Wordcatcher Tales: Honi Kuu Okole, Ka Puhio Wela

At least two of the U.S. Army Air Force B-17 bombers that operated in the Southwest Pacific Theater during World War II sported Hawaiian nicknames.

Honi Kuu Okole ‘Kiss My Ass’ (from Fortress Rabaul: The Battle for the Southwest Pacific, January 1942-April 1943, by Bruce Gamble [Zenith, 2010]) – The Hawaiian words would be spelled differently these days, but honi ‘kiss’ + ku‘u ‘my [beloved]’ + ʻōkole ‘ass’ would seem to render ‘Kiss My Ass’ pretty effectively. However, I suspect the syntax might be more accurate if the verb were preceded by the auxiliary e that marks the imperative (or future).

Ka Puhio Wela – Though well-researched and well-written, Bruce Gamble’s Target: Rabaul: The Allied Siege of Japan’s Most Infamous Stronghold, March 1943–August 1945 (Zenith, 2013), p. 275, nevertheless repeats a bit of well-entrenched American military lore that is linguistically incorrect:

“One of the more creatively named bombers in the Fifth Air Force, the B-17 wore Double Trouble on the left side of the nose and Ka-Puhio-Wela, the Hawaiian phrase for double trouble [emphasis added], on the opposite side.”

There is no way to construe Ka Puhio Wela literally as ‘double trouble’. Ka ‘the’ and wela ‘hot, heat’ are pretty unambiguous, but puhio doesn’t show up in exactly that form in any of the major Hawaiian dictionaries. It may be an abbreviated form of pūhihio (= pūhiohio) ‘whirl, blow (like the wind)’ or ‘break wind’. By itself, the root hio can mean ‘a sweep or gust of wind’ or ‘to break wind silently’ (perhaps descended from an earlier Polynesian form *fio ‘whistle’). Another similar form, pūhiʻu (also spelled puhiu) means ‘to break wind audibly, rudely’. So the most literal English translation of Ka Puhio Wela may be ‘Hot Blast (of Wind)’ or ‘Hot Fart’.

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Filed under Hawai'i, language, military, U.S., war

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