The official languages of the state of Hawaii are English and Hawaiian. But there’s also a third unofficial language, which is spoken by many locals in everyday conversation: Hawaii Pidgin English.
In this post, we’ll go highlight the most useful Hawaiian Pidgin words and phrases so when you arrive you’re fully prepared to meet some kanaka’s (kah-NAH-kah) or Hawaiian People and jump right into Hawaiian culture!
Background to Hawaii Pidgin Slang
Hawaiian Pidgin has evolved from the old plantation days when immigrants came from different countries to work in Hawaii’s sugar cane fields. First came the Chinese, Japanese, and Portuguese in the mid-1800s.
To be able to communicate with each other and the English-speaking plantation owners, a common language developed that borrowed words, phrases, intonations, and grammatical structures from these 4 different languages.
When the Okinawans, Puerto Ricans, Koreans, and Filipinos started immigrating to Hawaii around 1900, bits of their distinct languages were also thrown into the mix.
Today, you can hear Pidgin being spoken among some locals in informal situations. Pidgin words and phrases are also sometimes used in local advertisements. As a newcomer to Hawaii, you won’t be expected to speak Pidgin to locals (in fact, any attempt to do so will probably be met with strange looks or laughter!). But it can be helpful — and fun, frankly! — to be familiar with these words and expressions when you encounter them.
How to Pronounce Hawaiian Pidgin Slang
There are some 600,000 or so people who speak Hawaiian Pidgin Slang today and roughly 400,000 use it as a second language.
Hawaiian pidgin has some key differences in pronunciation when compared with Standard American English (SAE) and knowing the difference will make it easier to understand and to speak when you’re in Hawaii.
There are 13 letters in the Hawaiian alphabet: A, E, I, O, U, H, K, L, M, N, P, W.
If you’re familiar with Spanish and Spanish pronunciation, you pronounce vowels the same way in Hawaiian.
- a = ah (Like “ah-ha I’ve found you!”)
- e = eh (Like “eh, I don’t really care”)
- i = ee (Like “Wow an igloo in Hawaii, that’s odd!”)
- o = oh (Like “Live in Hawaii! What an oh-portunity!”)
- u = oo (Like “oo a ghost!”)
There are some characters in Hawaiian that might be unfamiliar, specifically the ‘okina and that kahakō. The single quote in ‘okina denotes a glottal stop which is similar to the sound of “oh-oh” in english. The kahakō lengthens and adds stress to the vowel that has the line over it, such as “pūpū” (poooo-poooo) which means shell in Hawaiian.
Knowing the about pronunciations of Hawaiian Vowels will prepare you for the words you’ll encounter when on the islands.
Other Places to Learn Hawaiian Slang
There are plenty of places available online to learn Pidgin Slang. You can of course learn while in Hawaii. Immersion is a great way to learn quickly!
Highly entertaining book with illustrations and english translations! Great for beginners!
WikiHow has a short 6 steps on how best to understand Hawaiian Pidgin.
There are many great youtube channels that focus on speaking Hawaiian Pidgin. Type into Youtube “Hawaiian Pidgin” and you’ll get a ton of results that can help you learn.
Hawaiian People (kanaka’s)
You’ll be hard pressed to find a better resource than by going to the source! Find a Hawaiian person to help you learn.
Most Popular Hawaiian Slang Words
This is a short list of those words that are a MUST HAVE if you are planning to visit or move to Hawaii. You’ll here these words daily and will understand a lot more if you know these words!
Aloha – Absolutely the most popular Hawaiian word that any foreigner is bound to have heard before! It means both hello AND goodbye.
brah – Short for braddah or bruddah (“brother”). A casual, friendly way of addressing a male: Eh, brah — you wanna go surf?
da kine – A catch-all phrase that is often used to fill in a mental blank when talking, similar to “whatchamacallit”: Let’s go to da kine place we grind at last week.
grind – Eat.
grinds – Delicious food.
haole (HOW-leh) – Traditional meaning: Foreigner. Modern meaning: Caucasian (not deragatory).
hana (HAH-nah) – Work.
hapa (HAH-pah) – Part, half (for example, hapa haole). Someone of mixed racial or ethnic heritage, especially involving Asian or Pacific Islander heritage.
howzit – A greeting, equivalent to “How are you?” or “How is it going?”
kahuna (kah-HOO-nah) – A priest or expert.
kapu (KAH-poo) – Forbidden, taboo, keep out.
mahalo (mah-HAH-low) – Thank you.
maika’i (my-KAH-ee) – Excellent, good.
