Māori woman uncovers racist definition of 'bro' in Oxford Dictionary

An Auckland woman is shocked after finding a racist definition of the word 'bro' in a 1997 edition of the Oxford New Zealand Dictionary.

Julia Rahui was talking with her neighbour when he brought out his copy of The Oxford New Zealand Dictionary: Words and their Origins to show her the description.

"Bro: Used by Māori young people or to or of Māori, especially among gang members, or among members of the extended family," it reads.

"One's Māori gang associates; Māori collectively (often used humorously or ironically)."

But the example given after the definition is perhaps the worst aspect.

"'Hurry up bro' - spoken to a Māori adolescent who is raping his own sister," it states.

This reportedly quotes author Bill Payne from Staunch: Inside the Gangs, a 1991 book he co-wrote. 

"For example: Everyone's sitting around at gang HQ, the bro's, the prospects and even the gash. 'You scared, bro?' sneers a prospect. 'Got no balls, cuz?' says another.'"

According to Urban Dictionary, "gash" in this context refers to a vagina.

Ms Rahui, who is herself Māori, told Newshub she was shocked and angry as she read the excerpt.

"I was just like, 'What?'. I was in disbelief in how completely off they were in their choice of example," she said.

"It's such a widely distributed, official source of information, especially prior to the internet."

She said the definition painted a terrible picture that is a perfect example of negative narratives around Māori.

"Often it's hard to spot racism because it can be so subtle, but that was clear as in its negativity."

She says what hurts most is that in reality, 'bro' has such positive connotations.

"Universally it means brother - it's a term of endearment. I don't use it for everyone, only for friends or people I feel close to and care about and trust."

The dictionary was published in 1997 by Oxford University Press and is no longer in print.

That's only 21 years ago, and Ms Rahui, who works at Youthline's sister organisation Action Education, says negative stereotyping is still a major issue for young Māori today.

"I work with Māori young people who use spoken word and understand the power of words to express identity. I know 15-year-olds who still care about redefining these stereotypes."

She is most dumbfounded by the fact that the dictionary contains plenty of other Te Reo defined in an accurate manner.

"They were obviously working with Māori - how did this get included?"

An Oxford University Press spokesperson told Newshub the dictionary was published as a joint venture between it and Victoria University of Wellington.

"We regret any concern the entry has caused," it said.

"Dictionaries represent a record of living language at the time they are published. Oxford regularly updates its dictionaries to reflect changes in the meaning of words."

Oxford University Press say the definition of 'bro' in the more recent dictionary, The New Zealand Oxford Dictionary, has been updated to better reflect the true meaning of the word.

It now reads "a friendly greeting or form of address in Māori English".