ and ‘boot it’.
In the days before kerosene lamps became used on Pitcairn Island, the oily nuts of this plant (known in English as ‘candlenut tree’ or ‘candlenut oil tree’) were used for lighting. There are many old reports of candlenut torches. In 1821, Ramsey observed that the Pitcairn Islanders stuck nut kernels on wooden skewers and used them for candles, and Captain Beechey (in 1825) wrote after an evening meal “three or four torches made of doodoe nuts strung upon the fibres of a palm leaf, were stuck in tin pots at the end of the table, and formed an excellent substitute for candles, except that they gave a considerable heat, and cracked, and fired, somewhat to the discomfortry [sic] of the persons whose face was near them.”
There have been many different spellings for this plant: dudwe, dudwoe, dudui, doodwi, doodui, doodu, doodooe, dooui and others. Ross and Moverley report the principal pronunciation dudwe from the Pitkern and dudwi from Norf’k. They suggest that the word comes from Tahitian tutu’i, ‘the candlenut tree and nuts’. Bill Wiseman (1977) writes that “dudwe palms used to grow round Cascades on Norfolk. On Pitcairn the oily nuts were threaded on iron spikes and lit to provide illumination. On Norfolk, hungry children would sometimes go down to Cascades after school and pick nuts to eat, but judgement was necessary as the dudwecontained a laxative, and too many brought the inevitable penalty.”
On Pitcairn, the candle made from candlenuts was called ramma, rumma, from the Tahitian word rama, ‘candlenut torch’. As candlenut torches were used for fishing at night, the meaning changed to ‘fishing at night by torchlight’ and this is the only meaning of the word documented for Norfolk Island. Beryl Nobbs Palmer (1986:37) writes, “to a Norfolk Islander, the word rumma conjures up:- a dark night, low tide, a good torch or lantern and a couple of stout bags in which to carry periwinkles and crabs. Rumma: meaning to gather periwinkles and catch crabs at night. “Ef es good suff morla night, wi gwen rumma, foot yu nor come lorng fe ucklun?” (If the sea is good tomorrow night, we’re going to gather periwinkles and catch crabs. Why don’t you come with us?).”
Can anyone share their experience of eating dudwe nuts or making a candlenut torch? Does the word rumma also have the meaning of ‘torch’ on Norfolk Island?
Fenua Maitai, Novo Kailana Many places and countries do not have just one name but several, given to them by both outsiders and insiders. Pitcairn Island in George Hunn Nobbs’ famous anthem is referred to as Fenua Maitai, ‘the good land’, the name that the Polynesian companions of the Bounty mutineers gave to Pitcairn Island. The last line of the anthem Pitarnia Hinaaro, ‘affection or desire for Pitcairn’ features the Tahitian word for ‘Pitcairn Island’ and ‘Seventh Day Adventists’, Pitarnia.
Pitcairn Islanders living in New Zealand use the expression to go up Dubbon, ‘to go back to Pitcairn’. The origin of this expression is not known. Ross and Moverley noted that Dubbin was the nickname of Robert Young (second son of Edward Young and Nancy) and Dubbin is also a place name on Pitcairn Island, part of the hillside overlooking Outer Valley, but they doubt that there is a connection.
Norfolk Island was called Novo Kailana by the Melanesians, who attended the Mission Boarding School between 1866 and 1920. Does anyone know other names for Norfolk Island?
There is a belief on Norfolk Island that Pitcairn Islanders referred to the toilet by the name of a person, Duncan. There are many words in Pitkern and Norf’k that derive from people’s names, but this is not one of them. Rather, it comes from English ‘dunnikin’, a privy or open cesspool, ‘-kin’ is diminutive meaning ‘little’, and the word ‘dunny’ is widely used in Australia and other parts of the English-speaking world.
On Norfolk, the smallest room is called closset or klohset, which is also used in upper class English and derives from French clossette, ‘small room to retire to’, and ‘-te’, the diminutive for little. It is pronounced with the stress on the second syllable. In less polite English, this room is sometimes referred to as ‘the crapper’, so named after Mr Crapper who invented the water closet. Does anyone know any other Norf’k words for the smallest room?
Eat it, iit it, it
Alice Buffet’s dictionary contains the somewhat intriguing entry itet which is translated as both ‘have a good look’ and ‘eat it’. There is also a word iit ‘eat’ with a long i sound. The word it,‘to stare’ and ‘to eat’ is also recorded by Shirley Harrison but does not appear in any Pitcairn wordlist. She suggests that it, iit it has two origins, one English eat and another one Tahitian ite ‘to see, look, know, find’ which in the formative years of the language became merged and confused. She also mentions the expressions ai gwen it ar hoem naenee orn en salan, ‘I am going to have a good look at the people’, and itit ‘stop staring, stare off’.
Language mixing often leads to different words becoming one, and there are probably quite a few other examples in Pitkern and Norf’k. One mentioned by Ross and Moverley is the Pitkern word taplau, ‘something absorbent used on a baby’s bed’ which combines the meaning of English tarpaulin and Tahitian topuru. Is this word also known on Norfolk Island? Another mixed word is tabi, tebe, stebe, stebet ‘wait a minute, stop for a while’ which combines English stop with Tahitian tapi, ‘to delay’.
Emans, emmuns, emunz
The expression emmuns was first listed in a wordlist handed to administrator Pinney (which was probably compiled by Olga Robinson, a teacher at the school in the 1920s and 1930s). Her example is: You sey emmuns: ‘Why are you by yourself?’
The word is next mentioned by Shirley Harrison in 1976. She translates it as ‘to refuse to join in, to separate oneself’, and she ventures the guess that it may have a Tahitian origin ha’a manu’a, whose central part ama has become the basis of emmuns. The Tahitian word means ‘to put on airs by holding aloof’.
The word has never been documented for Pitcairn Island, and this, together with the unlikely change from ama to emmuns, makes a Tahitian origin dubious. Alice Buffet’s entry for emmuns also assumes a Tahitian origin, and suggests that the word can have both positive and negative connotations:
emans (Ɛmans) v. 1. be amongst a group of people but remain detached, show aloofness in this way, be elitist. 2. be reserved. 3. be shy.
Beryl Nobbs-Palmer emphasises that in Norf’k the word does not have the negative connotation of the putative Tahitian source:
emuns (emunz) used to describe a person or persons, who for no apparent reason withdraws from present company. It does not apply to sulking or ill-humour, which leads me to believe that Emuns was actually a person (possibly Edmond), and anyone who behaves in this manner is likened to him. “Yu se emuns?” (What’s wrong, what are you doing on your own?) “Dem se emuns!” (They have gone off on their own, they don’t wish to join us!) apparently means: ‘You or they are acting exactly like Emuns!’
It would be interesting to find out when the word came into use on Norfolk Island and, if it derives from the name Edmund, who this Edmund was. He was probably not the same Edmund as the great great grandson of McCoy (1869-1929), whose name is found in two Pitcairn Island plants – the Edmund fruit or edmund fruit (persil cherry, a shroudless white flower that Edmund introduced from Tahiti or Mangareva); and the edmund plun (a cooking banana), that Edmund McCoy also introduced from Tahiti and Mangareva. Flint in the late 1950s found that some Norfolk Islanders knew the expression edmund plun.
It would also be interesting to know more about the meaning of this word: whether it is primarily a positive expression, and whether its meaning has changed over time.
The mutineers of the Bounty and their Tahitian consorts, not only developed a new language on Pitcairn but also developed a new cultural identity. That this was a complex and drawn out process can be seen from the history of the word English in Pitkern and Norf’k. On the one hand, when Pitcairn Island was ‘rediscovered’ in the early 19th century, report after report emphasised that the Pitcairn Islanders regarded themselves as English and that they spoke perfect English. Captain Folger who visited Pitcairn in 1808 enquired “who are you?” and the response was “We are English men. We are Englishmen because our father was an Englishman”.
In present day Pitkern, English means a meddlesome outsider or ‘fastidious, especially about mud from the common attitude of visitors’ (Källgard). The meaning ‘outsider’ is also documented for Norf’k and was recorded by Flint in the late 1950s. This expression is being replaced by the word mainlander. Words for insiders and outsiders often change over time. Does anyone know other words referring to outsiders in present day Norf’k, such as toolies or loopies for short term visitors or tourists?
Epa tu tus
This word has been recorded only once. It appears in Alice Buffet’s encyclopedia and is translated as ‘motivation, vigour, get-up-and-go, something like the opposite of hili’. Alice Buffett offers two possible Tahitian words as its origin: aputa ‘to enter the mind as perception of things’ and tutumati ‘to commence an action’. Neither seems to fit the bill particularly well, and the ‘–s’ at the end of epatutus is not a possible Tahitian sound. The word ‘appetite’ comes to mind as another possible source. Maybe one of our readers can enlighten us about this intriguing word, its origins and its current use.
Estoli, estolley, stolley, story
The anthropologist Shapiro, who spent time on Norfolk Island 1923-24 and on Pitcairn 1934-35, reported that estolley means “it is a story” or “it is a lie”, and that you tallin’ stolley is a similar usage. Wiltshire in 1938 also lists es stolly and youse talin stolly “you are telling a lie”. Numerous other word lists both for Pitcairn and for Norfolk feature this word. Most writers agree that it is pronounced with an ‘l’ rather than an ‘r’, but Flint in the late 1950s uses both stoli and stori. The origin of the ‘l’ according to Alice Buffett is that the letter ‘r’ in Tahitian is often pronounced ‘l’. It is also possible that the ‘l’ reflects Edward Young St. Kitts’ pronunciation – after all, he was the principal storyteller in the early days of Pitcairn Island (other examples of West Indian ‘l’s can be found in morla ‘tomorrow’ and possibly klai ‘to cry’). The extension of meaning of story ‘to lie’ is documented in a number of English dialects but it may have been reinforced by the Pitcairners after 1820, when the use of language was particularly circumspect. Buffett says that “the word ‘lie’ as in ‘not tell the truth’ was regarded as ‘not civil talk’ by the forebears of the Norfolk Islanders from Pitcairn, so rather than say ‘you are lying’, they would say in a more courteous way ‘it is a story’”.
Shirley Harrison who was born on Norfolk Island and did a great deal of language research in the 1970s and 1980s, observed for estole “this expression is falling out of use in present Norfolk”. Is this really so? Are there expressions that have replaced estoli?
Faanu, fanjoo, faniu
There may be no coconuts on Norfolk Island, but there are quite a few words in the language which have to do with coconuts. One of them is faanu (with a short ‘a’). In Pitcairn as faanu or faanju (as Alice Buffett’s dictionary suggests). Alice Buffet translates it as “the frond of the palm tree which is used for festive decorating, weaving together for curtains and mats, basket-making.” This meaning is also given in Källgård’s Pitcairn vocabulary faniu, the whole coconut leaf or frond. Flint’s notes, made in the late 1950s, suggest that faniu has undergone some extension of meaning on Norfolk Island. He records that it is used in referring to ‘the branch of any tree, the frond of a fern’, as well as to ‘a small person’. Has anyone heard of the word used with these meanings?
The origin of faanu is Tahitian ‘faniu’, the thick end of the coconut frond, whose second syllable ‘niu’ is the general Polynesian word for coconut.
Whilst Norf’k does not have words as long as the name of Welsh railway stations, some words in the two published dictionaries of the language are pretty long: our head word of this week comes from Alice Buffett’s encyclopedia and means ‘even further away than that’. Other long words in this dictionary are richenfaret ‘to be reaching for it’, safelduu ‘the ocean is calm enough to fish, etc’, safkamenin ‘the tide is rising’, torkenf’salan ‘be talking about people’, presentf’las ‘the gift of erotic love’, and numerous more.
In Beryl Nobbs-Palmer’s dictionary are long words such as deye-ent-et ‘this isn’t it’, deye-de-waye ‘this is the way’, suff-se-dumma-sink ‘dead low tide’, and wassa-en-wassa ‘worsening’.
One is reminded a bit of the Australian word didgeree, which features in sentences as ‘did you read about it’ and ‘did you really mean it’, as well as ‘do you play the didgeridoo?’. In the writing system of most languages, a single word represents one single meaning or concept and/or a sequence of sounds with one single main stress. Neither of these two criteria are totally reliable, and speakers of Norf’k may well have different views on what is a Norf’k word. Whether a ‘dead low tide’ or a ‘rising tide’ are single concepts is debatable, and when people speak fast, words may become contracted, such as in didgeree. Noone has laid down the rules about when to write words together, when to join words with a dash or apostrophe, and when to write them separately. Norfolk Islanders continue to write daunataun, doun-a-toun, down’town and down a town, and it is not clear whether those who produce the longest words are the winners.
Has anyone got any ideas which is the longest word in the Norf’k language, and would anyone like to comment on whether one should write things together or separate them.
Fance, fence, faens
There are many places on Pitcairn Island featuring the term fence in both its principal meanings: ‘fence’ or ‘enclosed piece of land’. Such place names are Old Fence, New Fence, both enclosures of early times, Fence, ‘an enclosure made of miro timber or near a distinctive miro tree’, bread fence, ‘fence near Adamstown protecting young breadfruit trees’, and quite a few others recorded by Ross and Moverley. The double meaning of fence and enclosure is also found in many other languages, for example tún in Icelandic means ‘fence’, tuin in Dutch ‘garden’, the related German word Zaun means ‘fence’ and English ‘town’ is ‘a place that was originally surrounded by town walls’.
In Norf’k, the meaning of fance or faens is a ‘fence, an enclosure, paddock, any cultivated area on a farm’. Bill Wiseman in Living on Norfolk Island comments on the difficulty of fencing because of the unavailability of suitable wood, the cost of importing wire and the consequent absence of fencing on Norfolk Island until fairly recently. A faens does not have to be an area surrounded by a fence. From time to time, of course, there has been a windfall, such as the fance-aien, ‘fence-iron’, originating in the metal landing strips used by the army on the airfield. We can still see fance-aien in some properties on Norfolk Island.Ficairit, ficarit
Flint recorded a somewhat mysterious expression de gudi ficarit, ‘oh what a fine affair’ in the 1950s. No one else has ever recorded this word again and it does not appear in any printed or written texts. The word is unknown in Pitkern.
Does anyone know this word or is it a phantom word reflecting that Flint misheard what was said to him?
Fleece, flies and similar creatures
Two of the three languages involved in the formation of Pitkern-Norf’k (Tahitian and St Kitts Creole) did not distinguish between singular and plural nouns, and like many other contact languages, this distinction is not made in Norf’k either, with the exception of a few words such as stranger/strangers, thing/things, mentioned on page 32 of Alice Buffett’s encyclopaedia.
