The use of the word "hua" in an insult aimed at Kiwi author Eleanor Catton has caused an uproar.

Members of the public have blasted the use of the term by RadioLive presenter Sean Plunket, who labelled Catton an "ungrateful hua" for her comments against the Government in India recently.

The Dictionary of Modern New Zealand Slang has the word hua, or hooer, as one used in "opprobrious address or reference ... in familiar reference to people and things".

The definition goes on to include an example of the word used in a sentence: "The dirty hua didn't even take a shower before he crapped in the pool." But an academic said the word itself, in Maori, was not insulting.

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Waikato University Professor Pou Temara, an expert in Tikanga Maori, said the word hua in that way did not make sense.

"Hua is a fruit of something or of an endeavour. If it's a hua of a tree, then it's the fruit of a tree. If it's a hua of an endeavour, it's what you've achieved. It's not derogatory at all," Professor Temara said. "The context I think doesn't fit the Maori word. I think he means whore - as in the English context."

Others talking about Plunket's comments on social media discussed the idea that the word derived from the Maori term, upoko kohua.

It loosely translates as: "May your head be boiled and eaten."