It seemingly began with a casual and clumsy misspelling of "Whatuwhiwhi".
Now it has been linked to an angry row at pub closing time, followed by a viral video that has divided the tranquil settlement of Taipa in the Far North.
At the Taipa Tavern, Joanne Bligh is offering apologies and trying to salvage her and her mother's livelihood. Bligh owns the Taipa Tavern with her mum Carol Delamore, and it was there a smartphone video captured an ugly Sunday evening scene.
"Māori slapper," 70-year-old Delamore can be heard saying to a pub patron. It's a slur that rang across the community and beyond, with some connecting it with bungled use of te reo Māori on the pub's Facebook page.
Delamore has now left the district, with Bligh saying: "We love this community and would like to move forward.
"Those who see this video, don't see the full story or see the events leading up to the recording."
The long-running dispute dates back to last year and posts on the Taipa Tavern Facebook page offering a courtesy van service.
Locals took offence to the misspelling of Far North locations Kaitaia, spelt "Katihia" and variations of "Whatuwhiwhi", one spelt Whituwhiwhi.
Despite requests from commenters to amend the errors, subsequent posts continued to mispell te reo Māori. Screenshots saved by one person upset over the misspelling, shows the Taipa Tavern being told it was "disrespectful". In response, the Facebook account administrator said there was no need to change the spelling.
At other times, an apology was offered. In one response, the administrator explained they had always struggled with spelling. In another, there came an apology with the explanation they were trying their best to run a busy pub.
Multiple screenshots from now-deleted posts show that a war of words developed.
And then Sunday night happened. One local, who had previously confronted Delamore over the spelling, claims she was told to "f*** off" by Delamore, who was off-duty and appeared intoxicated.
That local claimed there was a verbal altercation as she entered the pub which continued through the evening and escalated at closing time. As the woman went to leave, she claims Delamore started yelling at her. The commentary allegedly included a racist slur.
"I thought, 'I don't need to put up with that s**t'." She turned back with the video running on her phone. The footage begins with the patron approaching Delamore and asking, "What did you call me?"
Delamore responds: "A Māori slapper. You are a slapper."
The patron asks Delamore if she is racist, to which Delamore responds: "I'm very racist", while a man says, "Seriously, she's not racist," and indicating she'd had too much to drink.
Delamore continues to call the customer a "slapper" while telling her to "f***-off" with a seemingly dismissive wave.
Delamore is then restrained while lunging toward the phone and whacking it from the patron's hand with a parting shot of "f***ing c***". At that point, the video stops.
The video was posted to a Facebook page where it sparked fierce anger and debate on both sides of the argument.
When the Northern Advocate contacted the Taipa Tavern, they were told Delamore was out of town. Bligh said the publication of the video had been "extremely upsetting for myself and my elderly mother who has since left the region for some time out".
"My mother Carol is in her 70s, is close to retiring. We moved to Taipa together 18 months ago to go into partnership and co-own the Taipa Tavern and to be a part of this lovely community and town.
"On behalf of Taipa Tavern, we apologise for any offence and comments in the video it may have caused. The comment made was unacceptable and regretful."
"In regards to her comment: 'Yes, I am very racist', it was intended to be tongue-and- cheek, everyone who knows Carol knows that she is not racist."
Bligh said her partner was Māori and her children – Delamore's grandchildren - were also Māori. "Being accused of being racist is very harmful."
Rather, she said, pub staff had previous issues with the woman who made the video, including telling her she was not welcome at the pub.
Bligh said the Sunday verbal clash came after the woman being reminded she was not welcome, leading to words being exchanged before the recording started. For what was captured on video, Bligh said her mother was "regretfully sorry".
Bligh said Delamore was willing to meet with the complainant, along with a support person, to apologise for any offence the comments had caused. When told this, the complainant said she "would gladly meet up".
She said she had been frequenting the tavern for over 10 years and rejected the claim she was barred from the tavern.
"I shared the footage on social media in the hope the publican would review her behaviour and make changes at our local tavern so patrons feel safe.
"The publican has previously raised debate in our small community for her incorrect use of te reo Māori. We are a small community and this is our local tavern – we should feel safe to go out and not be abused by drunk pub owners.
"I hope she makes changes to create a safe environment in her licensed premises for all patrons, including Māori women."
Te reo Māori stalwart Waihoroi Shortland, Tai Tokerau appointee to the Māori Language Te Mātāwai Board, said there was a greater expectation in today's New Zealand to get the Māori language right.
"I think there is a much wider acceptance of reo across the whole spectrum of New Zealand society than even 10 years ago, sadly 20 years ago and certainly much wider than when I worked in television as a journalist 30 years ago as one of the original reporters on Te Karere.
"It's taken this long to make this major shift that we're experiencing. It's not so much a sensitivity ... it's more expectant in people getting it right."
He said a more positive attitude had evolved through the younger generations and "these days, it's a lot more this generation of New Zealand saying this is part of my cultural make-up, this is part of me".