In a wordlist given to Govenor Pinny in the 1930s we find the words:
fleece ‘flea, fleas’
flice ‘fly, flies’
arns ‘ant, ants’
and elsewhere, we find more examples of Norf’k words derived from English plural forms. Shirley Harrison lists megitch, ‘maggot’, which appears as maegets, ‘maggot, maggots’ in Beryl Nobbs Palmer’s dictionary.
Some more words are mentioned in Alice Buffett’s encyclopaedia on page 32:
krams ‘crumb, crumbs’
grieps ‘grape, grapes’
tiith ‘tooth, teeth’
spaaks ‘spark, sparks’
biin ‘bean, beans’
roks ‘rock, rocks’
Some Norfolk Islanders also know geese, ‘goose, geese’ and peas, ‘pea, peas”. Does anyone know more Norf’k nouns that derive from English plural forms? When you look at these words, the reason for the process becomes obvious: all of these nouns refer to creatures and objects that typically come in large numbers, not singly.
This is a word that is not listed in any of the published dictionaries of the Norf’k language. However, it is found in Källgard’s Pitcairn wordlist as full, ‘to fill’ and was also recorded on Norfolk by Shirley Harrison in the 1980s: ful ap yus kap, ‘fill up your cup’. Harrison also gives the meaning ‘please’ as in ai no dem ful fe hemii, ‘I am very pleased with these two‘ and ai ful fe we ju el werk, ‘I am pleased with the way you can work’. Full in these meanings is listed as ‘absolute’ in the Oxford English Dictionary and may have come into the Pitkern-Norf’k language from one of the dialects spoken by the Bounty mutineers.
Futtoo, fatu, fatou
In June 1946, H. Holland published an article on ‘Norfolk Island Patois’ in the ABC Weekly. Here we find the first record of futto ‘feeling exhausted or faint’. In the late 1950s, Flint tested this word with some Islanders and observes a change in meaning: ai se fatu originally meant ‘I am exhausted’ or ‘I am tired’, but now means what the Australians mean by ‘I’ve had it’. He also notes reduplicated fatu-fatu describing ‘a clumsy horse stumbling and collapsing’.
Beryl Nobbs-Palmer translates futtoo as ‘physically exhausted’ or ‘useless such as a broken piece of machinery’. Alice Buffett translates it as ‘exhausted, done enough, can’t go any further, not prepared to exert oneself any more’. Alice Buffett suggests that it may be derived from the Tahitian word for ‘Lord and Master who does not exert himself’. Shirley Harrison, by contrast, suggests that it derives from two or perhaps three Tahitian words fatafata ‘the opposite of vigorous’ and faatau ‘lazy’ and fati ‘broken’. In contact languages, words with similar form of meaning often merge into a single word. Källgård lists the unreduplicated fatou for Pitcairn Island in the expression such as you se fatou ‘you have failed, said to someone who gets no fish, or capsizes with a boat or a motorcycle’. And he goes on to note that ‘Some Islanders consider it a very dirty word’. The expression fatou-fatou again is labelled obscene, ‘but not all Islanders agree on this meaning’. It possibly derives from French Foutu (the French F-word) which was also spoken on Tahiti when the Pitcairners were there in 1831.
There are obvious differences between the way the word is used on Pitcairn Island and on Norfolk and, like many words with negative connotations, fatou and fatou-fatou have undergone extensive changes of meaning. How is this word used today? Is the reduplicated fatou-fatou still in use, and what are the current sensitivities regarding these two words on Norfolk Island?
Exclamations, expletives and swear words have not been recorded often for Norf’k, one of the reasons being that in the old days, swearing was strongly discouraged. Expressions uttered in moments of frustration or anger often were euphemisms, as in hepe, heppy ‘heaven help me’, which according to Beryl Nobbs-Palmer is ‘probably a definition of hell but is not considered cursing’. Gajan and gijan are also recorded in Alice Buffett’s dictionary, gajan being glossed as ‘blow it all, heaven only knows’, and gijan ‘exclamation of frustration, it is beyond me’. The two words are probably variants of each other, and both may be toned down versions of ‘goddamn’. Can anyone add any information on these words, and comment on their use and the use of other expletives in the Norf’k language?
The first list of Norf’k fish names was appended to the wordlist prepared for Administrator Pinney in the late 1930s. It does not contain the noun garfish in Norf’k, but has Yahollie and Issy, which are both translated as ‘garfish’. Flint in the early 1950s elicited the word garfish, and notes that it was also called iihi or izifish, and he translated it as “probably Hemiramphus intermedius”. Alice Buffett says that gaafish has the same meaning as ise. Beryl Nobbs-Palmer translates English ‘garfish’ as izze.
Identifying and naming fish is a hazardous business, and it is not uncommon that the same name is applied to different fish species by different people. Another issue that arises with this word is the question: Is gaafish or garfish a word of the Norf’k language, or is it English and should one use issi or ihi instead?
The word isi is (according to Alice Buffett) derived from “Aunt Ise (Isobel Christian) who was especially skilled at catching, rolling out, and cooking the garfish”. Ross and Moverley suggest that it is derived possibly from Izzie = Isobel (? Isobel Coffin), a suggestion dismissed by Shirley Harrison, who points out that Isobel Coffin was not known on Norfolk.
It should be noted that isi-fish is also known on Pitcairn. Källgård glosses it as “the piper or garfish”, perhaps Labroides Dimidiatus, and classified it as a word whose origin is unknown.
Can anyone resolve some of the uncertainties surrounding the origin of the name and what species of fish it refers to. It would also be interesting to find out more about Isobel Christian and Isobel Coffin.
Finally, it would be of interest to find out of anyone knows this fish by the name of ihi. Ross and Moverley suspect that this was its original name, and that it was changed because it was easy to catch. How easy is it to catch a garfish?
Haan, harn, leg, lieg, laig, le-eg, hand
In the Polynesian languages no distinction tends to be made between hand and arm or between foot and leg. Quite a few observers have commented on the fact that, as in Tahitian ‘avae, Norf’k le-eg, laig refers to the leg including the foot. And when one walks through a patch of bindis with bare feet, one’s feet will be covered in grarb-a-le-eg/graab’ lieg thorns.
Beryl Nobbs Palmer mentions harn ‘hand, hands’ and Alice Buffett lists haan ‘hand, as in English’. The compiler of the word list handed to administrator Pinney in the 1930s has the word mys laig ‘my foot, leg or thigh’ but also harn ‘hand, hands or arm’. When Flint documented the Norf’k language in the 1960s, he no longer found the meaning ‘arm’.
There is a word huf in Alice Buffet’s encyclopedia which not only means ‘hoof or hooves of animals, but also ‘human foot or feet’. Flint mentions that this is one of the numerous words that can be pronounced with either a short or long ‘oo’ sound, and he also lists the form hufet or hufenet to walk. That this is a fairly old expression can be seen from the phrase Nigger’s Hoof, which refers to a place on Philip Island (and possibly another location), and to a kind of yam (in the latter meaning it is also known on Pitcairn Island).
On Pitcairn hai, high or hei, is a kind of banana, which is used green in cooking. There is also a High-China, a sweet banana similar to the Chinese or Cavendish Banana. There are many more varieties of bananas on Pitcairn listed by Göthesson in ‘Plants of the Pitcairn Islands”. Some of the names are also known on Norfolk, e.g. Sydney, ‘named after the Sydney Botanical Gardens from where it originally came’. According to Maiden (1969) the Sydney ‘is very much esteemed. Best for eating’.
Another variety of banana is known as Japanese or Dr Codrington’s. Dr Codrington was a teacher, linguist and missionary and lived out on the Melanesian Mission for more than a decade. He is well known for his Mota translations, and as someone who experimented with and introduced numerous plants to Norfolk Island. According to Maiden, a banana variety called Pitcairn or hoem was the most esteemed banana by some people. We find the word hoem or home used with other plants and animals brought from and associated with Pitcairn Island, e.g. the hoem rauti, cordyline or hoem owl, cuckoo. Finally there was a variety called Putle (named after the person who brought it from Lifu according to Maiden. Does anyone know who Putter was – a J. Putter illustrated Drummond’s account of the Melanesian Mission.
The origin of the name hai is not entirely clear. Ross and Moverley (1964) say that it is the name of a banana cloned from the Hawaiian Islands, and that this could be the origin of the word (a contraction of ‘Hawaii’). It could also be a contraction of a clone-name such as High-Johnson or English High. Shirley Harrison points to the Tahitian words hai’o’a and hai’tea, which describe varieties of native bananas. Hai, in Tahitian by itself, is not a type of plantane as Alice Buffett suggests.
Can anyone enlighten us about the expression hai plun and add to the list of banana varieties known on Norfolk Island.
Hard bally, haad baeli, harbelly, hard ballie
The first reference to this fish name is found in the vocabulary given to Captain Pinny hard ballie, ‘steel blue’ (fish species). It was not elicited by Flint who collected Norf’k fish names in the 1950s, but appears in Beryl Nobbs Palmer’s dictionary as hard bally, ‘sweep’. Alice Buffett translates haad baeli as ‘a species of fish, hard belly, ‘violet sweep’. She says that it is of similar appearance to a bream but does not have much flesh and plenti taim gat’fish laus, ‘and often has fish lice’. She also mentions the expression ‘unwillingness to share’ as in kwait haad baeli, “being like a hard belly fish which gives so little of itself that it is unwilling to share.”
On Pitcairn, this word (pronounced with stress on the first syllable) means ‘guttering for leading rain-water from a roof catchment to a storage cistern’. In the 1960s Flint recorded this word with stress on the second syllable, and simply translates it as ‘guttering’, and notes that it was a rare word. Beryl Nobbs-Palmer gives the sentence dar hawai se block up fe leaf ‘the leaves have blocked the guttering’. Alice Buffett translates hawai as ‘an invention by which water is saved or through which water is channelled or saved for use’.
The Pitcairners believe, according to Ross and Moverley, that this word derived from English ‘highway’, but a Tahitian origin seems much more likely. The second part vai means ‘water’, and the ha may be an abbreviation of ha’ahaha ‘to turn a run of water into a channel’. This is one of the few Norf’k words that everybody spells the same – a pretty rare phenomenon! It would be a nice word to revive now that water conservation is becoming so much more important.
Hed, he-ed, hied
Both Alice Buffett and Beryl Nobbs Palmer have an entry hied and he-ed meaning ‘head’. They do not list a varied pronunciation with a short ‘e’ which was noted by both Flint and Shirley Harrison, nor do they give the verbal meaning ‘to act in a superior manner’ as in yu hau hed, ‘how superior you are’. Källgard also gives the translation ‘to act in a superior manner’ for Pitkern.
Do any of our readers use he-ed, hied, hed with this meaning?
Hetieh, hatei, haetje, hetje
There are many spellings and pronunciations of this common word of Pitkern and Norf’k. Alice Buffet translates hetieh as, ‘here it is, here it comes’ as in hetieh jus oefi, ‘here is your trevally’. The origin of the word appears to be Tahitian. Ross and Moverley suggest it comes from expressions such as teie au, ‘here is me’ with a prefix ha which is either derived from English ‘here’ or meaningless. Harrison suggests that it might be a combination of Tahitian eteie, ‘it is here’ and atai, ‘exclamation of wonder, surprise, or disgust’. In Pitkern there is a similar expression hiigo, ‘here goes, here is’. Is this expression also used in Norf’k?
Hi’i, hihi, hi-hi, he-he
On pp 39-40 of the Norfolk Island Cookery Book published by the Sunshine Club, one finds a recipe for one of Norfolk’s favorite dishes, hi-hi pie. A hi-hi is a small limpet or periwinkle in both Pitkern and Norf’k. The word was first mentioned in the wordlist given to Administrator Pinney in the early 1930s. Here we find among the fish names the entry hee-hee, ‘perriwinkle’(spelt with two rrs). The word is listed by Wiltshire in 1938 he he, ‘periwinkle’. The fact that it is spelt with ‘e’ and ‘ee’ reflects the variable pronunciation of the word. It has been recorded as being pronounced with either a short or a long ‘e’, and the second ‘h’ sound becomes a glottal stop. Beryl Nobbs Palmer translates hi-hi as “periwinkle, a favorite among us” and Alice Buffett mentions another delicacy, hihi en ‘kriim, ‘served with bread’. The origin of this word is Tahitian hi hi, ‘a small shell fish’. In Pitkern there is a second word hi’i which Ross and Moverley translate as ‘the act of finishing off the weaving of a basket or Panama hat from thatch-material’. This word has not been documented in any Norf’k wordlists but it is possible that one of our readers still uses it.
Shirley Harrison mentions in the Language History of Norfolk Island that the phrase hinkabas ‘I don’t think, I think not’ originated on Norfolk Island after World War I through humorous deliberate mispronunciation of ‘I think not’. Alice Buffett by contrast writes that it is “Recent usage in the last half of the 20th century” ‘you may not, I think not, not likely’. In fact, the form inkerdus was first recorded in the Holland list reproduced in the ABC Weekly of 22 June 1946 as ‘not me, not likely, no’. Flint, in his annotations to this list in the 1960s, says it is ‘an emphatic denial or disagreement’ and he adds that ‘it is now obsolete – this was expressed as a very definite opinion by the informants’. Inkerdus appears in the word list compiled by the Methodist Chaplain of Norfolk Island, the Rev. G. Dally, who corrects Holland’s spelling. The word hinkabus ‘I think not, no way’ again appears in the appendix to Beryl Nobbs-Palmer’s dictionary. Hinkabus was not recorded for Pitcairn Island, but Shirley Harrison has drawn attention to the replacement of ‘th’ in ‘think’ by ‘h’, which reflects the Tahitian strategy of pronouncing English words beginning with ‘th’. This is also found in some other Norf’k words, for example hem from ‘them’, and hargoe ‘there goes’. Has anyone heard someone use hinkabus of late, and do they still use it themselves?
Hoeja, hoya, hoyah, hoeyaa, hoyih
In 1938, Wiltshire recorded a word hoyih, ‘hello’. In the late 1950s, Flint recorded hoejah, ‘hello’, and states that it is an interjection of recent origin. Shirley Harrison translates huja as ‘I say’ and gives the following explanation for its origin:
A German music teacher in New Zealand was in the habit of saying hoja, ‘oh yes’. One of his music pupils interpreted the German expression as an exclamation of surprise, hence hoja, ‘I say!’.