‘Ohana (OH-hah-nah) – ‘Ohana means family and like most cultures plays a major role in Hawaiian life so you’ll likely hear this one!
talk story – To chat or gossip. To reminisce with friends.
A Big List of Hawaiian Pidgin Slang Words
a hui hou (AH HOO-ee HOH) – Goodbye.
aina (EYE-nah) – Land, especially homeland.
akamai (AH-kah-MY) – Smart, clever, wise, witty, skilled.
ali’i (ah-LEE-ee) – In Native Hawaiian history, someone of inherited nobility (the highest social class).
Aloha Fridays – Similar to “casual Fridays” on the U.S. mainland, during which employees are allowed to dress more casually or in aloha wear, in anticipation of the weekend.
aloha shirt – Also known as a “Hawaiian shirt” on the U.S. mainland.
auntie – A respectful term for a woman who is of your parents’ generation or older: The aunties have volunteered at the school for many years. A respectful way to address such a woman: Can I help you carry that, auntie?
borinkee – A person of Puerto Rican descent.
broke da mouth (broke dah mowt) – Extremely delicious: Dis Potagee soup broke da mouth, auntie!
buk buk (book book) – A person of Filipino descent (see also manong).
bumbai (bum-BYE) – Short for “by and by.” Otherwise, or else, eventually: You bettah study bumbai you flunk da test tomorrow.
buss you up or all buss up – To fight and win, or hang one on drinking.
chang – Miserly, overly frugal: C’mon, gimme some more, brah — you so chang!
chicken skin – Goosebumps: Dat ghost story always give me chicken skin!
da cute (dah cute) – The cute! Or just cute in general
e kala mai (EH KAH-lah MY) – Excuse me, sorry.
e komo mai (eh COH-mo MY) – Welcome, come inside.
eriding (EHR-ree-dihng) – Everything
eh? – “You know” like, “Big waves Eh?”
ewa (EH-vah) – Leeward, westward. (Note that the “w” is pronounced like a “v”.)
fadda (FAH-dah) – Father
futsetta (fuht-SEH-tah) – A female monster like a witch used for misbehaving children: “Be a good girl or futsetta’s going to come”
geev’um (GEEV uhm) – “Go for it!”– or –“Give it to them.”
halau (hah-LOW) – School, group (as in halau hula).
hale (HAH-lay) – House.
hana hou (HAH-nah HOH) – Encore, do it again.
hapai (hah-PEYE) – Pregnant.
hele (HEH-leh) – To go, leave.
hoku (HOH-koo) – Star.
holoholo (HOH-loh-HOH-loh) – To go out visiting; to go out for a walk or ride.
honi (HOH-nee) – Kiss.
honu (HOH-noo) – Turtle or tortoise.
hui (HOO-ee) – Club or organization, especially for business purposes.
iki (EE-kee) – Little, small.
imu (EE-moo) – Underground oven or roasting pit.
jalike? (jah-LYK) – “Do you want to?”
kai (KIE) – Ocean.
kalani (kah-LAH-nee) – Heaven.
kanaka (kah-NAH-kah) – A person of Native Hawaiian descent.
kane (KAH-neh) – Man, boy.
katonk or kotonk (kah-TONK or koh-TONK) – A person of Asian descent born and raised on the U.S. mainland.
kau kau (KOW kow) – Food, eat.
kupuna (koo-POO-nah) – Respected elder, ancestor, adopted grandparent or great-aunt/uncle.
keiki (KAY-kee) – Child.
‘k den – An expression of farewell, equivalent to “OK, then — goodbye.”
kokua (koh-KOO-ah) – Help, assist.
kuleana (koo-lee-AH-nah) – Responsibility.
kumu (KOO-moo) – Teacher (as in kumu hula).
ku’uipo (KOO-oo-EE-poh) – Sweetheart.
lani (LAH-nee) – Heavenly.
lanai (lah-NIE) – Patio, balcony, porch.
like beef? – An invitation to fight, equivalent to “You wanna step outside and settle this?” (see also scrap).
lokahi (loh-KAH-hee) – Unity, harmony, in agreement, peace.
lolo – Stupid, absent-minded, crazy. Moron, imbecile.
lu’au (LOO-ow) – Feast, party.
lua (LOO-ah) – Toilet, restroom.
luna (LOO-nah) – Boss, foreman, overseer.
makai (mah-KIE) – Toward the ocean.
mahu (MAH-hoo) – Homosexual or transgendered (not derogatory).
malihini (MAH-lee-HEE-nee) – Newcomer.
mauka (MOW-kah) – Toward the mountain.
maile (MY-lay) – A native Hawaiian vine with dark-green aromatic leaves that is used to make an open-ended lei that is draped around a person’s shoulders. This type of lei is usually reserved for very special occasions, like weddings, graduations, and proms.
make (MAH-kay) – Dead.
malama (mah-LAH-ma) – To take care of.
mana (MAH-nah) – In Polynesian culture, a supernatural or sacred force that can inhabit people, places, and things, thus giving them authority and power.
