In Hawaiʻi, "mahalo" might officially mean "thank you"


In Hawaiʻi, you see the word Mahalo on signs everywhere. In theory, the word means Thank you, but my friend Joe Beda pointed out that in practice the word has a completely different meaning. Here are some examples:

  • We do not accept coupons at this location. Mahalo.
  • No refills. Mahalo.
  • This counter is closed. Mahalo.
  • Elevator is out of order. Please use stairs. Mahalo.
  • Rest rooms for customers only. Mahalo.

In practice, the word mahalo means You're screwed.

Obligatory clarification: This was a joke, an attempt at observational humor.

Comments (39)
  1. someone else says:

    Isn’t that the same in English?

    “The highway is closed for restoration. Thank you [for your understanding].”

  2. Pierre B. says:

    someone else…

    Isn’t that the same as nitpicking?

    "Obligatory clarification: This was a joke, an attempt at observational humor."

  3. Derlin says:

    I would have said "sorry", but "you’re screwed" gets the point across, too.

  4. MahaloBaiter says:

    I see it more like any statement can be inoffensively type cast to a Mahalo.

    (Mahalo) We do not accept coupons at this location.

    (Mahalo) No refills.

    (Mahalo) This counter is closed.

    (Mahalo) Elevator is out of order. Please use stairs.

    (Mahalo) Rest rooms for customers only.

  5. Sunil Joshi says:

    Is that not more of a

    reinterpret_cast<Mahalo>(We do not accept coupons at this location);

  6. Gabe says:

    While I appreciate the effort to use the correct orthography for the `okina, the upside-down comma (U+2BB) just looks like a wierd box for those of us who don’t have that code point defined in our font.

    For backwards compatibility, I recommend using "Hawai’i" or "Hawai`i".

  7. Josh says:

    @Gabe: Clearly, you need to choose a better font.

  8. A Font Suggestion says:

    @Gabe:

    If you have Microsoft Office installed, you should have a font called "Arial Unicode MS" that’s very helpful in situations like this.

  9. Gabe says:

    How, exactly, do you propose I choose a different font? I have already selected Arial Unicode MS as my browser’s default font, but Raymond has specified a stylesheet that overrides this.

  10. 640k says:

    While I appreciate the effort to use the correct orthography for the `okina, the upside-down comma (U+2BB) just looks like a wierd box for those of us who don’t have that code point defined in our font.

    Why doesn’t you use a unicode verdana font like the rest of the world?

  11. 640k says:

    While I appreciate the effort to use the correct orthography for the `okina, the upside-down comma (U+2BB) just looks like a wierd box for those of us who don’t have that code point defined in our font.

    Why doesn’t you use a unicode verdana font like the rest of the world?

  12. Gabe says:

    640k: As far as I know, I am using the Unicode Verdana font like the rest of the world. If you go to http://www.fileformat.info/info/unicode/font/verdana/list.htm you can see the list of Unicode characters in my Verdana font, and note that U+02BB is not among them.

    So, in fact, the version of Verdana containing this character is NOT the one the rest of the world uses. And I have no idea where to find such a version of Verdana, if indeed such a thing even exists.

  13. James Schend says:

    Gabe, the font list is "Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif;" I don’t have Helvetica installed, but Verdana and Arial are definitely both unicode-aware.

    I think you’re misplacing the blame on this one. Fix your fonts, then come back and talk.

  14. James Schend says:

    Gabe, sorry you posted right when I did. That’s weird… I just tested every browser on my machine (IE7, Firefox 3, Safari, Chrome, Opera) and all of them display the post correctly. Then for giggles I tried Amaya, too, which failed to display the page at all.

    Then I checked Verdana in Word, and U+02BB shows. Then I checked in WordPad, and it doesn’t. So what’s happening is that Word and virtually-all-browsers are correcting for this by substituting another font for the missing character.

    But the real question is, what the heck browser are you using!?

  15. someone else says:

    I think the joke was great, but it really isn’t limited to Hawai’ian. Or English, for that matter. Using “Thank you” as a substitute for “you’re screwed” is frighteningly widespread.

  16. Mark Jonson says:

    Actually, I’d say in English you’re more likely to see "sorry" on a "you’re screwed" sign.

    @John Also sounds like "For your convenience," which means "we’re going to do something moronically simple for you, then charge you an outrageous price and justify it by claiming to do you a service."

  17. lol@junk says:
    • In order to serve you better, MS invented Vista™.
  18. John says:

    Sounds suspiciously like "in order to serve you better".

    * In order to serve you better, we do not accept coupons at this location.

    * In order to serve you better, no refills.

    * In order to serve you better, elevator is out of order. Please use stairs.

    * In order to serve you better, rest rooms for customers only.

  19. Jonathan says:

    I’m reminded of "Hobbit", and the many uses Bilbo has for the expression "Good day", including "go away, the day won’t be good until you do". Or was it Gandalf’s interpretation?

    (Font displays correctly for me in Chrome)

  20. Worf says:

    Hrm, I think the new firefoxes don’t use alternative font substitutions anymore if the stylesheet preferred font doesn’t have the codepoint. Instead, you get a box with the UTF-16 value in hex.