Hojah is translated by Beryl Nobbs Palmer as ‘good gracious’ and by Alice Buffett as hoeyaa as ‘oh my goodness’.
Sometimes it is possible to find out who originated a Norf’k word and in this case Greg Quintal remembers that it was Harvey Christian, at the time Norfolk Island’s best piano player who introduced the word when he returned from New Zealand to Norfolk in the early 1930s. Greg also points out that the meaning of hoyah is the same as I tull ye.
German ha ja is not normally an expression of surprise but more one of resignation or acceptance, but meanings often change when words are borrowed. As far as can be ascertained, this is the only German word in Norf’k. It certainly is not the case that the language is “a mixture of Platt Deutsch, Old English and Tahitian” as the current JP Webwords Norfolk Island – the website informs us. Platt Deutsch or Low German is an unlikely source of Pitkern and Norf’k words. Whoever compiled this website probably confused the name of the language with the name of a publisher: Ross and Moverley’s 1964, The Pitcairnese Language, was published by Deutsch, London.
Hooey-hooey, hoowi-hoowi, hui hui, hue hue, huwe huwe
This is a complex word with a number of meanings and pronunciations, perhaps because of its dual origin in Tahitian hu ‘ehu’ e ‘to be in terror or amazement’ and hui’ ihu‘i ‘throbbing, twitching of the flesh, premonition’. The first source that mentions the word is Wiltshire in 1938, who translates it as ‘messy food’. Moverley elicited the meanings ‘to shudder, feel ashamed, disgusting, filthy’ for Pitcairn Island. Around the same time (in the late 1950s), the Norfolk meaning given to Flint was ‘messy, dirty, strange, eery’. Shirley Harrison in the 1970s translates hue hue as ‘(to be) dirty, repulsive, unclean’, and gives a second meaning ‘ground too roughly prepared for cultivation’. Beryl Nobbs Palmer gives three meanings for hoowi-hoowi ‘filthy, repulsive, creepy feeling’. Alice Buffett mentions three pronunciations huwe huwe, hue hue and hui hui and gives the meanings ‘unclean, to retch, to feel unnerved about some supernatural phenomenon, to have an uncanny sense’. In the first sense, the word is similar to hawa hawa (from Tahitian havahava) ‘dirty, filthy’ or hauwa hauwa ‘dirty, have diarrhoea, dirty oneself’.
Can anyone add to this range of pronunciations and meanings of this word?
This word is translated by Alice Buffett as ‘pubescence, young adulthood’, and its first part – horg, hog – suggests that young adults, like hogs, may lack certain social graces. ‘Hog’ rather than ‘pig’ is the usual word to refer to this creature in both traditional Pitkern and the Norf’k language. ‘Hog’, according to Flint, does not just mean ‘pig’, but also refers to ‘pork’. Alice Buffett mentions that the word ‘pig’ has become more common in Norf’k, and that ‘hog’ is used mainly metaphorically when commenting on someone’s eating habits. The preference for ‘hog’ in the old days may reflect the influence of American whalers and visitors on the Norf’k language, as ‘hog’ is a much more common word in American dialects than ‘pig’.
Huppa, hapa, hape
On Pitcairn Island hapa means ‘bad, inefficient, crippled, ill, not well and not on level’. The word huppa was recorded for Norf’k by Wiltshire in 1938, who translates it as ‘bad’, and a few years later by Holland who glosses it as ‘bad, inefficient’. In the 1950s, Flint recorded hape, ‘crippled, sick’ and observed that the word was rare and becoming obsolete.
It rates a re-appearance in Beryl Nobbs Palmer’s dictionary (p. 21):
“huppa (1) referring to the effects caused by lumbago, sciatica or rheumatism. “All dee raen en a damp weather nor halpen ar huppa hip fe hers.” (All this rain and damp weather isn’t doing her rheumatic hip any good.)
(2) a distended or swollen stomach. “Shi gwen-a car hide dar huppa bally fe hers much lornga!” (She won’t be able to hide that swollen stomach much longer!).
Alice Buffett translates hapa as ‘unequal, or crooked as in hip, due to one leg being
shorter than the other.’ She also lists a reduplicated hapahapa and suggests Tahitian hapahapa, ‘irregular, crooked as its source’. Ross and Moverley mention that unreduplicated hapa in Tahitian means ‘deviation from something, error, sin, crime’. There are obviously quite a few different meanings for hapa. Which ones are known to our readers and can they suggest others?
Huti huti, hooti hooti
The first record for this word is Flint’s (1950s) huti huti ‘scratch and cut’ and se huti huti ‘be scratched’. In Pitcairn Island, we find the unreduplicated form huti ‘a mishap or accident’, as in you se huti ‘you’ve had an accident’.
Alice Buffett gives a range of meanings for huti ‘do something in short, sharp plucking movements’, ‘to rush something up’ as in cooking, or ‘to have a small tear or rip’. For huti huti, she gives two translations: ‘be torn in many places’ and ‘pull things together, hurriedly tidy up an area’. She suggests a Tahitian origin huti ‘to pluck, as in feathers or weeds’.
Shirley Harrison also mentions Tahitian oti ‘to chap’ and hui ‘to pierce, prick’ as possible origins. Beryl Nobbs Palmer only lists the reduplicated form hooty-hooty for which she gives the meaning ‘making a mess, or hash and mutilate’. Shirley Harrison in her PhD (1985) suggests that huti huti in the meaning ‘to be badly scratched’ was common among older people, but the young people tend to use the shorter huti to mean ‘to scratch’. What other meanings can it be used in?
Ipi is one of those words that has not been well documented. It does not appear in any wordlist collected on Pitkern or Norfolk Island before it is mentioned in the 1980s by Shirley Harrison, who writes ‘meaning doubtful, occurs in one context only you little ipi, a joking expression’. Beryl Nobbs-Palmer translates ippy as a disparaging expression dar black ippy ‘that black so and so’, and Alice Buffet translates ipi as ‘one who is clownish, maker of foolish mistakes’. Such negative meanings make Harrison’s suggestion that it may derive from Tahitian ipo ‘darling’ problematic. Can any of our readers tell us more about this word?
Ross and Moverley (1964) give the full meaning of the word as used in Pitcairn, “precocious, not fit, because too young and immature” (a word of contempt used if someone presumes superiority to an elder), and the meaning in Norf’k is clearly related: Beryl Nobbs-Palmer translates eeyalla as “adolescent, immature and forward or precocious”. Alice Buffett translates it as a noun – “pubescent, transitional period from puberty to adulthood”, but she also gives the expression dana iyala “stop trying to act as if you are grown up”.
This word is often combined with skupa, scupper ‘early teenager, adolescent’, as in eeyalla scupper. Has anyone heard this word?
In many English dialects junk means ‘a piece or lump of anything, a chunk’. In Pitkern, junk refers to ‘a piece of wood, especially firewood’ and Flint also recorded junk as ‘a piece of wood’ on Norfolk Island. It is one of the many words that have not found their way into the existing dictionaries of the language. Do our readers know and use this word, and does it have meanings other than ‘a piece of firewood’?
Spelled katstiks, cut sticks, cat sticks: ‘to depart rapidly, to run away, make off’. The only printed source for Norf’k of this word is Archie Bigg’s nursery rhyme ‘Lettle Mess Muffett’ (2003) and it is not listed in any of the Pitcairn Island vocabularies. ‘To cut one’s stick’ or ‘to cut stick’ is listed in Webster’s Dictionary and is possibly of American origin. The contribution of American words to the Norf’k language, eg Thanksgiving, is not well researched. Katstiks is not documented for Australian English, but an expression ‘cut your stick’ is recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary for British English. It refers to the old custom of cutting oneself a walking stick before a journey on foot. How long has this word been used on Norfolk Island? Who uses it today? Are there any other expressions with a similar meaning?
Kekl, keckle, kettle, ketl, wettles, weckels
There are a number of words in the Norf’k language that have the letter ‘k’ where standard English uses ‘t’. The best known of them is kekl, keckle ‘kettle’, but there are others that sometimes exhibit this feature. In the word list given to administrator Pinney in the 1930s, little is lettle, as it is in Beryl Nobbs-Palmer’s dictionary. Flint in the 1960s only recorded this word as ‘little’ with the ‘t’ sound. But Alice Buffett lists likl, as do Ross and Moverley in the discussion of the sound system of ‘Pitcairnese’. Both Beryl Nobbs-Palmer and Alice Buffett only have an entry with the ‘t’ sound for wattles, wetls, ‘victuals, food’ (as did the wettles bus), but Flint also recorded wekls, and there is an old word kekohorn ‘cattle horn’. Noone ever had a ‘k’ in ‘turtle’, however Bishop Montgomery in 1896 and some older records sometimes mention atlan for aklan, ucklun, cackle’s horn ‘a kind of banana’, and waek for ‘wait’. The origin of this sound change is possibly a conspiracy between a number of factors:
Some English dialects have forms such as brickle ‘brittle’ and lickl ‘little’
The substitution of k for t is a well-known children’s pronunciation, and the leckl salan (little children) were influential in the formative years of our language.
Like other Polynesian languages, Tahitian does not distinguish between ‘t’ and ‘k’; the word for ‘human being’ in Polynesian languages can be either kanaka or tanata.
Finally, when we look at the expression keckle bilen ‘the kettle is boiling’, we get another clue. Bilen is a word of St Kitts origin, and substitution of ‘k’ for ‘t’ is frequent in West Indian English (lickle, seckle ‘settle’, wackle ‘wattle’ ) and West Indian goats do not buck – they butt.
As Norf’k is in danger of merging with English, it might be a good idea to cultivate forms that show its distinctiveness, and to pronounce words such as keckl and weckels and letl.
Kiepa, caper, keεpe
There are quite a few Norf’k words that comment on the unruliness of children and adolescents. A well-known one is eeyalla, iyala, which means ‘immature, precocious’. The word kiepa is found both in Pitcairn in the sense of ‘bad-tempered little child’, and it was recorded by Flint on Norfolk Island as ‘irritable’. Flint also recorded the expression kiken up ar kiepa, ‘behave in an ill-tempered or unruly way’. One possible origin of this word is English caper, ‘a prank, trick or frolicking movement’, but as Ross and Moverley have commented, “the recorded senses are unsuitable.”
Has anyone come across this word, and do they know more about its origins?
In the appendix to Beryl Nobbs-Palmer’s dictionary, we find coony ‘imagination, wishful thinking’ as in in yoos coony ‘in your imagination’. Alice Buffett translates kuni as ‘dreams, imaginary, not in reality’, as in uni in yus kuni ‘only in your dreams’. Shirley Harrison adds that this word is little used, and that it is also ‘likely to be an indecent word’ like English coney/cony ‘rabbit’. Can anyone add to the meagre information on this word?
Laiwieh hien and other fowl words
Poultry played an important role on both Pitcairn and Norfolk Islands, and present-day Norf’k affords ample opportunities to study the behaviour of fowl, faul as chickens are called on Norfolk, though many younger people also refer to them as chooks. A particularly colourful expression is laiwieh hien, which Alice Buffett translates as:
‘A hen which only runs a short way from a rooster and then lets the rooster catch her. Sometimes a woman acting in a coy manner may be referred to jokingly as a ‘lawiwieh hien’.
Another expression is the verb fowl, which Beryl Nobbs-Palmer translates as:
‘used to describe the actions of a fowl when drinking. It takes the water into its beak and in the same motion, throws its head backwards. “I moosa fowl!” (If I don’t get something to drink, I’ll be swallowing like a fowl!)
Does anyone know other fowl expressions?
Lam bieset, lambaes, laembuutiet, lambooty-et
Lambaste is an old English word combining the parts lam ‘to beat something’ and baste ‘to beat vigorously’, and this is also the meaning it has in Norf’k. Alice Buffett translates laembies as ‘lambast, strike with force’, and Beryl Nobbs-Palmer’s lambaes means ‘to hit with all one’s might, to beat or hit a person’. Norf’k does not use this word in its figurative meaning of ‘giving a verbal thrashing’ (or do some people use it this way?). In the Word of the Day website on the internet, we find that lambaste was the word of Sunday May 20, 2001. All examples listed are in the verbal sense of this word. The Norf’k language has a closely related word laembuutiet, which according to Alice Buffett is a combination of ‘lambast’ and ‘boot it’ – ‘to kick out, remove swiftly’. When did this word come into use on Norfolk Island?
Larput, laarput, larpoot
This word is not found in Pitcairn Island, nor does it appear in any English dialect. It was recorded first by Holland in 1946 and is translated as either ‘overdressed’ or ‘dressed up stick’. The first meaning is not mentioned in any subsequent wordlist but many Norfolk Islanders know the meaning ‘rag doll’, usually made from a stick of wood or a corn cob. Beryl Nobbs Palmer writes “wi get one larpoot ulla one doll se maek et aut-a corn cob.” She also lists a second meaning ‘humbug or nuisance’. Alice Buffett translates larput as ‘ragdoll with mophead looking hair’ and ‘humbug or nuisance’. Can anyone tell us more about the word larput and its meanings and can anyone remember making a plaything with larput?
Like, liki, lecky
In the 1950s, Flint recorded liki, lecky with a short ‘e’ sound as a verb, ‘to leak, to be leaky’ and Alice Buffett lists like or liki as having this meaning as well. Shirley Harrison records an additional meaning ‘a leak’ as in ai sti daun rait anda ar like, ‘I sat down right under the leak’. It has not been recorded for Pitkern, but Källgard lists leak, ‘with a long ‘e’ sound in the expression make a leak, ‘to urinate’.
English long [i] at times gets shortened in two-syllable words in Norf’k as in itet, ‘eat it’, but not in fiiwa, ‘fever’. Does anyone still use like to mean a leak?
This is one of several Norf’k words (in-a-eye, i’nai, da baes) which mean ‘favourite’. Lorngsuit is often used in the sense of ‘my favourite outfit’ because of its transparent origin, but Beryl Nobbs-Palmer gives a sentence myse lorngsuit ses pumpken pilhi. In-a-eye appears to be more commonly used to refer to ‘favourite people’, as is another expression rotten-ee-egg, roh’nieg ‘favourite child’, which is evocative of spoiling someone rotten and of how to treat a rotten egg (with great care). Of course this expression has nothing whatsoever to do with the Austrian town name Rottenegg.
