It’s for the best

Once in long while, I’ll find myself a great new word by looking through the Williams Māori-English dictionary. Usually I’m just looking up something mundane and happen to glance at a nearby entry. My latest discovery is the word aea.

Aea is used for it would be better/for the best. It’s a great replacement for the phrase “you should really…” that we tend to use in English.

Aea rānei kia tū tahi tāua
It would be better (would it not) to stand together.

Aea, e tama, kia noho mai koe
Son, you should really stay here

Aea kia kore koe e hautū waka e haurangi ana
I think it’s for the best that you don’t drive drunk.

Aea tēnei… nē rā?
This is for the best… isn’t it?

Contrast this with my usual way of saying “it would be better”, i.e. “he pai kē atu”.

E tama, he pai kē atu kia noho mai koe
Son, it’s better if you stayed here

On reflection, he pai kē atu works better for comparisons (e.g. my dog’s better than your dog) than the it’s for the best. Besides, it’s much longer than aea and I love simple and succinct language.

There are some down sides to picking words out of a dictionary. If you’ve never heard it before, chances are pretty high that nobody will understand you when you use it. You also don’t know whether it was ever a common word, or if it was only used in particular regions and/or contexts.

Bringing back words not currently in common usage is an important strategy for revitalising te reo; most of us simply do not have the vocabulary necessary to discuss wide range of topics with ease. Unfortunately the people who do this quickly become unintelligible to everybody else, so I think it’s for the best to be selective about what words to use and when to use them… after all, we don’t need to speak like Shakespeare in day-to-day life.

In this particular instance I think that aea is much too cute, clever and useful a word to be resigned to archaic texts.

Aea rānei kia rauora anō te kupu?
Isn’t it for the best that it’s saved?

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