August 31, 2006

Kahunas v. Cojones

The Editor at Blawg Review has noted an interesting usage on Kevin O'Keefe's blawg (or is it a meta-blawg?) Real Lawyers have Blogs. In a post under the title "New legal tabloid an idea long overdue", O'Keefe writes that:

It's going to take some big kahuna's to publish those cease and desist letters and demands for retractions. But they be some of the best posts.

O'Keefe probably meant to invoke the border-Spanish euphemism for manly assertiveness, "big cojones", rather than the surfing-derived term for boss or expert, "big kahuna". The Blawg Review suggests that this substitution is an eggcorn. It seems to me that the verdict is not clear -- perhaps O'Keefe is just confused about how to spell "cojones"; or maybe he's confused about what "kahuna" means; or maybe this was just a malapropism of the kind that afflicts all of us from time to time, when an unintended word comes out in place of one that sounds similar.

A brief Google search shows that O'Keefe is far from the first one to make the cojones → kahunas substitution:

You got some big kahunas taking on Pollux!
These guys must have some big kahunas to operate these trucks in these environments.
One of the areas is a very long uphill section where you have to have some big Kahunas to go all the way up over the hill (you can't see the other side) at full throttle and down into an off camber downhill left turn.
Took some big kahunas to actually go through with it, but it worked out well for them in the end.
The Roxio folks have some big kahunas calling it an "upgrade".
A big thankyou to WindWarrior cameraman Mark 'Willy' Williams who's got kahunas the size of coconuts to get out in the water with his camera and then get sailors to jump over him.

For some people, apparently, a Hawaiian word for "priest" has ended up as an English euphemism for "testicles".

Perhaps O'Keefe deserves to be memorialized in the eggcorn database. But what he really has to worry about is getting hacked up by Lynn Truss for that superfluous apostrophe.

[Update -- Ben Zimmer writes:

Note that since the 1980s "big kahuna" has meant, as HDAS defines it, "a large or important thing or person." I'd say there's at least some eggcornification going on here, since it's plausible to think that big kahunas are invested with big cojones.

kahuna n. [< Hawaiian 'priest or wise man']
a.  Surfing. an expert surfer.—often constr. with big. [...]
b.  Orig. Hawaii. an expert of any sort. [...]

2.  a large or important thing or person.—often constr. with big.
E. Spencer Macho Man 177: I am a witness for those big Kahunas, the B-52's.  1991 N.Y. Newsday (Feb. 7) ("City Living") 83: To this big kahuna, all things tiki really are quite chic-y.  1993 Frasier (NBC-TV): This is for television! The big kahuna!  1996 L.A. Times (Nov. 4) A12: To surrender their critical thinking and personal autonomy to the will of the big kahuna.


[Update #2 -- Jim Gordon points out the blend {"big cahones"}. And then there's {"big kahones"}, {"big cohunas"}, {"big cujones"}, {}"big kohanes"}, and doubtless many others. ]


Posted by Mark Liberman at August 31, 2006 08:41 AM