Monday, December 17, 2018

How The Misused Accent Mark Signals to Outsiders Only

As an East Coaster who is of Hawaiian descent and enjoys Hawaiian food, I have been thrilled that the poke trend made it to the mainland. Sure, most of it is basically some version of sushi salad rather than poke, but hey, I actually enjoyed a so-called watermelon poke, so I can be flexible. Officially poke references a Japanese knife technique often used to precisely cut fish. But lots of food words get broadened beyond their original scope. Taco technically means folded around in Spanish. 
I also understand that our odd trademark rules mean that restaurants that want to establish a brand often choose to do so by trademarking their name. Since the idea behind trademarking is that you and only you use it, once trademarked, businesses vigorously defend such trademark, lest the argument be made that others have been operating under the same name so might also have similar rights. (P. S. Not a lawyer, and I'm sure this is an oversimplification.)
So along comes Aloha Poke, a Chicago based company that registered first. (Restaurants not planning to operate as chains don't always register because registering costs money.) And sure, they were first to file. But once they started, um, vigorously defending their trademark against actual Hawaiian owned businesses, things got heated. Aloha Poke with the funny e said they were doing this out of love not cultural appropriation and of course the real meanies were they folks that accused them of such. 
But, as others have pointed out, Hawaiian doesn't use that funny e for poke. Yes, the e is pronounced more like eh, and not silent like the English word of the same spelling. But in Hawaiian the accent over a vowel places the emphasis on that syllable. And normally Hawaiian places the emphasis on the second to last syllable. So placing that over the e actually makes the word wrong in Hawaiian. Well, you might be saying, who would know that? Obviously the majority of their customers are English speakers not Hawaiian. You're right. And that's how they have signaled - before you even walk in and look at the menu - that this place isn't for Hawaiians at all.