In 1946, Holland recorded the word loo-fee ‘out of sorts, not well’, and it was also recorded on Pitcairn Island in the 1960s. Flint, who worked on the Norf’k language in the early 1960s, comments that it was obsolete or rare. The word has probably a Tahitian origin, but no direct source could be found. Does anyone still use this word? What other Norf’k expressions are there for feeling ‘unwell’?
In the 1950s Flint recorded the word maet which he translates as ‘to do something in a slovenly manner’. Alice Buffet translates it as ‘not clean properly’ and she also lists a reduplicated maetmaet which she translates as ‘be only partly cleaned here and there’. The word is not documented for Pitkern – and its origins are unclear. Is it one of the many people words derived from someone whose name was Matt? Does anyone know more about this word maet?
We have only one mention of this word, Alice Buffet’s Encyclopedia. She translates it as ‘midwife’. Like other women’s words in Norf’k (haboo, habuu ‘pregnant’, malu ‘sanitary napkin’), maia is of Tahitian origin (Tahitian maya, maia, ‘midwife’). Similar forms are found in other Polynesian languages, eg Maori maea.
Maio, myo, mya, maioe
Bishop Montgomery (1896) translated myosullun as ‘a crying person’, and many wordlists feature a variant of this word. In the earlier lists it tends to be a verb, but in the 1930s, in the wordlist given to Administrator Pinney, it is an expletive ‘you cry baby’, and in Beryl Nobbs-Palmer’s book it is a noun: ‘cry baby’. Alice Buffett translates maioe as an adjective, ‘given to whimpering and crying a lot’, as in dieh letl salan kwait maioe ‘this child seems to whimper and cry a lot’. The fluidity of word class may reflect Tahitian grammar, and Pitkern mai’jou means both ‘to weep’ and ‘given to weeping’. The origin of this form is not quite clear. Moverley suggested Tahitian io’io ‘to make a noise as little children’, with the prefix ma – which he grouped with other meaningless prefixes. Shirley Harrison suggests another origin, mio mio ‘wrinkled, perhaps referring to the condition of the face when crying’.
Malou, malu, maloe, molo
The word malou has been recorded in a number of Pitcairn Island websites meaning ‘to argue’ and malo and maloe, with the same meaning, was noted by both Flint in the 1950s and by Shirley Harrison in the 1970s for Norfolk Island. It does not appear in either Beryl Nobbs-Palmer’s or Alice Buffett’s dictionary, and little is known about its present meanings and use. Can anyone add information on this word?
The origin of this word appears to be the Tahitian verb maro “to discuss, dispute, argue, contest”. Tahitian also uses maro as an adjective to mean “obstructive, perverse”. Is malu, maloe used in this sense on Norf’k? Are there any other Norf’k words with a similar meaning?
Mard, maed, mad, maad
This word appears to have a much wider range of meanings than those documented for Pitcairn Island, where it is used as a word ‘to play tricks, games’, according to Moverley and Källgård’s wordlists.
The Reverend Benjamin Francis Brazier, who served as a chaplain
on Norfolk Island from 1915 to 1918, published a brief wordlist in the
Journal of the Historical Society of Queensland (1920, Vol. 2) which
you s’a maad ‘you are mad’
Wiltshire in 1939 gives donner mad ‘don’t be mad’, and in Flint’s fieldnotes we find the meaning ‘kick up a fuss’ and maden about ‘playing around, usually in an unruly fashion of children and adolescents’. Beryl Nobbs Palmer gives several meanings for mard:
‘ridiculous or stupid’
‘to be silly, act the goat’
‘to show off’
‘mad, lose one’s mind’
Some of these meanings can be expressed by other Norf’k words, for instance garet, gurret ‘angry’. Do our readers know any other expressions?
Matapili, mutta pilly
The word pili, pilly,‘to be stuck, jammed, to glue’ is a familiar Norf’k word but matapili has been recorded only once on Norfolk Island by Shirley Harrison who translates it as ‘stuck to the shell’ as in: ar koknat se matapili, ‘the coconut is struck hard to the shell’. Coconuts are more common on Pitcarin, where the word matapile or matapilie means ‘coconut meat extracted whole from the split nut’ (Ross and Moverley), or ‘coconut that will not come out of the shell’ (Källgard). Källgard adds, “happens to chickens too, sometimes. You have to help them out from the egg.” The origin of the word is Tahitian mata, ‘eye’ and piri, ‘to stick’. Matapiri in Tahitian means ‘with bunged-up eyes’. Ross and Moverley argue, “perhaps from a real or fancied resemblance between the appearance of the coconut-meat and the eyes in this condition.”
M’aulu, meaulu, maolo, marolo, marooloo
Bishop Montgomery in 1896 recorded wa-oo-loo as a Norf’k word, meaning ‘falling to pieces’. The next record is Wiltshire’s 1939 wordlist, where we find maolo ‘to break’. By the time Flint recorded this word in the early 1950s, he obtained a number of different pronunciations – some with short vowels, some with long ones – but most of his informants had forgotten the word by then. He translates it as ‘out of shape’, and suggests that it may be related to amaoola, ama’ula ‘clumsy’. A more likely origin is pahuruhuru ‘fall to pieces’, which is a Tahitian word that became bablehulu in Pitkern and baabehulus in Norf’k. On Pitcairn it still means ‘fallen to pieces’, whereas Alice Buffett translates it as ‘roughly or aggressively shake someone’.
Can anyone remember these words and comment on their meaning?
Miek, maek, make
Norf’k (and it appears to a much lesser extent, Pitkern) has a number of words beginning with miek, maek, make. Flint in the late 1950s found:
miek giem ‘to mock’
miek mieken ‘fiddle around’
I car miek et ‘I can’t make it, won’t succeed’
miek sure ‘make sure’
May game ‘to poke fun’ is listed in Wiltshire (1938). Shirley Harrison in 1972 observed that some of the uses of Norf’k make, miek are also found in English dialects, for example miek out ‘to have a good meal’. Alice Buffet translates miek aut as ‘manage, enjoy, pretend’ and miek ‘to rise to the surface’ – as in safmieken ‘the tide is coming in’, but also (according to Alice Buffet) ‘the ocean is becoming calmer’.
Beryl Nobbs Palmer lists meck aes ‘make haste, hurry it up’ and megaem ‘ridi-cule or make fun of’; and Alice Buffet gives the additional words miekagli ‘appear to be about to cry’, miek’ tan ‘take turns’, miekbig ‘pretend to be important’, miek flaeshi ‘to dress glamorously’. In Speak Norfolk Today (pp 56-7), Alice Buffett has listed more Norf’k idioms with miek.
Maken big ‘to give oneself airs, show off’ and make - making are also found in Pitkern and in old documents, the latter meaning ‘fiddling around, to do only that which is necessary to do’. There are no doubt more miek, make, maek words in use, and we hope that our readers can provide them for us.
The origin of these words and the reasons for their wide range of meanings is that the Norf’k language preserves the memory not only of English dialects spoken by the British sailors of Pitcairn, but the West Indian English spoken by Edward Young. Harrison (1972) notes a West Indian meaning ‘pretend’ for make, and she notes also that, as in Norf’k, West Indian English mek or make can be translated as ‘why, because’, as in: Miek hii klai ise es said dem yus’ roht’net ‘The reason why he cries easily is because they tend to spoil him’. Harrison also mentions that Melanesian Pidgin English has many make constructions, for instance make flash ‘to dress up for a dance’. This expression as with the expression miekas ‘make haste’, could have originated with the Melanesian scholars at the Mission School in the late 19th century. Neither of these two words appears to be current on Pitcairn Island.
The Melanesian Mission ran a boarding school for scholars from all parts of Melanesia on Norfolk Island between 1869 and 1920. At any time there were about 100-200 mainly male students, a small staff of teachers and workers, and during the summer months, a larger number of staff comprising of missionaries from the Islands. The working language of this mission was Mota. The mission was self-contained and contacts between the missionaries and the Norfolk Islanders were sporadic and relatively superficial in most instances, with the exception of the mission printer, Menges/Menzies, the blacksmith, Bailey and the mission mason, Taylor, who all got married and settled among the Islanders. Their descendents, the Menzies, Baileys and Taylors still live on Norfolk.
It is not known how many Norfolk Islanders had any knowledge of the Mota language. When contact with the Melanesian scholars was made, it was probably in Pidgin English, and there are several Norf’k expressions such as walk-steal, ‘to walk stealthily’ and mekaes, ‘to hurry up, make haste’, that date back to Pacific Pidgin English.
What about Mota words? One glance at Codrington and Palmer’s extensive Mota dictionary (1897) suggests a few possibilities for words of the Norf’k language whose origin is obscure, for instance furus, foorus, ‘to break wind’, could be Mota, purus, furus and purri, ‘rubbish’ could be Mota puree, ‘inferior’, seplo, ‘syphilis’ may be something to do with Mota sepelo, ‘damaged fruit, fruit eaten away on one side’, but this is a bit speculative. It is possible that the Menzies, Bailey and Taylor families may have introduced some more Mota words as family words. Does anyone know such words?
Miti (miti), mitty (mitty)
The first record of the word is Holland’s Norfolk Island Patois (1946). He translates it as ‘to cuddle’. Alice Buffett lists both a single verb miti “to kiss, to lick” and a reduplicated mitimiti “to kiss and cuddle repeatedly”. Beryl Nobbs-Palmer translates mitty-mitty as “canoodling, to cuddle and kiss”. Both Beryl and Alice suggest a second meaning “half do a thing, or do things carelessly” as in si waye shi se mitty-mitty dem clorth “look how carelessly she ironed the clothes”. In the 1980s Shirley Harrison tested the word with old and young Norfolk Islanders, and she comments that the for old people it means “to mix up with the hand, as in making bread –
unsavoury implications”, and that the word was dying out “in the older informants’ younger days” . She also noted that some young speakers use miti to mean “spoil it all up”. Beryl Nobbs-Palmer provides a similar translation for jelilly “to make a mess of things”. Alice Buffett translates j’lili as “do, prepare spontaneously”, as in j’lili ap samthing f’ wi iit “quickly create and prepare some dinner”. Does anyone still use miti or mitty mitty, and in what meaning?
Miti, mitty in the Norfolk Island meanings is not documented for Pitcairn Island, but they have two words: miti, one meaning ‘coco-nut milk’, the other one “a blue fish resembling the New Zealand butterfish”. Like many Pitcairn fish, the fish got its name from the first person who caught and prepared it, Harriet Melissa McCoy (b 1847), whose nickname was ‘Miti’. Can anyone tell us how she got this nickname?
The origin of the word miti in the sense of “to kiss” is Tahitian miti “to smack the lips, to lick”.
In Steggle’s famous Coconut Song (written in the 1960s) we find the line ‘and we know what a way for cuddle real hard’ – Does this mean that miti was no longer a common word when this song was written?
This word is listed only by Beryl Nobbs Palmer who translates it as ‘dead/died’ as in myse best melken cow se mutty-mutty; ‘temper’ shi ell gut her mutty-mutty up ‘she loses her temper’; and ‘dry feeling’ as in myse mouth se mutty-mutty ‘my mouth is dry’. It is also found in Edward Hooker’s nickname Mutty ‘he was sick a lot as a child and mutty means se musa died’. The origin of the word is in an Oceanic language – mate, mata, mutty are common verbs for ‘to die’ in a large number of Oceanic languages, including Tahitian, which has the forms mate and poha for ‘to die’. It was also used in the Melanesian Pidgin English spoken by the multilingual scholars at St Barnabas, and may have been borrowed from them. Mate is not documented in any list if Pitcairn words. Norf’k also has the word de-ed or died for ‘to die, be dead’. Both Alice Buffett and Beryl Nobbs Palmer only give example sentences of animals and plants dying. Is de-ed/died also used when talking about humans, or are there particular more polite expressions such as ‘to pass away’ or ‘to pass on’? De-ed/died is also used metaphorically in expressions such as ai musa died f’ soro ‘I am very sorry’ and ai se died f’ taid ‘I am very tired’.
Nati, nutti, nutty
In Pitkern, nati means ‘to catch with a snare’. In Norf’k it does not appear in this sense, but is used to mean ‘a lasso’ as in nati d’hors, ‘to catch a horse with a lasso or lasoo’. Beryl Nobbs Palmer also translates it as ‘knotted or tangled’, as in si waye yoos hair se nutty side yu bin in a salt warta, ‘your hair is all tangled from swimming in the sea.’ The origin of this word is Tahitian, nati, ‘to bind, to tie with a cord’ and a lasso for catching seals.
A word with a similar meaning is lain, line as in hos lain, ‘a horse rope’. Shirley Harrison believes that this “could result from nautical terms, e.g. whale line, heaving line, sounding line being used frequently on early Pitcairn.”
Norf’k dishes (some): ghosi, bussup
Everybody is familiar with the Sunshine Club’s Norfolk Island Cookery Book and local words and phrases. It contains a number of dishes with Norf’k names including anna, pilhi, mudda and marie. Only pilhi is found in any word list for Pitcairn Island. It refers to a baked pudding made of grated kumara, breadfruit or pumpkin, and the word was first recorded by Captain Beechy in 1831. It is called wihi pilhai when wrapped in soft banana leaves (dem plum leaf muss be se mare-mare nuff fe i wihi des pilhi - Nobbs Palmer). The origin of this word is Tahitian, ‘pirahi’ (bundles of food tied up).
The name of the dish made from cold kumaras (and coconut milk) is anna. The origin of the word is probably the person who invented it, and the same origin is likely for marie, a dish made from flour, boiled milk and fruit such as red guavas, mulberries or loquat. Can anyone throw light on the question of who gave these two dishes their name?
The origin of the word mudda or mada, ‘banana dumplings’, is not clear. Ross and Moverley suggest that it comes from the Polynesian mata, ‘uncooked, unripe’, but the word is not recorded in Tahitian, and Shirley Harrison writes that, “our Norfolk Islanders say that this dish was named after an old Pitcairese woman who was called Mudder (Mother) and was the first person to make mudda. Flint recorded a pronunciation with a long ‘a’, marda, which suggests another possible origin, the name Martha. Can anyone remember the origin of this name?
Names of dishes are important memories of past family practices and eating habits, and as these change, may many of them will be lost and forgotten. Flint who recorded Norf’k texts in 1957 found and translated the word po’i, which presumably is what Alice Buffett lists as poi, ‘boiled pudding, savory or sweet’. In the Sunshine Club’s booklet, pilhi kumera is given as a synonym for poi. On Pitcairn there is a dish po’i, “like pilhi, but you stir it in boiling coconut milk”. Po’i derives its name from Tahitian po’e, a species of food made by mixing fruits or baked roots (Ross and Moverley). Captain Beechy recorded this word in 1831 in the shape popoe, ‘to mush food or fruits with coconut juice’. Ross and Moverley list a Norf’k word popoi. Is this word still used on Norfolk?
