Dropping the H-bomb?

June 5, 2009 § 4 Comments

When Bono used the word nigger during an Elvis documentary, the event was widely described in the press as his dropping of the N-bomb, neatly side stepping the use of the most incendiary taboo word in English. Does New Zealand English have its own equivalent? Perhaps hori may be the closest we have, our own H-bomb.

Originally, simply a transliteration of the name, George into Maaori, i.e., Hori. The term came to be a descriptor for Maaori males in general, and not a particularly positive one at that. Here is Max Cryer on the topic. This is the first and probably the last time I will quote him on this blog!

Hori/George became such a frequent and familiar name for Maori men that during the nineteenth century the word was frequently used for any unknown Maori. He became Hori, or a hori. The word is regarded as offensive.
Max Cryer (2006: 83)

A more illustrated definition comes from Harry Orsman (1998: 68)

Hori, hori, /rhymes story or horry/ Also horri, horry, plural often hories, horries. From Maori Hoori, an alteration of George. In non_Maori offensive use, formerly a general term of addressor reference to a Maori not known to the speaker. 1933. e.g. The driver of the mail car felt a warmth towards mankind. ‘Hori’ he said to Paul (as a negro is ‘Sambo’, a Maori is ‘Hori” to poor white]. ‘You like a drink eh? [1933]; a stereotypical Maori. Often as the hories, stereotypical Maoridom. 1938 [Aust 1922]. What has happened to that open-handed, good-natured, tolerant fellow so well known here and overseas as the happy hori. [1972].

The key semantic features of the term seem to be  [+Maaori] and [+male] with [+non specific] taking care of the ideas of both unkown to speaker and stereotype-orientations grouping together as referring to ethnic features in non-individuated identities implies relying on stereotypes.

Building on a google corpus restricted to New Zealand domains, a number of examples demonstrate that usage of this term is still current.

Try my luck here, otherwise some hori off trademe will buy them

The indefinite determiner use of some here strongly correlates with the unknown reading of hori. In fact there is quite a collocational effect with this pair of terms.

In examples of both hori and some hori we get pejorative readings of the term:

Last night some hori bastards stole my mates 15″ BSA mags from his teg in lyttelton and dropped it on the road. If anyone knows anything or sees the mags …
http://www.msport.co.nz/viewtopic.php?t=975&view=next&sid=108f7330d3e0f0db7bbd804b0ab7e552 – Similar pages

i went to peacockes today. There are some awesome jumps and tracks but it would be a bad place to build as some hories started threatning me with a knife


i had 4k worth of shit stolen from my flat a few years ago

also had no insurance

turns out it was some hories living above me


Here the term equates ethnicity and criminality. Hori has also developed an adjectival function. Here it takes on a meaning of second rate, broken down:

I need some manual pedals, clutch and brake, just the pedals that I can borrow for a short time?
Genuine supra pedals, not some hori modded ones made to fit 😉

Somewhat intriguingly this meaning of hori as well as the racial epithet seem to occur most frequently in the corpus in message boards associated with car enthusiasts (and online gamers).

It must be pointed out though that despite the apparent acceptibilty of the term in those contexts:

Man how did I miss this ? Dont recall seeing it up on any of the sites I check, but I would have thought some hori would have told me about it by now

Here the usage seems void of invective or insult. The original writer has discovered that a track has been released by a popular hip hop act some time previous. It seems here that the reference to hori suggests a sense that Maaori might be more stereotypically orientated towards hiphop culture – a far less pejorative stereotype and also suggests perhaps the writer is him/herself Maaori.

In fact, like the N-word, the meanings and functions of hori are dependent on the speaker and the context. Black rappers and comedians, for example have used the N-word to reclaim space from white racist rhetoric, rehabilitating the word as a provocative rhetorical device, defiantly stripping it of negative connotations as other communities have with epithets such as dyke and queer. Still other usages of the term suggest a division in African-American culture between asimilated and non-assimilated populations.

To proclaim oneself a nigger is to identify oneself as real, authentic, uncut, unassimilated, and unassimilable-the opposite, in short, of a Negro, somewho whose rejection of nigger is seen as part of an efforr to blend into the white mainstream. Sprinkling one’s language with niggers is thus a way to ‘keep it real’ (Kennedy, 2002: 49)

Keeping it real, then may be one of the meanings of hori when deployed by Maaori.

Image from: image from <a href=”http://www.sweetscreenprinting.co.nz/webapps/site/75794/132645/shopping/shopping-view.html?pid=352144&amp;b_id=&amp;find_groupid=22165” Sweet Screenprinting>

Some Maaori are happy to use the term to address or refer to other Maaori. The following examples are from a thread on a message board intended to connect old friends. The participants therefore are known to each other, and it may be surmised that they have sought each other out or were happy to accidentally re-connect:

kia-ori you hori

Hi shane hows it going hopefully you’ll get this message as I see the last one from mike was posted some time ago. I’m here in Australia, been here a cupla weeks. All good guna have a go at doing the driving thing over here. Do you know anyone who may have kept in touch with Deidre Hodgkinson I believe shes here in Queensland somewhere. K take care by for now, Wendy

Yo Wendy!

Wondered why you disappeared off this side of the Earth for awhile there. Jumped the ditch huh? Never know, I may see you there soon too. Thinking of doing the driving thing too. The bling looks pretty tempting aye? I think Deidres got an E-mail address on her Profile that you can check out. Later you half pie hori.


The end of that meant to read… k might see you on the road sometime you darker than me hori. Ha ha. Take care
Hori hu

Anyway get off here and do some work you lazy hori!!!

It is interesting to note that while this in-group use of hori is positive, jocular abuse. The negative sterotype is still deployed in the last message for humorous purposes. The fact that this is clearly a possibility only for particular speakers with particular interlocutors in particular contexts is elsewhere overtly expressed, and I shall give the last word on this post to Manakura, a contributor to discussions on Public Address, a NZ politics blog ring:

its interesting how those terms are considered insulting when used by outsiders, but become terms of endearment when used by insiders. I have no problem calling my Maori brothas and sistas hories, but I’d never consider calling one of best mates, Samoan-Palagi, a coconut. One of those fascinating emic-etic dynamics that beguile multi-cultural societies. I think it boils down to ownership (of the term and its history as an insult) and expression of the groups ability to disempower the term as an insult. Outsiders using the term cuts across those objectives.


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§ 4 Responses to Dropping the H-bomb?

  • masseylinguists says:

    And here are the references
    Cryer, Max (2006). _The Godzone dictionary of favourite New Zealand words and phrases_. Auckland: Exisle Publishing.

    Kennedy, Randall (2002)._Nigger: the strange caeer of a troublesome word_.

    Orsman, Harry (1999). _A dictionary of modern New Zealand slang_. Auckland: Oxford University Press.New York: Pantheon Books.

  • masseylinguists says:

    Another example of users ameliorating the meaning was found in the yellow pages of all places …
    Dial-A-Hori is the name of a building firm in South Taranaki. We should assume that here hori does not mean second-rate!

  • Doug Strachan says:

    A friend with a little Maori blood habitually talks about large things as being “hori great big (fish etc)”

  • Juliette says:

    I just came across this. My mother would always say she hates ‘hori peas’, the large ones not the baby ones.

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