Glyph of the word 'foma'.


  • (n.) a word comprising exactly one iku (character)

Tomi o ei i foma.
“My name is a single character.”

Notes: I figure it was about time I introduce the last of my categories (i.e. hikuiku, or words comprising more than one iku). The word foma, though it means “a word of only one iku“, is itself a word comprising more than one iku (in this case, two). There are thousands of such words in Kamakawi, but this is the first one introduced on the Word of the Day blog. Huzzah!

This word in particular has a special history. The form comes from Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Cat’s Cradle: a remarkable tale about the extinction of all life on Earth. In the book, Vonnegut creates a religion called Bokononism (which itself is fascinating) defined entirely by a series of made-up words (supposed to be from a fictional language, but not fleshed out, or otherwise conlinguistically interesting). One of these words is foma. Foma are harmless lies that are told with the intention of doing good, or perhaps being useful.

Awhile back, I realized I didn’t have any vocabulary for discussing the writing system. In particular, it became important to distinguish between words of exactly one iku, and words of more than one iku. Thus was born foma: a word for words of one iku that is itself more than one iku. Thus, foma is not a foma—but that, of course, is just foma.

Regarding the example sentence above, Kamakawi names are prized more highly if they comprise a single character—that is, if they are foma. Why? Eh. Who knows? More basic? Cleaner? More powerful? Perhaps some combination of all the above. Anyway, the need to explain this point gave rise to the word, and so here it is.

(Note: Regarding the form, it’s simply the syllabic glyphs for fo and ma in that order.)

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2 Responses to “Foma”

  1. Ka kavaka Sylvia Sotomayor ti:

    So is a word with two ikus a duprass? And more than two a karass?

  2. Ka kavaka David J. Peterson ti:

    Ha! Actually, I’d say a word like foma above would be a granfalloon, since those two iku don’t really form any kind of coherent unit. Eventually I’ll put some up that do make sense together.

    Busy, busy, busy…

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