Kia Ora – What does it mean?

Te Puia. Credit: Adam Bryce

If you are visiting a new location, get to know about the most frequently and commonly used phrases from their local language.

When it comes to New Zealand, there is one phrase you should know about – Kia Ora, from the Maori language.

If you fly by Air New Zealand, you will notice that their inflight magazine is called Kia Ora. Water Safety New Zealand has named one of its programs Kia Maanu Kia Ora. But what does Kia Ora mean and why you should know about it?

That is what we are going to tell you in this article.

What does Kia Ora mean?

The phrases that cannot be completely explained in another language are some of the most beautiful phrases…

Kia Ora is one such phrase. And you will hear it all across New Zealand.

It is used widely when saying Hello, Thank you, to show support or bid farewell. It’s an informal greeting used by kiwis in their everyday vocabulary. A reflection of kiwis’ positive attitude towards life.

Do the words Kia Ora mean anything?

Ora means life or being alive. Kia points to the future. In essence – it means to wish someone good life and health. It is like wishing a person to: ‘Be alive and healthy’.

Isn’t that a beautiful way to wish someone wellbeing?

So, the water safety programme that was mentioned earlier, Kia Maanu Kia Ora translates to ‘Stay afloat; stay alive.’

Was Kia Ora always a part of New Zealand’s English vocabulary?

It is only recently that this warm greeting has become a part of New Zealanders’ vocabulary. Four decades ago, you might have not heard this phrase at all if you had travelled here.

In fact, back in 1984 when one telephone operator from Auckland used Kia Ora to greet callers, she was made redundant because people complained about her! This issue attracted people’s interest and the then Postmaster-General convinced Robert Muldoon (the Prime Minister) to overturn the prohibition of using the phrase.

Where can you use it?

Kia Ora is a friendly and informal greeting. So, try to keep it out of a formal conversation. It is not something you say to a person you are meeting for the very first time.

It can be used to say thank you or to sign an email. It is a very versatile phrase.

That said, kiwis love when visitors use Kia Ora to greet. It shows your commitment and respect to be a part of the community and experience it. The best way to learn how to properly use it is to pay attention to how the locals use it.

Here is a little cheat sheet to use Kia Ora when you are in New Zealand:

Kia Ora Koe – Greeting a single person

Kia Ora Kōrua – Greeting two people

Kia Ora Koutou – Greeting three people

Kia Ora Rā – Thank you for that

New Zealanders appreciate visitors using it, as a connection to their culture.

So the next time you’re in New Zealand, embrace the culture and say Kia Ora to the locals!

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