In Flint’s text, Flint also lists the word gothy, ‘roasted young whale bird’ which derives from goesbud, ‘ghost bird’. Mary and Bernie Christian Baily remember the word bussup for ‘a pumpkin stuffed with savoury minced meat’, and Archie Bigg uses the word slogos for ‘hastily whipped-up scones’. There are probably many more interesting dishes with Norf’k names. It would be great if those who remember them could share them with our readers.
Nou, nau, inau This interjection is translated by Alice Buffett as ‘emphatic concurrence, my very word!’, as in yu laik ‘hoemnaenwi? Inau! Ai law’ hoemnaenwi (Do you like dreamfish? My very word! I like dreamfish!). Shirley Harrison gives the example ane (anieh) letl salan hau praud. Nau. (Aren’t children cheeky? Yes, they are). The word derives from Tahitian nei, a particle of emphasis and must not be confused with nau ‘now’, which derives from English. Do our readers use this word and do they know other interjections that mean ‘my word!’?
Flint asked some Norfolk informants if they recognised Pitkern iinau (with a long ‘i’) in the sense ‘definitely no’ and ijea, ‘definitely yes’(p. 235). Most Norfolk Islanders did not recognise those forms.
Nufka, nofka, nafka, nuffka
The kingfisher is endemic to Norfolk Island and, as Margaret Christian observes in her book on Norfolk Island birds, “it is one of Norfolk Island’s most ubiquitous species.” Its name is an abbreviation of Norfolker and older sources mention a pronunciation nofka, but surprisingly, the name of this bird does not feature in any of the word lists produced before Flint’s notes of 1960. Surely the name must have been around for some while.
Beryl Nobbs Palmer translates nufk’ as kingfisher and Alice Buffett gives ‘kingfisher bird’ for nakfa. Neither of them mentions the extended meanings and expressions in which nufka features.
You es one true nufka, ‘you are a real local’ and after dar nuffka pick her, ‘after she became pregnant’. Whereas nufka can mean Norfolk Islander it is dubious whether it is also the name of the language, as stated on the website of the Commonwealth Secretariat, which refers to “nufka, a Polynesian dialect related to Pitcairnese.”
The bird also gave its name to the Nuffka Deluxe Appartments. Does anyone know of nufka being used as someone’s nickname? We would like to find out more about the first use of the word nufka and whether it has other local names. After all, its Latin name changed from Saurapatia Sancta Norfolkensis to Todiramphus Sanctus Norfolkensis. Why it is feminine in the older name and masculine in the newer one is anybody’s guess. We would also like to hear about other Norf’k expressions in which nufka features.
Nunnoo, nanu, nanuu
In 1938, Wiltshire recorded dunnar nunnoo, ‘don’t be jealous’. It was subsequently recorded by several people. Flint transcribes the ‘oo’ vowel in the second syllable as a long one, whereas Harisson recorded a short ‘u’. The meaning of this word is ‘jealous, angry (because of jealousy) and envious’. Its origin is Tahitian nanu, ‘envy, jealousy, grudge’. Nanu is used in expressions such as hi nanu gen her, ‘he is jealous of her’. This meaning is not found in Källgard’s Pitkern vocabulary. However, there is a Pitkern word nanu (nunu, nun-oo, noo-noo, no-one), ‘the Indian mulberry’ whose roots and bark were used for dying tapa. This tree was first reported by Captain Beechy in 1825. Its name derives from Tahitian ‘nuno’. The Pitkern expression ‘green as a nanu’ means inexperienced.
Is there a tree of this name on Norfolk?
This word appears first in the word list given to Administrator Pinney in 1937 as oboo ‘stout’. It is listed again in Ross and Moverley (with the second vowel being pronounced either long or short), and is glossed as “the banana flower which survives at the end of the bunch of fruit” for Pitcairn, and simply as “the flower of the banana” for Norfolk. Källgård in 1993 has an entry obu (with a short second syllable) for Pitcairn meaning “the banana flower”. The origin of the word appears to be Tahitian opu “the belly, the belly-like form of a thing” (Ross and Moverley 1964: 247). It is easy to see how it came to mean ‘stout’, but slightly less easy how it came to mean ‘banana flower’. Does anyone still know or use this word in either of its meanings? Are there other words that mean ‘stout’ in Norf’k?
Shirley Harrison mentions the word o’hu (with a short u), a blue fish, two to three feet long, occasionally found in calm water inside a reef, rarely seen on Norfolk. She gives as its origin Tahitian aheu, ‘kind of fish’. Alice Buffett writes this fish name with a long u and an apostrophe o’huu, but otherwise does not differ from Shirley Harrison. Can anyone enlighten us about this fish and the pronunciation of its name?
Ooli, oole, uuli, uule, uli
This word means ‘often’ and according to Shirley Harrison, “this word is gaining strength in present Norf’k.” Like other words, using the oo sound, it has been recorded with either a short or a long oo and either final e or i.
It features in expressions such as ‘hi ooli goo orf daffy’ (Nobbs Palmer), ‘he often carries on like that’. The word has not been recorded for Pitcairn and nothing is known about its origin. It could be a nursery word or a distortion of ‘often’. Can anyone throw light on this matter?
Alice Buffett translates this word as ‘a cheeky form of friendly greeting, mainly to teenagers’, and pullapooch also features in Greg Quintal’s list of Norf’k words, which he compiled a few years ago. The cheekiness of this expression may derive from the fact that the first part of the word pala means ‘penis’, and Flint noted that ‘for motives of delicacy, informants were unwilling to give’ its second meaning: ‘homosexual’. The word does not appear in wordlists for Pitcairn Island and its origin is unclear. Thus far, the obvious guess that it derives from Tahitian has not been confirmed.
The second part puch may be the American the word for ‘dog’, which ultimately derives from German Putzi ‘lapdog’, which suggests a translation of the whole word as: gay dog.
Pehoe, pe-hoe, payhoo
This word in the form payhoo was recorded by Holland in 1946 and translated as ‘old before time’. It was said to mean the same as e’yaller ‘trying to be older than what you are’. This meaning suggests a possible connection with pu’u ‘unripe, green’, and at least this seems more likely than a connection with the Pitcairn words pehu ‘cover an earth oven with green leaves’ and pe’oo ‘a fish, wrasse’. More recent accounts give a different meaning for the word. Beryl Nobbs-Palmer tranlsates pe-hoe as ‘old fashioned, old fashioned in speech’, and Alice Buffett translates pehoe simply as ‘old fashioned’.
Does anyone know where this word comes from and can anyone add anything to the range of its meanings?
The noun pepa ‘pepper’ can be found in early sources, but the verb meaning either “to excite someone” or “to be excited” is only documented fairly recently for Norfolk Island. Beryl Nobbs-Palmer provides both meanings, and illustrates the second meaning with the sentence dem oo-uel gael se peppa “the old women got excited”. Alice Buffett suggests the meaning “to be thrilled by sincere reason or by flattery”, and provides an example of the active sense of pepa:
dem tuu s’ pepa kos dem win em dabls “those two are thrilled because they won the doubles”.
Can anyone remember when this word came into the Norf’k language and is it still used by the younger generation?
There are a number of words in Flint’s notes, which have not been recorded anywhere else. Flint may have misheard or misunderstood things at times, but all in all he was an accurate and well-trained observer of the Norf’k language.
One of these words is peve, ‘a common cold or fever’. Does anyone know this word and can they enlighten our readers as to where it comes from?
Pitkern words (some)
No one has ever compiled a complete list of all Norf’k words and we do not really know how many words are shared by Pitkern and Norf’k, either. Here are a few words that were recorded by Källgård on Pitcairn in the 1980s. They all derive from English and have probably been in the language for a long time. Does anyone know if these words are also used on Norfolk Island:
bail, bile (from English boil) ‘to put something on a sore to make it heal better’.
bed, beden (from English bed) ‘to go to bed’ (used of chickens settling down for the night).
blok aut, block out, ‘to be late for something’, as in you se block out ha school, ‘you are late for school’.
bop fer something, ‘give a hint that you want something, beg indirectly’.
cant, kaent, ‘to lean’.
conk, ‘teapot-sized container used for lighting in the days of kerosene’.
Does anyone recognise or use these words in Norf’k? Do you think that it would be a good idea to add these words to the lexicon of the Norf’k language?
The slogan shef yus poet orf d’roed does not refer to the removal of poets but the removal of poet, poo-utt, ‘posterior’. This word has been recorded by both Beryl Nobbs Palmer: her poo-utt too big fe wear dem tight trowsess, ‘ her backside is much too big to wear those tight fitting slacks’, and by Alice Buffett: her poet tuu big f’fet in em slacks, ‘she’s too broad in the buttocks to fit into those slacks’. Poethoel is the anal orifice as well as ‘an expression of abuse’. The word has not been recorded for Pitcairn and there are no early records. Its origin is not known. It may be related to the English dialectic ‘pot’ (deep hole, as in pothole) and poethoel may have been used metaphorically to refer to a part of the human anatomy. Can anyone remember how this word came into the Norf’k language?
Ponto, pohnto, pontoo
The first mention of the word ponto is by Mr H. Holland of Portland, New South Wales who spent three years on Norfolk Island in the 1940s. In 1946 he published his Norfolk Island Patois, in which he translates ponto as ‘rubbish, person of no account’. In the 1960s, Flint recorded ju se ponto ‘you are all the worse for wear, shabby or stale’ and ‘worn, faded, tired, giving in’. Shirley Harrison in the 1970s recorded pontu ‘to be shabby, usually applied to clothes or a shabbily dressed person’. The final ‘oo’ sound also appears in Beryl Nobbs-Palmer’s pontoo ‘unkempt, scruffy, neglected or uncared for, faded but clean clothing’. Alice Buffett translates ponto as ‘shabby, unstylish’. The word is not used on Pitcairn Island. It would be nice to know when it became used on Norfolk. According to Shirley Harrison, it was generally used by the older people in the 1970s but not heard or used by younger Islanders.
No one has come up as yet with an explanation of the origin of this word. Maybe ponto was someone’s nickname – quite a few Norf’k words started off as nicknames. Can any of our readers still remember?
Pope, porpieh, parpoye
The red guava is a native of Eastern Brazil and was introduced to various Pacific Islands where it has become a pest plant. However its name is in all likelihood of Polynesian origin. On Pitcairn Island it refers to a cliff-side plant with red, edible berries (Lycium sandwicense) and has been recorded as poope, poppy, pepe, pawpea, paupea, and in known in English as ‘beach creeper’ or ‘box thorn’. The colour of this berry is bright red. The similarity of colour and taste of the red guava appears to be why it got this name on Norfolk Island. In Greg Quintal’s wordlist we find the name blue guava for this fruit, a label that is also used widely on Norfolk.
Potagee, potegi, potagii
Flint in the 1950s only gives the innocuous meaning ‘horticultural variety of potato’ (is it still grown on Norfolk?). Beryl Nobbs-Palmer says about this plant that it is “believed to have been brought into the island by the Portugese seamen, who were crew on the early American whaling ships”. The word is also used to mean ‘unreliable, unpredictable’ (Alice Buffett). Whereas Alice Buffett lists potagii as an adjective, Beryl Nobbs-Palmer translates potagee as a noun: ‘an unreliable or changeable fellow’ or ‘a male who shirks or evades work’ (this is also expressed in Norf’k as sor fe ankl Felaps ‘Uncle Philip’s disease’ and perhaps other expressions). Shirley Harrison also lists it as a noun as in regla potagi ‘anything unreliable, a person, a fruit or vegetable which crops unreliably’.
The word derives from the whaling days when Norfolk Islanders worked side by side with Portugese crew, mainly from the Azores. “They were considered most unreliable by men of the crew who were Norfolk Islanders, since at times they refused to do any work, when fast to a whale, and have been known to jump out of the boat when they became ‘galleyed’”. Unlike other English contact languages, Norf’k does not appear to have borrowed much from the language of the Portugese sailors (with the exception of nini, pikanini ‘small, small child’ and possibly other meanings).
In other languages, words that signal disrespect for members of other ethnic groups often fall into disuse because of considerations of political correctness (eg in English: to welsh, or to take Dutch leave). Is this also the case with potagee? Can anyone remember when this word began to be used in Norf’k (it is not known in the Pitcairn variety), and is it applied only to men or also to gehls? Are there any other words meaning ‘unreliable’ in Norf’k?
Many exclamations of the Norf’k language are not of English origin, and puri/pouri is one of them. Beryl Nobbs Palmer translates Ah, pouri! as ‘what rubbish!’ and Alice Buffett says it is, “ an exclamation of disagreement, what rubbish, don’t talk nonsense.’ The word does not appear in any earlier wordlists and has not been recorded on Pitcairn Island. There is a French word, pourri, ‘rotten’, which may have entered the Norf’k Language possibly via Tahiti, but the origin of this term is not clear. It is possible that it has something to do with the expressions pouri-pouri or pouri which is found in many Pidgin English varieties in Australia and the Pacific, where it means ‘poison’, ‘witchcraft’. It appears to be a Suau word (an East Papuan language) which was spread by mission teachers and plantation workers as well as by popular novels featuring the pouri-pouri man for ‘witchdoctor’. Norfolk Islanders had contact with Pidgin English spoken by the Melanesians at St Barnabas’ Mission and in the mission field, and may have picked up the word there. It is a well-known fact that one person’s religious beliefs can be another person’s nonsense, and the change from magic to nonsense is quite possible. It would even be more plausible if the Norf’k word was reduplicated. Another expression which means ‘what rubbish’ is burus or boorus which could be a variant of puri. Again, it is not documented for Pitcairn or any vocabulary pre-dating Alice Buffett’s 1999 Encyclopedia.
The vowel spelt u is pronounced as either in standard English ‘butcher’ or in ‘but’, and in the early days of Pitcairn settlement, there was probably a mix of pronunciation which, according to Ross and Moverley (1964: 150), resulted in confusion and irregularities.
The majority of Norfolk Islanders pronounce puttorn
with the ‘but’ sound, but Flint also recorded some who pronounced it
with the ‘butcher’ sound. (Does anyone have a preference or comments?)
