Weekly Word Watch: welly-wanging, korowai, and Statue of Unity
Last week, the Word Watch highlighted terms, sex, gender, and nationalist, connected to the man whose language ever makes the headlines: Donald Trump. So, as a lexical palate cleanser, if you will, let’s turn our attention this week to some words made notable by the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle. And we’ll cap it off, as we did with last week with the Chinese xuàn fù tiǎozhàn, a new-sy foreign language lesson, this time in Hindi.
During their visit to New Zealand this week, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry participated in a Kiwi pastime after dedicating land to forest conservation: welly-wanging, or a game where players compete to throw a boot furthest.
— Kensington Palace (@KensingtonRoyal) October 29, 2018
Welly is a colloquial name for a wellington boot, or high, rubber, waterproof boots perfect for rain and mud. Wellington boots, originally leather, were popularized by Arthur Wellesley, First Duke of Wellington, famed for his victory over Napoleon at Waterloo – and, yes, practical but fashionable footwear. Wellington boot, for the rain shoe, is recorded by the 1880s and was shortened welly by the 1960s.
Wang is a variant of whang, a regional verb meaning ‘to throw, drive, or pull’ attested in the early 1800s and possibly based on the lashing thong. Welly-wanging is a folk sport, now associated with New Zealand but found around the world, and is credited to western England in the 1970s. Indeed, welly-wanging is attested by 1977 in The Cornish Times.
Welly-throwing is a slightly older term, but it lacks the alliteration, and whimsy, of welly-wanging. And oh, Meghan won the contest, wanging her welly further than Harry did.
After their boot lobbing, the royal couple were welcomed at a sacred Maori meeting house. The occasion was rich in native tradition and symbolism – and language.
At Te Papaiouru Marae in Rotorua, Korowai (feather clocks) are placed on the shoulders of The Duke and Duchess of Sussex in preparation for the Pōwhiri, the Ceremony of Welcome. #RoyalVisitNZ pic.twitter.com/BuXWLgT022
— Kensington Palace (@KensingtonRoyal) October 31, 2018
At the ceremony (called a powhiri), Meghan and Harry were given korowai, a type of Maori cloak fashioned from flax tassels and often decorated with feathers. In Maori, flax is called muka and the tassels hukahuka, made using a special twining technique called taniko. The term korowai entered into the English-language record by at least 1820.
Markle’s korowai artist, a Maori tribal elder named Norma Sturley, designed the cloak, a protective article of clothing, with Markle’s pregnancy in mind as well as a tribute to her ‘dignity and strength’ as a woman in an influential position. Sturley explained to the New Zealand Herald with a veritable primer in Maori culture and vocabulary worth quoting here at length:
We see the Duchess as representing strong kaupapa [values] for women – she displays aroha [love], manaakitanga [nurturing and hospitality], mana [influence], dignity and strength, all signs of great leadership.
For our part, we like that Markle gives the Maori language a little more aroha and mana on the global stage.
Statue of Unity
On Wednesday, India inaugurated what is now the world’s tallest statue in the state of Gujarat. Putting China’s Spring Temple Buddha in its shadow, the statue stands at 182 metres (597 feet) and honours Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. Patel, nicknamed the Iron Man of India, is not to be confused with the Iron Duke, a moniker of our recent friend here, Arthur Wellesley.
Its first Deputy Prime Minister, Patel is considered a founding father of India for his efforts in establishing its independence from British rule. For this legacy, India has christened his towering commemoration the Statue of Unity, a name which nods to the world’s fourth tallest statue, New York’s Statue of Liberty.
Unity, as we may well define it, as the ‘state of being one’, or in Hindi, एक (ek, pronounced roughly like eyk). You might suppose the English one and the Hindi एक /ek couldn’t be more different, but, in one of those incredible twists of language, they are, in fact, intimately related.
Both English and Hindi are rooted in a language called Proto-Indo-European, parent to Indo-European languages from Latin and Greek, to Irish and Albanian, to English and Hindi. The word for ‘one’ in Proto-Indo-European, which historical linguists have hypothetically reconstructed as oi-no, evolved over thousands of years to produce both the English one and Hindi एक/ek. The K sound in एक /ek is the result of a suffix long ago added to that basic oi-no root.
That means one and एक /ek are one – a little something we call, well, unity.