Honolulu Lite


Trying to get
to the bottom of okole

I apparently made a big lemu of myself in a recent column, at least according to a regular reader who also happens to be a Hawaiian language expert.

Lemu? How could I make a big seaweed out of myself? you may ask. No, bruddah, seaweed is "limu" in Hawaiian. "Lemu" refers to the southern-most prominence on the human body, not counting the legs. In English, it has many names, most of them unprintable in a daily newspaper. But there are plenty of other perfectly acceptable words like rump, seat, tail, rear, posterior, haunches, hams, fanny, derriere (OK, that's not technically English), bottom, breech and behind.

What we are talking about here, my friends, is the buttocks. (Is that proper sentence structure? I want to be correct here since we are getting into technical matters. Are buttocks plural or singular? I've seen buttocks whose impressive size alone would seem to demand the plural denotation. Something so vast couldn't possibly be a singular entity but the conglomeration of many, many individual buttock. But, I digress ...)

Up until Monday at 7:46 a.m., I believed that the proper Hawaiian word for "buttocks" was okole -- as I suspect many people in Hawaii do. I've lived here most of my life and have always heard one's rear end referred to as an okole. You are kicked in your okole. You fall on your okole. You make an okole out of yourself. Songs have been written to honor the okole, the most memorable being "Sweet Okole" by the Beamer brothers.

But no, on Monday morning I got an e-mail from island entertainer, Hawaiian language teacher and renowned nit-picker Keith Haugen alerting me to the fact that I had misused the word "okole" in a recent column.

"Use of 'okole, which to Hawaiian speakers means anus, is offensive to some, particularly older, native speakers," he wrote. He suggested using the word "lemu" instead.

I have never heard of the word lemu for buttocks and I'll bet that 99 percent of the rest of the state hasn't either. I told Keith that if I were to use lemu, I would spend half my column explaining what it meant. Besides, if a couple of Hawaiian guys like the Beamers used okole in relation to the entire hind quarter, not one specific element of it, why couldn't I? (I'm assuming the Beamers weren't just being unusually droll in their song.)

I consulted my usual authority on the Hawaiian language: Mo'o and Lolo's Hawaiian Dictionary Online (www.hisurf. com/hawaiian/dictionary.html) and looked up okole. Mo'o and Lolo say that both okole and lemu can be used in reference to "buttocks." Nevertheless, to get to the bottom of this argument, I welcome any additional data, preferably from an actual Hawaiian. No offense intended, but two haoles arguing over the Hawaiian word for fanny is just a bit too weird.

Charles Memminger, winner of National Society of Newspaper Columnists awards, appears Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. E-mail

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