In Pitkern, put-on (with the ‘but’ sound) means ‘try to make yourself more important than you are’ (Källgård 1995), and the sentence ‘On Norfolk I didn’t have to put-on’ means ‘I didn’t have to speak English’.
The meanings for the verb puttorn given by Beryl Nobbs Palmer are: ‘to exaggerate’ ‘to put on airs’, whereas Alice Buffet translates patorn as ‘pretend to be’, ‘try on’ and ‘put onto’. Standard English only has the latter two meanings, though there is a noun ‘put-on’, which can mean ‘humorous imitation, fraud, hoax, joke, antic’.
Norf’k has a number of other expressions meaning ‘pretend’ – dobargen, dubaagen.
Harrison (1972) argues that literally this means ‘do a bargain’. It has developed from English ‘to make a bargain’ because of the pretence involved in bargaining. Another expression is: miek aut, maek-out (which we have already commented on under the miek words).
Finally, there is a word mahone ‘to pretend to be ill, malinger’, which according to Ross and Moverley (1964) may have developed out of Tahitian mahomahoa ‘sluggish, loitering’, or mahoha
‘to be diseased, ineffective’. It may also derive from a person’s name
or nickname. Can anyone enlighten us on the ‘pretend’ words?
Rotten egg, roh’nieg, rotten ee-egg
The expressions rotten, ‘to spoil a child’ and rotten egg, ‘a spoilt person, somebody’s favourite’ are documented in a number of accounts of the Pitkern language. The favourite pronunciation on Pitcairn is with a cockney glottal stop, whereas on Norfolk it is pronounced with the glottal stop or the [t] sound. Beryl Nobbs Palmer translates rotten ee-egg as “used to describe a favourite child (not spoilt rotten) particularly someone upon whom an older person dotes”. Alice Buffet translates roh’nieg as ‘favourite person’ or ‘rotten egg’. She also lists the adjective roh’n or roht’n and rohtnen, ‘to be pampering’. Shirley Harrison proposes that the expression ro?en eg, “has developed from the notion of a hen sitting on eggs and spoiling them”. She also points out that spoilen is commonly used to replace roten regarding meat and other food.
As the expression is found on both Pitcairn and Norfolk Island it is probably a very old one and Ross and Moverely’s observation that “the Norfolk phrase is presumably a joke” is not appropriate.
Saf, suff, surf
It is strange that the word for ‘sea’ has had so little attention from dictionary-makers. One reason appears to be that the word suff is not documented in Pitkern – the word for sea is big-water. They only have the metaphorical expression big-surf, ‘someone in authority, which on Norfolk, according to Flint, has come to mean ‘anyone in authority who talks big and tries to impress the hearer’.
Alice Buffett has an entry bigsaf, which she translates as ‘domestic or social turbulence’ or ‘rough sea’. Both Beryl Nobbs Palmer and Alice Buffett feature a number of expressions with suff:
suff-camen-in / safkameniin - the tide is rising
suff-sinken - the tide is ebbing or falling
sink-suff - dead low tide
suff-se-gude - the sea has quietened
safelduu - the ocean is calm
safmieken - the ocean is becoming calmer
Can anyone add to the list of suff expressions?
Saia, siar, siah
The Norf’k language has many words that derive from people’s names. We have already mentioned the plant siah’s backbone, named after Josiah Adams. Why exactly this tough and pliable tree was called thus is remembered differently by different people. Flint was informed that it was the name of Josiah in allusion to these qualities, while Alice Buffett believes it refers to the keel of the “Resolution” which was made out of this wood. Whether Josiah Adams is the siah of the expression saia, siar, ‘to sponge’ is not clear.
Shirley Harrison translates it as ‘to impose oneself on someone for a meal’ and adds ‘Siah was an old man who had diabetes and went around from house to house eating in uninvited circumstances’, a story which is also found in Alice Buffett’s dictionary. She gives a second meaning ‘to hint for something coveted’.
This is also how Beryl Nobbs Palmer translates sair and gives an example illustrating that this act was not always successful: “I haet-a goo out lorng fe her cos shi wunt everything shi see en shi gwen sti dere siar furret (I hate going out with her because she wants everything she sees and never stops hinting!)”, and “Wal shi car teck a hint cos I jes come frum up hers en shi jes dunna teck one big hihi pie out-a her oven en ef I nor sti dere siar fe one I piece, but shi se sly bite! (Well, she can’t take a hint! I’ve only just come from her place where she’d just taken a huge periwinkle pie from her oven. Let me tell you, I stayed there hinting for a piece of that pie but in the end I left empty handed(sic) because she ignored all my hints!)” (p.39).
This is one of the more complex words in Pitkern and Norf’k, not only because it has many meanings, but also because it has several possible origins.
On Pitcairn Island it means ‘a slope, a place, a plot of ground’ and ‘because’. The first meaning is encountered in English, ‘side of a hill’, and according to Ross and Moverley, the second and third meaning reflects the fact that on Pitcairn most of the places are on slopes.
Shirley Harrison devotes almost two pages to the grammar of said. She gives the meanings, ‘place, land, house as in ar said fe main, ‘my place’; our people as in wel done auwas said, ‘well done for us’.
Beryl Nobbs Palmer gives the meaning, ‘instead of’, as in in myse side, ‘instead of me’, and ‘property or home’.
Both Harrison and Nobbs Palmer also give the meaning ‘because of, reason, as result of’ as in Harrison’s sentence as se taied said ai ben werk tuu hard, ‘I am tired because I worked too hard’. Neither of them gives another common meaning ‘where’ as in ai sor said mais fut se twis raun, ‘I am sore where my foot got twisted’.
The use of said to mean ‘where’ or ‘because’ are either result of the influence of St Kitts Creole or an independent development. The other senses of said may have been influenced by Pacific Pidgin English, where one finds location words such as on Norf’k: apsaid ai yuse werk, ‘up where I work’; nosaid, ‘nowhere’, samsaid, ‘somewhere’.
Samadem, pulla, pala
Words referring to sexual organs do not feature much in any word lists. Flint, in the 1950s, found that Norfolk Island informants were generally very reluctant to provide them. Until recently, English language dictionaries did not list some of the oldest and most commonly used words of the English language. There are a number of euphemisms, notably samadem, ‘some of them’ and paint, to refer to what Alice Buffett translates as ‘a person’s private parts or discretely unmentionable parts’. The common word for penis is pala, pulla (which according to Flint can also mean homosexual). Whether it derives from Tahitian para, ‘ripe, rotten, dirty’ cannot be established as early wordlists for Tahitian do not contain many sexual terms. The word is not found in any Pitcairn wordlists. The common word for female genitals is podi, poddy but young Islanders also know the expression skini, skinny and pussy. The word skinny in Australian slang means ‘sexy young women’, and Norf’k skini may derive from this. However the expression he ess real skinny, ‘he’s a total bastard’ is quite different from its Australian counterpart.
There are, no doubt, many other expressions both on Pitcairn Island and on Norfolk and if readers feel comfortable to share them, please let us know.
Sane, sana, sunna
There are a number of lists of Norfolk birds and bird names and many of you will have seen Margaret Christian’s beautiful book on this topic. In 1908, there was the question in the final exams of the Norfolk Island school students in which they had to list the useful and harmful birds of Norfolk Island. The majority of students listed the guava bird, though the options were divided as to whether it was a friend or an enemy. None of the children gave the alternative name sana (although many of them knew birds by several names, such as thickhead or tamey), and it is not clear where this word comes from.
Flint found sana or guava bird, which he translates as Norfolk Island Ouzel, Shirley Harrison translates sana as “a kind of bird, now extinct on Norfolk” and adds that the origin of this word is unknown. Beryl Nobbs Palmer translates sunna as ‘blackbird’ and it is listed as Grey-headed Blackbird in Margaret King’s book (there were other birds also called blackbirds), and there is a theory that it may have interbred with the European blackbird. To add to our confusion, Alice Buffett translates sana as well, as poeti as ‘humming bird’. Whilst the Peurty or endemic Grey Warbler is found widely on Norfolk Island, the guava bird was last sighted in 1978 and is regarded as extinct.
Can anyone help with the origin of the name sana and enlighten the reader as to what birds in present day Norf’k are called by this name?
Scots words in Norf’k
Two of the Bounty mutineers came from Scotland, John Mills from Aberdeen and William McCoy from Ross-shire. They are the likely source of a number of words used in Pitkern and Norf’k, including the ones mentioned by Ross and Moverley (1964:168):
blood - ‘to bleed’
bole - ‘to make a small hole’
dark - ‘to become dark’
wattawieh - ‘how’
gaggle - ‘to cackle’ hiwe,
hiiw - ‘to throw’
In 2008, Ian Hancock published an article on Scots expressions in English contact languages (English World Wide 29:1) and in his list there are a number of additional words also found in Pitkern and Norf’k:
drehg ‘to drag’
bally ‘belly, stomach’
makemake ‘to be fussy or capricious’
There are undoubtedly others (we already mentioned the possible Scottish origin of aklan, ‘our clan’) and some of them may have survived as family words among the McCoys. Can anyone add to this list?
Sem-is-ways, semisway, simiswieh, semiswieh, semis-waye
These are just some of the spellings of this intriguing word of the Norf’k language. It was first recorded by Bishop Montgomery in 1892, and glossed as ‘very odd, peculiar’. The Reverend Brazier whose account of the language drew heavily on Montgomery, misread the Bishop’s very odd as ‘very good’ and this meaning is also found in Wiltshire’s 1938 word list.
The word list given to Governor Pinney around 1937 features the entry semisway ‘aloof, cold, hard to understand’. In Ross and Moverley’s Pitcairnese language (1964) semiswieh is listed under the Norfolk Island-only words and translated as ‘peculiar, shy’, but Källgård in 1993 in his Pitcairn word lists mentions semiswe ‘it looks like, so it seems’. Shirley Harrison in 1972 translates semeswe as ‘behaving in a strange and unpredictable manner, being too outspoken and independent’, and adds that it is ‘very frequently used’. She suggests that the origin of the expression is English ‘same as the way’, which roughly corresponds to the meaning of the word on Pitcairn Island.
The Sunshine Club Cook Book translates semiz-wee as ‘peculiar’, and Beryl Nobbs-Palmer translates it as ‘unsociable, reticent, changeable’. Similar negative meanings are also found in Alice Buffet’s dictionary (of unpredictable disposition, reticent, reserved), but she also gives a more positive meaning ‘independent’. There are obviously quite a few different meanings for this word. Can our readers add to the ones given here, and tell us more about how this word is used and if they pronounce it with or without a final –s.
Sentepi, santepi, suurtapee
The Norf’k name for the starfish is santape. Ross and Moverley argue that this word looks like English ‘centipede’, but that is how the pronunciation and meaning changed. They suggest instead a possible source ‘centre-piece’, which seems not very likely either. It is interesting to note that santipi is also a West-Indian Creole word and that it probably originated with Edward Young.
‘intoxicated with alcohol’
This word came from Norfolk Island via Australia, or from American sailors. It was first documented in the first half of the 19th century in the US, and in Australia in the second half of the 19th century in a number of variants: He was rather shickerry (1878) Shiker (1898) He’s been shickered since last Wednesday (1911)
In Australian English there is also a word shiker ‘to drink’, and a noun shiker ‘liquor’ (are any of these found in Norf’k?)
Shika entered the US and Australian English via Yiddish shiker ‘drunk’, but its ultimate origin is Hebrew shikor ‘drunk’. Most languages with speakers who drink alcoholic beverages have a large number of words denoting ‘drunk’ (English has ‘full’, ‘pissed’, ‘blotto’, ‘blind’, ‘blasted’, ‘blitzed’, ‘crocked’, ‘dipso’, and dozens more). Very few have been recorded in Norf’k (cushoo, for some speakers, appears to imply being slightly drunk), either because such words do not exist in the language or people have been coy to talk about them. Can any of our readers add to the list of words for ‘drunk’, and can anyone enlighten us about the history of the word shiker, shika on Norfolk Island?
This word appears first in Flint’s (1964) list of words found only on Norfolk Island in the meaning ‘unwilling’. Alice Buffett translates slai as ‘cast a sly glance’, ‘won’t’, and ‘sly’, and Beryl Nobbs Palmer translates sly ‘to deny participating in a practical joke’ and ‘to spy or peep’. Shirley Harrison in 1972 gives the meanings ‘to cast sly glances’ and ‘to come and go by stealth’, as well as the idiomatic meaning ‘I won’t’. In her 1985 study she mentions that ai se slai in the meaning ‘I won’t cooperate’, or ‘I won’t’ is generally used among older speakers, but that young speakers only know the meaning ‘doing secretly or on the sly’. It would be a pity if the range of Norf’k meanings known to the old generation was to disappear.
The written sources do not document slai as an adjective as in sly sullan ‘sly people’. Can sly be used in this way?
The word snitch is translated by Beryl Nobbs-Palmer as ‘shooting marbles’. Shirley Harrison and Alice Buffett give a second meaning for snich ‘to flick with the fingers’, usually to hurt someone. In this second meaning it may derive from an old English word snitch ‘a fillip on the nose’. Shirley Harrison suggests that in its first meaning it could have been a blend of snick ‘to snip, click, to strike or hit sharply, to strike a cricket ball in a particular way’; and pitch ‘delivering a cricket ball in a particular way, to cast a throw in a particular way’.
It appears that for some Norf’k speakers snitch is used as an alternative for slu, sloo ‘to turn forcibly out of position’, as in ar kar sloo krors ar road, or ar kar snitch aut orn ar road ‘the car skidded across the road’. Whatever the origin of this word, it would be nice to have other terms for playing marbles and for someone to complete Beryl Nobbs-Palmer’s list of cricket expressions which does not include snick or pitch.
In both Pitkern and Norf’k, sore is used to translate English ‘sick’ or ‘sickness’. Hence I gut ar sor head means ‘I have a headache’, and sor baele is ‘pain in the stomach’.
The range of meanings of sore includes having aches, pains, and having birth pains. There are two idiomatic Norf’k expressions involving this word: the previously mentioned sor f’ Ankl Felaps, or sore fe Philips ‘laziness’; and gut a sore-neck (Beryl Nobbs-Palmer) or gat’ sornek (Alice Buffett) ‘not be invited’. The first time that this expression was recorded was in the 1930s, in a list of words given to administrator Pinney.
