The tupperwaka party

by Toby Manhire / 07 April, 2011
Who first came up with that word? Shane Jones? Twitter says No. Also: airport carpets. Obviously.
Do not be distracted by the chatter. The important thing about the Ngati Whatua Rugby World Cup waka is not the expense, nor the process, nor the symbolism, but the word: “tupperwaka”. Who came up with it?

The NZ Herald says this: “Labour associate Maori affairs spokesman Shane Jones likened the structure to plastic kitchenware, dubbing it ‘tupperwaka’ in the House.” Indeed, Jones’s sparkling neologism was making headlines around the world – well, in the Melbourne Herald Sun, anyway.

And that might be enough for the lexicographer, years hence, sketching the word’s history – were it not for the mighty Twitters.

Yesterday morning, at 10.39am, long before Jones popped up in parliament, Sean Plunket tweeted “Quite like the idea of calling it the Tupperwaka”. Then this morning, Heather du Plessis-Allan of One News tweeted: “'Tupperwaka’. My husband made that up. #proudface”. That woud be Barry Soper, political editor at Newstalk ZB, where Plunket, of course, is a presenter. So that might make sense – maybe Soper delivered it to Plunket (who didn’t claim to have invented it).

Except that when you look at Plunket’s Twitter timeline, he appears to be making reference to a tweet by Lew Stoddart, who in turn – bear with me - was retweeting Paul Litterick, who at 9.45am, that’s right people, 9.45am, mesmerisingly incanted: “Tupperwaka.” We have a winner: 9.45am.

I asked Litterick (via Twitter, obviously) to confirm that he’d coined it. His reply: “Yes”. As they say, why use 140 characters, when three will do.

I asked Plessis-Allan (Twitter again): was the husband not beaten to it by Jones, or Plunket, or Litterick? She replied, unshakable: “Wrong on all fronts.”

Using an old-fashioned bit of technology, I called Shane Jones’s office this morning, just to check whether he might have borrowed the tupperwaka from somewhere. “He made it up all by himself,” I was told; it was “typical Shane”. But they would go away and double check that with the man himself. I haven’t heard back yet, and will update if I do.

In the meantime, we'll just have to assume there was a lot of lightning striking New Zealand yesterday.

UPDATE 5pm April 7 An email arrives from Shane Jones's office, with a link to footage of the parliamentary question, confirming that Jones believes that was when it was first used, and the suggestion that if tupperwaka appeared "before 2:30pm yesterday, it seems that the word simultaneously evolved from  two different sources".


If you think tupperwakacoinagegate is big potatoes, hold on to your seat for this next one. Airport carpets. IconEye, the online arm of British design journal Icon, sports a thorough analysis of terminal floors, in its “Crimes against design” series. For George Pendle (who seems to think airport carpets a delight rather than a crime), these “knotted kaleidoscope of shapes and colours” harbour a “dark and hidden beauty”.

Their most important role, Pendle reckons, is as a giant welcome mat. “Airport carpets reflect the country that stretches out beyond the luggage carousels, often depicting the highlights and history of the surrounding nation.” At Singapore's Changi Airport, a “vertiginous monochrome wonder” mirrors the city centre, while the carpet at Murmansk Airport in Russia “ominously alludes to the icy tundra that surrounds it”. And Heathrow? “The torn, gum-covered, sub-neo-constructivist carpet ... immediately suggests one is entering a city of delays and obstructions.”

Sadly, airport carpets are out of fashion, in large part, Pendle claims, because post-9/11 security measures made them difficult to install and maintain, paving the way (ahem) for characterless flat surfaces. He adds, mournfully – and let’s hope with a touch of tongue in cheek – “When it comes to airport carpeting, the terrorists won.”


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