Glyph of the word 'foyoko'.


  • (n.) judgment (the ability to decide or choose what is right [whatever “right” happens to be at the time])
  • (adj.) discerning
  • (v.) to discern, to judge, to make the best or most appropriate choice in the estimation of the chooser

A lea i ho’o foyoko.
“He’s a clever fellow.”

Notes: I think “clever” is the best translation of foyoko here.

The next word in line for translation in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is “conscience”. Can you imagine, “conscience”! What a word!

In Latin, the word derives, ultimately, from the word for knowledge. The implication seems to be that knowledge will lead (inevitably?) to the “right” choice—that choosing well has more to do with knowledge than choosing (in fact, the most literal translation of the Latin would be “with knowledge”).

If I’ve learned anything from John Milton, it’s that knowledge by itself is neither good nor bad: it’s just a thing. As a thing with no volition, knowledge can do no harm—no good, either. If used inappropriately, knowledge can lead to unintended results (imagine that a child with no knowledge of the wider world learns that a doctor has told his mother that she will die. Mightn’t the child wish to gain vengeance on the doctor?). So making a choice with knowledge doesn’t, to me, directly imply that the choice made will be the right or moral one—something that, I believe, the idea of “conscience” does imply (in English, anyway).

So the Kamakawi word that I’ve translated as “conscience” is actually a modified version of the word for choosing. If foyo is the act of selecting something, then foyoko, by contrast, is to make the best—or “right”—selection. Here the abstract suffix denotes a kind of abstraction from the actual process of selection. The abstraction doesn’t imply knowledge, necessarily, but reflection. Whether knowledge informed the choice or not is irrelevant: What is implied is that thought informed the choice. One might reflect with little knowledge and then make the best decision, only to realize later on (with new knowledge) that one has made the worst decision possible. So it goes. Foyoko doesn’t imply that the best decision was made necessarily, just that some effort went into the choice.

Up next, an even stranger word! (Well, the English word, anyway. I think we may be a couple Kamakawi words away from it.)

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One Response to “Foyoko”

  1. Ka kavaka SLiV ti:

    Oddly enough, it was a greek who said that, when one has knowledge, one will by definition make the right choice; the philosopher Sokrates.
    Then again, everything scientfic or philosophic that is good about the Roman culture, is stolen/learnt from the Greeks.

    And yeah, I tried translating the UDoHR once, but I stopped because my lang was nowhere large enough for these kinds of words.

    Good luck.

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