Sorlan, sorlen, solen, sorlun
In 1939, Wiltshire reports that es (a) solen means ‘the last, no more, it is finished’. A very similar meaning is given for sorlen by Holland in 1946 – ‘finished, no more left’. Beryl Nobbs-Palmer translates sorlun as ‘finished, no more, almost empty, empty’, and Alice Buffett translates sorlan as ‘empty, none left, finished, all done’. Shirley Harrison has an interesting sentence, ai se iit sorlan ‘I have eaten all of it’, and she suggests that this word probably originated through a series of changes in pronunciation: ‘It is all done’ becomes sall done, which then becomes sorlan. The word is not listed in any Pitcairn wordlist, and must have originated on Norfolk Island. Does anyone know when this happened and who first used this word?
Norfolk Island never its own currency and for much of its history was a subsistence rather than a monetary economy. However, over the years money became important and a word for money became adopted, spondoolicks. It has never been recorded by anyone other than Greg Quintal, but it is widely known on the Island. Opinions on the origin of this word differ. Some call it a mid-19th century American slang word (spondulics is listed in the 1913 Webster) but Mark Twain used it in Huckleberry Finn, as early as 1885. It is probably older and was in use in England as well in the 1850s. It does not feature in Australian slang much, and most Australians have not heard the word. On the internet, some sources give a Greek origin spondulox, ‘type of shell used as currency’, and the word might have been introduced by educated private school boys. Serious dictionaries do not subscribe to this origin. Are there other words for money, and does anyone know how the word spondoolicks came into the Norf’k language?
Spotet, spodette, spohdet
Many Norf’k words of English origin are subtly different in meaning and sometimes belong to an entirely different class of word. Spohdet (from English, ‘spotted) is one of them. In Norf’k it means ‘freckles’ as in Beryl Nobbs Palmer’s reference: I carfoot me de one gut all dee spodette, ‘I don’t know why I should be the one with all the freckles.’ Alice Buffett translates spohdet as ‘freckles, pimples, blotches’.
The Moverley list of words in Pitkern contains the word tunnee or tanii, which means ‘fair patches on dark skin, from sunburn’. Flint tested this word on Norfolk Island and most of his informants recognised it in the meaning of ‘freckles’. The word is probably of Tahitian origin. Does anyone still know and use this word and other words for freckles not mentioned here?
Stil with a short ‘i’ is a word which, according to Shirley Harrison, is ‘now somewhat rare. It means with stealth, secretly as in dem tu tarken stil, ‘those two are talking secretly’, or ai wark stil in ar haus, ‘I walked into the house stealthily’. The Oxford English Dictionary has two meanings for the verb ‘to steal’: ‘to accomplish clandestinely or to move or convey stealthily’, but in English, unlike West Indian Creole or Tahitian, two verbs are rarely found together in the same sentence. In Melanesian Pidgin English we find an expression walk or walk about steal, ‘to move without wishing to be seen’, which may be the origin of this expression (it is not documented for Pitcairn). Melanesian Pidgin English was used by some of the Melanesian Mission scholars of St Barnabas College before 1920.
Stoen, stoens, stoo-un, stone
The English meaning of stone underwent some widening of meaning on Pitcairn Island where, according to Ross and Moverley, it can mean ‘artefact of previous Polynesian inhabitants’ and in place names, ‘any detached rock’. Examples on Pitcairn are, Big George Stone, an offshore rock and Isaac’s Stone, another offshore rock. In Pitcairn this use of stone alternates with rock in other place names such as Christian’s Rock, Matt’s Rock, and Young’s Rock. On Norfolk, stoen is the common word for rock, eg. in Red Stoen. Beryl Nobbs Palmer lists the expression, wi doo furet semis ar Red Stoo-un, lubde side es, ‘let us treat it as we would Red Rock, leave it where it is’. Among her list of dar thing fe dem’s, ‘quoting so and so’ Alice Buffet translates stoen as stone. She implies that it can also be used as a verb ‘to stone someone.’ She also lists the exclamation stoens to express a strong disagreement, but does not mention that the origin of this expression is another meaning of stoens, namely ‘testicles’ and thus is equivalent to the English exclamation ‘Balls!’ In one of the messages posted on the Norfolk Forum (9 Dec 2002) we find “show the government who gotta stones!” which indicates that this meaning of stoens is still actively in use.
A mysterious word, suupa fai was reported by Shapiro and quoted again by Wiltshire and glossed as ‘broken up’. Shapiro probably misanalysed the phrase se pofai, ‘it is broken, has come apart’, which features the near-forgotten word pofoi, pofe which derives from Tahitian pafa’i, ‘to pluck, break of fruits’. Does anyone still remember this word?
Taatremo, tatary maw
A coarse thong liana (caesalpinia bonducella) is found throughout the Pacific including Pitcairn and Norfolk. On Pitcairn it is known as taatremoe, tatrimoa, tetramoa and tattary maw. On Norfolk it has been recorded by Flint as tatary mau and by Shirley Harrison as tatremo (with a short a). Alice Buffett’s Encyclopedia lists it as taatremor (with a long a), ‘a prickly vine growing on Norfolk Island. Flint says this word is a corruption of Maori tataramoa, Harrison points out that there is also a Tahitian plant, a thistle, that bears this name. The English name is ‘bramble, nicker nut, yellow nickers, grey nickers’ and ‘wait-a-bit’. On Pitcairn the plant was eradicated by the middle of the 1980s, as it was considered dangerous. However there is a Pitcairn placename Tatrimoa near Down-Rope on the south-east coast. We would like to find out more about the different pronunciation of this plant name on Norfolk, and how the plant is culturally used.
Tahitian food words
Our Tahitian foremothers brought with them detailed knowledge about food found on Pitcairn and food preparation. This is still reflected in the Pitkern and Norf’k languages, though with changed dietary habits, many of these terms have become obsolete, particularly on Norfolk Island.
Once the name for food in general was mataio, a word still heard occasionally on Pitcairn. Some traditional dishes were:
orlye, olee - ‘Pitcairn banana dish’
paa’a - ‘roasted fish’
tairo - ‘sauce made with rotten coconut’
pote - ‘cooked in taro leaves’
poi - ‘pudding sweet’
popoi - ‘dish made with mashed ingredients’
the well-known pilhai - ‘boiled pudding’
uru chips - made from uru ‘bread fruit’
Food preparation utensils and equipment words include:
ana - seat grater
popoi-stool - flat stone for mashing up food
tu’i - stone pounder
Some of the dishes prepared were:
mono-mono, mone-mone - ‘very tasty’
taitai - ‘insipid’
jamu - ‘bad-tasting, particularly when the food
nami - ‘gone rotten, bad’
Preparation of food involved activities such as:
papahaia - ‘to pound food on a wooden block’
pehe - ‘to strip banana leaves for making pilhai’
udi - ‘to wash, to rinse’, especially root vegetables
wihi - ‘wrap in a banana leaf to cook’
And once you had tasted all these wonderful dishes thus prepared you may have been tuhi-tuhi, ‘have over-eaten’.
You will have noticed that no mention was made of the word yolo (a word which is probably not of Tahitian origin) but there may be other food words that have been forgotten. Can anyone add to the list given here?
Taitai, tyetye, ti-ti
The word taitai was first recorded by Wiltshire (1938) who translates it as ‘tasteless’ or when applied to a person, ‘without charm’. Beryl Nobbs Palmer translates it as ‘tasteless, dull, uninteresting’ and Alice Buffett as ‘uninteresting, unentertaining and tasteless’, and comments “it applies to food, people or situations”. Moverley gives the meaning ‘tasteless, without charm’ for Pitcairn Island, and Shirley Harrison expands on its meaning in Norf’k, adding the meanings, ‘unentertaining’ (of a party or sermon) and ‘unenjoyable’ (of a dance, party, concert). There is agreement that this word originated in Tahitian taitai, ‘salt, saltish, bitter, insipid’. On Pitcairn, taitai also refers to a fish ‘because it is evil-tasting’ and the Austin Bird. Does anyone know whether the Austin Bird tastes insipid?
There is another Norf'k’ expression for ‘tasteless’, ties shimi, ‘to taste like wet rags (from shimi ‘singlet). This word is obsolete in British and Australian English in the meaning of ‘female undergarment’. Its origin is French chemise ‘vest’.
Norfolk Islanders use a number of informal, sometimes cheeky, forms of address. Alice Buffett describes tampali as (p. 98) “a lighthearted and friendly greeting, used to welcome friends who casually visit on an unexpected though welcome, basis. The term derives from a person of the past who was nicknamed Tampali and who mostly called upon people unarranged but always made welcome and invited to stay, sometimes for long periods of living in. Wael, si wathing d’win s’bloe iin, Watawieh yuu tampali? Kaminahaus (Well, look what the wind has just blown in! How are you Tampali? Do come in and welcome.).”
Another friendly greeting is palapuch, pullapooch, and yet another one, remembered by Greg Quintal is smegos! Greg also remembers different pronunciations of pulla-pooch: pooloopooch (with a long oo sound) and pooloopoach and a version of tamparlee with a long /ar/.
Does anyone know more forms of address and does anyone remember who Tampali was?
Tau, tou, tow
This word is usually translated as ‘settle, perch’ and is only found on Norfolk Island word lists. The expression bud se tou refers to the whale birds on Phillip and Nepean Islands, when in September they only settle down once all the birds have arrived. It is also used to refer to the white tern perching on a pine branch. Alice Buffett mentions two metaphorical meanings for tau ‘to visit with the intention of settling permanently’ and ‘to sit and find it hard to get up again’. Shirley Harrison mentions another meaning: tau ap a fair ‘to kindle the fire’.
According to Shirley Harrison we are dealing with two different words, each of them having multiple origins. The meaning ‘to perch’ goes back to Tahitian tau ‘to settle, to perch’ and Maori tau ‘to alight’, whereas tau ap ‘to kindle’ may derive from Maori tahu ‘to burn’ and dialectal English tow (‘flax used as material for firing areas’). It is not clear how the Maori influence on the Norf’k language came about. For the first meaning, there may be another source: in Melanesian Pidgin English spoken by the Melanesian scholars at St Barnabas, sitaun (from English ‘sit down’) means ‘to settle, perch’. This possibility is supported by the fact that tau in the meaning ‘to perch’ is always preceded by se, which may be part of the word rather than a particle indicating completed action.
Tear-tear, teya-teya, teatea and other double forms
Reduplicated words are relatively rare in English, but they are common in two languages that have played a role in the history of the Norfolk language: Tahitian and St Kitts Creole.
The word tear-tear is translated by Beryl Nobbs Palmer as ‘tattered or ragged’ and teya teya or tea tea means ‘ragged, torn in many places’ in Alice Buffett’s Encyclopedia. The meaning combines what linguists have called distributive (found in several places) and augmentative (to a greater degree), something like ‘badly torn in several places’. There are a couple of other words that combine these two meanings: Pitkern brekbrek, ‘broken, shattered’ and the Pitkern word bony bony, boney boney, ‘very thin, full of bones’ which is also found in Norfolk. Beryl Nobbs Palmer has bony-bony, ‘emaciated, skin and bones’ and Alice Buffett has boeni booeni, ‘just skin and bones’ as a nickname.
The word boney boney appears first in Shapiro’s 1936 Pitcairn wordlist, and Flint encountered this word in his work on Norfolk in the late 1950s and observed that it is a rare word, used more of animals than people, and that it also can mean ‘full of bones (of fish)’. Ross and Moverley list bity-bity is a Pitkern word for a kind of shellfish. Flint collected the word bity-bity as a kind of unidentified insect, but this word is not mentioned anywhere else and it would be great if our readers could share their experiences of bity-bity or baiti-baiti. They also mention pili pili, ‘sticky’, first recorded on Norfolk in 1938 by Wiltshire. Alice Buffett translates this as ‘inclined to adhesiveness, partly glued in a number of places’.
The origin of the reduplicated word is probably St Kitts English where reduplication to signal distribution and greater force is common. By contrast bonne-bonne, bona nona, ‘hard and knobbly’ is of Tahitian origin (Tahitian ponapona, ‘knotty’). For some speakers the meaning of the two words bonne-bonne and bony bony has become fused. Some (con)fusion is also found with the word illi illi which is translated by Wiltshire (1938) as ‘very small, also used of rough, broken sea’. Ross and Moverley in 1964 translate Pitkern hilly-hilly as ‘up and down (of country) and choppy (of sea)’ and comment that Norf’k illi illi was obsolete. In present-day Norfolk, we still find the unduplicated illy, ili, ‘very small’ as in Breyl Nobbs Palmer’s sentence ‘da piece a caek shi giwe me dar bloomen illy, I moos hawe-a putt orn myse specs fe fine et!” (She gave me such as small piece of cake, I thought of putting on my glasses to find it!). Alice Buffett distinguishes two words: ili, ‘tiny’ and iili, ‘extremely tiny’ but again has no reduplicated form. She suggests a Tahitian reduplicated word: ire ire, ‘small parts or particles’ as the origin. Ross and Moverley point out that hilly in the meaning ‘having huge waves, being rough of sea’ is Scotch English - so it could be one of the McCoy words, and the reduplication could be have been influenced by Edward Young.
Does anyone still use hilly hilly ‘rough of sea’, and do people still make a difference between ili and iili with a short and a long ‘i’?
Tin ‘ai, tin-a-hi, tinai, myse eye se stig
In the Norfolk Island Cookery Book compiled by the members of the Sunshine Club, we find the word tin-a-hi translated as ‘begging’. Beryl Nobbs Palmer translates tinai orn as ‘to gaze with envy, to beg, borrow or steal whatever one desires, and to drool over something’. Alice Buffett translates tin ‘ai orn as ‘to look covetously or look appraisingly’. No other sources of this word have been found and it is not documented for Pitcairn Island. The origin of the expression is not clear. Although the word looks like a possible Tahitian word no Tahitian source has been found, and English ‘in the eye’ may have been involved in this expression. Tin’ai and the related expression in-a-ey, according to Shirley Harrison, was used rarely by young people in the 1980s, and replaced by the expression mais best. A similar expression is myse eye se stig or ais’ stig f’ ‘to be strongly attracted to someone or something’, and there is also an expression aien, eyen ‘to have one’s eyes glued on someone or something’. Can anyone add any other such expression, and can anyone comment on how these expressions are used?
Tintola, toela, tintoela, tola, tintle
Tintoela, ‘sweetheart, lover’ is one of the best known Norf’k words, popularised by Don Christian Reynold’s song mais tintoela, tea towels and tee-shirts. It is also one of the more intriguing words of the language. Earlier records list a word tola, toela, ‘sweetheart’ which Ross and Moverley derive from Tahitian taua hae, ‘a faithful friend’. Shirley Harrison in the 1980s commented that tola has been used only for a short time on Norfolk and had developed from a pet name Tola of a girl who was living on Norfolk (Does anyone remember who this girl was?).
