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Here’s a big OH-OH! for you: Look closely at the newly unveiled U.S. quarter, depicting the Big Island’s Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. There’s an image of a lava-spewing volcano, but look closely at the bordering text. Notice anything wrong with that?
No, this isn’t one of those classic “What’s Wrong With These” photos you challenge your brain with as a kid. It’s an actual U.S. mint already minted for the whole world to see. So what’s wrong? Well, I blame my copyeditor-trained eyes for this, but the first thing you might notice is the missing okina in the word “HAWAII.” The name across the top has it but not the name to the bottom left. You’re probably thinking, “And??”
See, it’s these subtle details that make all the difference. The Hawaiian language uses two diacritical markings: the okina and the kahako. The okina is a glottal stop, similar to the sound between the syllables “oh-oh.” (Which is also the sound many are making when realizing these mistakes!) The kahako is the line you see over the vowel that adds stress or lengthens it. These small details have big responsibilities. For instance, lanai is a balcony while Lanai is a Hawaiian Island. Such markings are also considered consonants. You wouldn’t leave out any consonants in the English language, would you? For example, writing “ear” instead of “dear.” The same goes for the Hawaiian language. We don’t leave out diacritical markings.
The second big OH-OH? While the name across the top, “Hawaii VOLCANOES,” does do us the favor of including an “okina,” it uses an entirely incorrect one. That little speck is actually something called a back quote, located at the top left corner of your computer keyboard, right under the “ESC” button. And unless you’re a computer programmer, you probably wouldn’t even know it existed. In school, we learn the correct ways to type Hawaiian diacritical marks on our computers, and teachers make it clear not to use the back quote key in place of an okina. It’s a NO-NO!
As you can see, it’s kind of a big deal in Hawaii when the U.S. Mint prints an erroneous coin. Especially a mistake like this one, which fails to accurately portray Hawaii’s native language. An error but also a sign of the times, as technology is constantly playing catch up.
But for every bad there is good, and I can foresee two good things from this misminted quarter: One is that hopefully later down the line, they’ll become collector’s items and be worth something! And the second positive to come out of this? The U.S. Mint correcting such errors helps us to better preserve the Hawaiian culture and its dying native language.