    I have no idea why since it only affects the page display, not addressbar, titlebar, etc.

  21. Anonymous Coward says:

    I’ve come across this use of ‘thank you’ a lot. It always annoys me, just a little.

    As for the font issue, I don’t know if this helps, but in my browser (Iron) it shows up correctly, but in my newsreader (RSSOwl) it doesn’t. Both claim to be using Verdana, which doesn’t contain the character. Therefore, I think Gabe is using IE6, which doesn’t substitute characters unless they’re kanji or something, in which case it uses the fonts specified by the user for foreign languages. Iron, on the other hand, probably substitutes a character from a similar font (Arial Unicode MS?).

  22. Anonym says:

    Regarding the discussion about the Unicode font issues: It seems that this site does neither send an HTTP header nor has a meta tag specifying the encoding. So the browser has to guess which encoding to use.

  23. Dave says:

    Heck, I’m using Consolas[*] for my browser font and I’m still getting the okina without problems.

    [*] If you’re the designer and you ever run into me, I owe you a beer.

  24. Wizou says:

    [quote]So what’s happening is that Word and virtually-all-browsers are correcting for this by substituting another font for the missing character.[/quote]

    [url=http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/goglobal/bb688134.aspx]Font linking[/url] maybe ?

  25. Gabe says:

    AC: Your psychic debugging powers are strong; the system under test is running IE6. As for what font it falls back on: when I tried it on IE7, it was clearly a Lucida upside-down comma, not Arial.

    Wizou: I don’t think it’s font linking. The FontLink reg key specified in the linked article doesn’t even exist on any machine I’ve checked.

  26. DysgraphicProgrammer says:

    You can see this cast to inoffensive patter in a lot of places:

    I am told by southern friends that any statement can be rendered inoffensive with a cast to "bless her heart". as in:

    "she is such a hussy, bless her heart"

    reinterpret_cast<bless her heart> (she is such a hussy)

  27. mike says:

    I believe that the literally correct translation into English would be "thanks’s", as in:

    "Restrooms for customers only, thank’s. "

    Obligatory clarification: I’m an editor. This is a joke. Never mind.

  28. jeffdav says:

    I made this same observation when I went there.  It’s sort of a magic word that keeps the tourists in line.  You start to get angry and then "mahalo!" and you’re like "oh, okay then."

    It’s brilliant.

  29. EE says:

    I had a similar experience in Israel, many years ago. Whenever someone in a crowded bus said ‘sliha’ I thought it meant "I’m about to push you out of my way", later I learned it means "excuse me".

  30. Clinton Pierce says:

    I see this as more like Apu’s:

    "Thank you!  Come again!"

    Which is nothing more than a polite kiss off.

  31. unekdoud says:

    The cast is language-dependent. Mahalo.

  32. Mark says:

    Gabe: look under "Windows NTCurrent Version", not "WindowsCurrent Version".

    And it should fall back to "Microsoft Sans Serif", not "Lucida Sans".

  33. Gabe says:

    Mark: I did look under "Windows NT", and it’s not there. In fact, Regedit couldn’t find "fontlink" anywhere.

    And MS Sans Serif doesn’t have U+02BB, while Lucida Sans Unicode does (as does Arial Unicode MS, but it wouldn’t make a good default because it doesn’t ship with Windows).

  34. Mark says:

    Gabe: ahh, you’re running XP without complex font support, then.  Expect some stuff to look weird, then.

  35. Gabe says:

    Mark: What should the billion of us running XP without complex font support do? Should we call up our corporate IT departments and say "I don’t want some stuff to look wierd, so can you please install complex font support"? Or should we ask for the full Vista upgrade? Or maybe Win7?

  36. Gabe says:

    Mark: I just realized that you could have written "Ah, you’re running XP. Mahalo."

  37. Wizou says:

    Gabe: It might also be Font Fallback rather than Font Linking, automatically ("internally") provided for applications using the Uniscribe library (same article link)

  38. Mark says:

    Wizou: that’s right, having the XP version of MS Sans Serif means it falls back to Lucida Sans.  Not installing complex fonts is just the reason for the lack of FontLink in the registry.

    Gabe: I’d say that upgrading to Win7 is more reasonable than asking Raymond to change his writing style. But I may be wrong.

  39. Gabe says:

    Mark: I’m not suggesting that Raymond change his writing style. I’m not even concerned with his orthography. It’s only his typography that I object to.

    Just as using ASCII quote characters conveys the same meaning as fancy “smart quotes” while still allowing everybody in the world to see them, representing the `okina with either of the acceptable ASCII characters (single quote or accent grave) would convey the same meaning while being visible to a billion more readers.

    Of course if it’s really necessary to use an obscure Unicode character that most fonts don’t have, it would be nice if were to specify a font that actually has the character rather than relying on advanced typographical rendering features. To not do so is being gratuitously incompatible, which is surprising because it’s anathema to many of Raymond’s posts.

    [The ʻokina is not an apostrophe even though it may superficially resemble one. If I had used an apostrophe, people would have gleefully pointed out that I should have used an ʻokina. Either way somebody loses. Today it was you. -Raymond]

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