Toela, ‘lover’ still appears in Alice Buffett’s Encyclopedia as ‘same as tintoela’. There has been much speculation about the origin of this longer word. Alice Buffett p.100 writes: Tintoela, n. sweetheart, lover, spouse, i.e. the person with whom you toll the tin. (from T: toara (toala) native drum which gives message.) hence tin toela, tin drum.) See also toel, toela. Wehbaek faayes Pi’kern en erl’eya Norfuk diehs dem oel salan bin yuus ‘ taay wan bilitin gutiin ‘spuun anda d’bied ‘enidems yang salan dem thort mait bii koeten tuu haad en duen ‘or thing dem ortnt bifor dem s’maeri, en bin yuus’ plieh d’ jok orn ‘ oela salan en taiyet anda dems bied. (Back in Pitcairn and early Norfolk days, parents and older relatives would keep track of the moral behaviour of young people who they suspected of having premarital relationships by tying a tin billy with spoons in it under the beds. Practical jokes of that kind were also played on newly-weds and other older people suspected of roaming elsewhere).
Alice Buffet suggests that this word combines English ‘tin’ and Tahitian toara, ‘native drum which gives message’, but alludes to another possibility, i.e. that tuela is derived from English ‘to toll’, in Norf’k toel, ‘to toll, ring, rattle’. Tintoela is ‘someone who rattles the tin with you’. Neither toela nor tintoela have been recorded for Pitkern and the words may have developed independently on Norfolk Island. Can anyone enlighten us about the history of these two words? Whilst there are no written records for toela and tintoela before 1980, the expression mais fish, ‘sweetheart’ was recorded by Wiltshire as early as 1938.
Torturing people came to an end on Norfolk Island with the abandonment of the second penal settlement, but the word is used in the sense of ‘cruelty to food’. Beryl Nobbs Palmer translates tocha as “describes the condition of food which was forgotten in the oven and consequently charred or burnt”. Alice Buffett gives a phrase ai se toecha dii tieti, ‘I have overcooked the sweet potatoes’. In Flint’s Norf’k Wordlist one finds another meaning of toecha ‘to fail to ripen’ (of bananas). Can anyone remember other meanings?
This is one of the many words of Tahitian origin that are beginning to disappear from the Norf’k language. In the 1980s, Shirley Harrison found that it was commonly used by older people, but that the young ones no longer used it. It is translated as ‘to curse, blaspheme, swear’ both by Beryl Nobbs-Palmer and Alice Buffett, and as ‘to use bad language to a person’ by Flint in the 1960s. The word is also known on Pitcairn Island, as are a number of similar words that have not been recorded on Norfolk, such as tuhituhi ‘having overeaten’ (the opposite of snel), and tu’i ‘a stone pounder with a t-shaped handle’. The origin of the word tuhi is Tahitian tuhi ‘an imprecation or curse, to imprecate, to curse’.
Tweed trousers and other Norf’k fish names
Fish has always played an important role in the economy and the diet of the inhabitants of Pitcairn and Norfolk Islands. Some fish names are of Tahitian origin and reflect the knowledge of the Tahitian consorts of the Bounty mutineers, for instance the aatuti, artootie, ‘a small, dark, zebra-striped rockfish’ (Tahitian atute) or nenwi, nanwe, ninwa, ‘the dreamfish’ (Tahitian manue). However, many fish were rediscovered and named during the early years of Pitcairn settlement, with the names reflecting the name of the first person who caught or cooked them. For example, the Pitkern fish names Archie, Hannah, Henry which bear the name of the Islander who first caught one, or Auntie-and-Ann, the name of an Islander to whom, in the days of communal fish distribution, the first name of this kind of fish was given as a share. Other fish names reflect qualities of fish, such as dreamfish, or pick pick, whose flesh can be easily picked from the bones.
When the Pitcairners moved to Norfolk, then encountered different fish and continued to name them. Tweed trousers was first mentioned in the list of Norfolk first names appended to the word list given to Administrator Pinny, and is translated as ‘grey with small stripes, up and down stripes’. On Pitcairn there is a fish name Elwyn’s Trousers, named after Elwyn Christian’s stripy trousers. It is not know if this fish refers to the same fish species. The Norfolk fish name tuffcord, tafkoed is said to have very tough flesh. The dubious culinary qualities of some fish are reflected in names such as sailor’s piss and poison fish, whereas a stiddy, stidi is named thus because, as Alice Buffett puts it, “the stiddy fish stays quiet and does not move even when approached.” When applied to humans, stiddy means ‘quiet, lack-lustre, reserved.
The Swedish biologist, Lass Åka Göthesson, prepared an unpublished manuscript of Pitcairn fish and fish names, a copy of which is in the possession of Foxy McCoy, one of our local fish experts, and we hope that one day, a similarly comprehensive account of Norfolk fish and fish names will be available.
U:u:, uu’uu, oo-oo
Many languages have special nursery words or baby talk and there are quite a few of these in Norf’k, some of them recalling the words of our Tahitian foremothers. Examples are salan, sullun from English children, mimi,‘to urinate’, puupuu or poopoo, ‘to huddle together’, taio, tayo, ‘to ruffle a child’s hair’.
The word oo-oo, under various spellings was recorded by Moverley on Pitcairn Island as ‘the hurt commonly used to children’ and by Flint as ‘to hurt’. Flint adds that it is a rare word. Hutt, hut, or hat as in darhutten, ‘is it hurting?’, is much better known in present-day Norf’k. It can also mean ‘ache’ as in yous pack hutten, ‘is your back hurting?’.
Uuaa, oo-ah, oohah
The first mention of oohah (plus the variant spelling ooah) is in the vocabulary collected on behalf of Captain Pinney around 1937: dem flowers sey oohah ‘the flowers are open’ and ooah ‘open’.
This word was also documented by both Flint and Ross and Moverley to mean ‘an opened flower’. It derives from Tahitian ua ‘a ‘to open and distend as a flower’. It is easy to see how this meaning was extended to, as Alice Buffett puts it, uuaa ‘sitting ungraciously in such a way that the legs are wide open leaving too much indecently exposed’, or in Beryl Nobbs Palmer’s entry oo-ah ‘sprawl, to sit or lie with the legs apart in an un-ladylike fashion’. Norf’k has a second expression tear oppen (Nobbs Palmer) or teya upen (Buffett) ‘to sit with one’s legs wide apart. Does anyone still use uuaa to mean ‘opened flower’ and does anyone know when the expression meaning ‘to sit ungraciously’ came into use?
This word, meaning ‘to exaggerate’ has only been recorded once by Flint and is not found in the two published dictionaries of the Norf’k language. Flint found it in the expression dana uumear, ‘don’t exaggerate’. It appears to derive from Tahitian umere, ‘to brag’ and the same word is also found in Maori. As it has not been recorded for Pitkern, it may have come to Norfolk Island from New Zealand . Does anyone use or remember this word? Are there other words in Norf’k meaning ‘to exaggerate’?
Norf’k has a number of words describing different life stages for people, plants and animals, and people who have reached a certain life stage. Uwai, according to Shirley Harrison, is an adjective referring to a person reaching puberty or animals having just reached maturity or full size as in wan uwai horg, ‘a pig reaching maturity’. Alice Buffett adds the meaning ‘not mature enough to pick’ (e.g. bananas and banana-suckers). Beryl Nobbs-Palmer lists the noun oo-why, which she translates as ‘puberty’. She adds that “this word is used mainly to ridicule anyone trying to appear older than they actually are, as in ‘anybody ell thought se oo-why’, no one would believe he has not even reached maturity.”
On Pitcairn Island ouwai means half-grown (e.g. of goats). The origin of the word, according to Shirley Harrison, is Tahitian, ovaivai, ‘a sucking pig’. It is interesting to note that Norf’k has another piggy expression for this stage in people’s life horgieg, or horgage, ‘pubescence, young adulthood’.
Another common way of describing immature youngsters is to compare them to immature plants, thus utatau, ootatow is ‘a youngster who has reached maturity but is still very small in stature’, and ‘small new yams on a vine or the above-ground part of the vine’. The origin of the expression is Tahitian utatau, ‘little yams that grow on the vine’.
With pigs and agriculture not playing the role today that they once played in Tahiti and Norfolk Island, new, different words for this life stage can be expected. Does anyone know more recent expressions?
This word is translated by Alice Buffett as vamoose, ‘get out of here at once’, which is the same as in American English. Whether it came to Norfolk via American whalers and sailors, or via cowboy fiction and books is not known. The origin of this word is Spanish vamos, ‘let us go’. From the 1830s onwards it was used in US English to mean ‘to leave hurriedly, decamp’.
Can vamoose also be used in this general meaning in Norf’k? The first Norf’k equivalent of Spanish vamos was found in the wordlist given to Commissioner Pinny, we start, ‘let’s go’.
One of the more mysterious words of the Norf’k language is waili, first recorded by Flint in the 1950s and the meaning ‘getting tangled’. Shirley Harrison gives two variants: waili and wailihi, ‘to get caught up in, be ensnared or tangled in’ as in ar kait se waili in ar trii, ‘the coat got caught up in the tree’.
Alice Buffett’s translation is the same as Shirley Harrison’s. The origin of this word is probably Tahitian but neither viri, ‘to roll up’ nor tafifi, ‘tangle’ mentioned by Harrison are good matches. Has anyone more information on this word?
Wawaha, wohaawohaa, wa:hoe, wawan, whahaha, wawaha, waawaha
This is one of the most widely documented words of the Pitkern and Norf’k languages, and records show a great deal of variation in pronunciation, spelling and meaning.
For Pitcairn Island, Ross and Moverley list wohawoha, wa:hwe and wawan (with the first vowel sometimes long, sometimes short). The meaning given for Pitkern is ‘ostentatiously dressed, dolled up’.
For Norf’k, the first mention is by Bishop Montgomery in 1896, who translates wa-a-wa-ha as ‘disgusting’, followed by Wiltshire in 1938 who translates wa a wa ha as ‘silly, disgusting, conceited’. Flint in the 1950s reports that wa: we ha meant ‘prone to give oneself airs, remote, reserved’. Whereas Flint records a long vowel for the first syllable, Shirley Harrison in 1970 only notes a short one in wa we ha ‘put on airs, show off’.
Berly Nobbs-Palmer translates whawhaha as ‘conceited, and to put on airs’, and Alice Buffet’s entry waawaha is translated by her as ‘haughty, conceited, annoyed, self-important’. She suggests that the word derives from Tahitian oeoeo ‘pride, haughtiness, self-conceited’, but Ross and Moverley’s and Harrison’s suggestions that it derives from Tahitian vahavaha ‘contempt, disregard, make faces at’ seems more likely. Like many words of Tahitian origin, the meaning has changed over time and it also appears that there is a difference in the way the word is used on Pitcairn and Norfolk Island. Can anyone add to this information?
This is one of the most common words in Norf’k and whataway you, ‘how are you’ is one of the first phrases visitors learn. It was recorded first by Wiltshire in the 1930s, what a way you, ‘how are you’, but has probably been around for a very long time. What-way, ‘how and why’ are documented from Scots. The dialects of John Mills and William McCoy could have been its origin, but it is also possible that Edward Young used the West-Indian Creole what-a-way, which is used in exclamations such as what a way dem musa shame, ‘how ashamed they must have been’ (Cassidy p.127) rather than as in questions as in Norf’k.
On Pitcairn wehe means ‘to wrap up cooked food, especially pilai, in banana leaves for handling and carrying”. This is essentially the same meaning that Beryl Nobbs Palmer gives for Norf’k wihi, but Alice Buffett suggests that it means ‘wrap in banana leaves to cook’ rather than ‘wrap up cooked food’.
The origin of this word is Tahitian vehi, ‘a case, sheath, to cover, to make into a bundle and tie up’.
Winey, waini, waine
This name winey, according to Shirley Harrison refers to “any of the big climbing vines, e.g. tocoma, bougainvillia, often used for E. creeper.” Flint, a couple of decades earlier says that it is “a flowering liana, which climbs even the highest trees, Ipomoea cairica or alba, which is also known as morning glory.” (there are three native and one exotic variety of morning glory on Norfolk Island).
Beryl Nobbs Palmer translates winey as “tecoma plant, a creeper which is widely used as windbreaks and hedges on Norfolk”. In her youth, “wi gut one good winey horse”, a hobby horse made from a length of tecoma vine. Alice Buffett also translates waini as “tecoma plant, makes an excellent windbreak, hedge and cattle barrier”. She also has an entry wains, ‘vines’ which lists the names of other introduced vines wisteria and bougainvillia as well as the local Samson’s Sinew which ‘es kussed haadan f’ traia kliinaut’graun, ‘is cursedly difficult to clean out of one’s land’. The name of this plant is a reference to the Book of Judges Chapter 16, 6-8, where Samson is bound with “seven cords made of sinew, not yet dry” and “he broke the bands, as a man would break a thread of tow twined with spittle”, to the great astonishment of Delilah.
The other local name is Devil’s Guts, a sharp thorny creeper with white flowers. Neither plant nor name is known on Pitcairn Island. It appears the naming of vines has not always been consistent. What does waini mean in present-day Norf’k?
There are many words that were once used in the bean industry on Norfolk Island. One of these words is winnow, winoe, ‘to separate the valuable part from the valueless by exposing it to the wind’. The word is already documented in Old English and has retained its original meaning. In a conversation about beans recorded in the 1950s by Flint, the following description of winnowin er beans is given: Well, you hawe to take it some side gut er strong wind, an’ let all er husk an’ er dust an’ er pod an’ er everything blow ‘way from dem beans, so you el jus’ get der beans itself left.
Do any readers remember other bean words?
Wormy, hickalick, hippalick
The only mention of wormy ‘butterflies in the stomach’ is found in Beryl Nobbs Palmer’s Dictionary – she gives the example: myse bally feel dar wormy, I hardly ell stay-willout, ‘my stomach feels as if it’s full of butterflies, I can hardly sit still.’ Greg Quintal recorded another word hickalick or hippalick which means ‘to feel very nervous, have butterflies’, as in ai se hippalick or ai gut ar hippalicks.
The origin of the word hickalick is unknown, but it definitely has nothing to do with the Hickle Lick trestle in Elk Springs, West Virginia.
Are these words still used and are there other expressions with this meaning?
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