Manong (MAH-nong) – A person of Filipino descent (see also buk buk).
mauna (MOW-nah) – Mountain.
mele (MEH-lay) – Song or chant.
Mele Kalikimaka (MEH-leh kah-LEE-kee-MAH-kah) – Merry Christmas.
menehune (MEH-neh-HOO-nay) – According to Native Hawaiian legend, dwarfs that work at night building roads, temples, fishponds, canoes, and houses.
moke (MOHK) – A local man who looks and acts tough.
mu’umu’u (MOO-oo-MOO-oo) – A woman’s dress that drapes loosely over the body.
no need – Equivalent to “you/I don’t need it” or “that’s not necessary”: No need shoes in Hawaii — just slippahs!
no ka ‘oi (no ka oy) – Is the best.
nui (NOO-ee) – Large, big.
‘okole (OH-koh-leh) – Buttocks.
‘ono (OH-noh) – Delicious
opala (oh-PAH-lah) – Garbage, trash, litter.
opu (OH-poo) – Belly, stomach.
pakalolo (PAH-kah-LOW-low) – Marijuana.
pake (PAH-keh) – A person of Chinese descent. A tightwad.
pau (POW) – Done, finished, complete.
pau hana (POW HAH-nah) – Done working.
pali (PAH-lee) – Cliff.
paniolo (PAH-nee-OH-loh) – Hawaiian cowboy.
pilau (PEE-lau) – Rotten, stinky, dirty.
pocho – A person of Portuguese descent. (See also potagee.)
popolo – A dark-skinned person of African descent.
potagee (POH-tah-gee) – A person of Portuguese descent. (See also pocho.)
puka (POO-kah) – Hole, opening.
None that I could find!
rajah dat (RAH-jah dat) – Equivalent to “Roger, that!” meaning “Yes,” “OK,” or “I agree.”
rubbish – Trash, garbage.
scrap – Fight, argue (see also like beef?): In small kid time, me and him scrap all da time afta school.
shaka (SHAH-kah) – Hand signal in which index, middle, and ring finger are folded down while thumb and pinkie are extended, with palm facing body. Means “hi,” “goodbye,” or “thank you.”
shishi (SHEE-shee) – Pee-pee (urinate).
shoots – Equivalent to saying “OK” or “I strongly agree”: Shoots, I’ll take some of dat free kau kau!
shoots den – Equivalent to saying “shoots then,” meaning “OK, goodbye” or “OK, see you later.”
sistah – The feminine equivalent of brah.
slippahs – Equivalent to “slippers,” meaning flip-flop sandals.
small kid time – Equivalent to saying “back when I was younger”: I know her since small kid time.
sole (SO-leh) – A person of Samoan descent.
stink eye – Dirty look: Da tita gimme stink eye when I ask her out.
talk stink – Trash talk. Talk behind someone’s back.
tanks – Equivalent to saying “thanks” in a sarcastic way: Tanks, bruddah — now dat I no need!
tita (TEE-tah) – A local woman who is tough and masculine. The feminine equivalent of smoke.
tutu (TOO-too) – Grandmother (either blood-related or honorary).
uku (OO-koo) – Lots: No need — I got uku million of dat. Also Flea or head lice.
ukulele (OO-koo-LAY-lay) – Small stringed musical instrument (note that the beginning is pronounced OO, not YOO).
ukupau (OO-koo-POW) – Pay by the job, not by the hour.
uncle – Masculine equivalent of auntie.
vog – smog or volcanic fog
wagon – Shopping cart.
wahine (wah-HEE-neh) – Woman, girl.
wikiwiki (WEE-kee-WEE-kee) – Quick, fast, speedy.
None that I could find!
yobo – A person of Korean descent.
None that I could find!
That’s it! Hopefully you found this guide helpful. If there are any other words or phrases that you don’t see here that you think every newcomer to Hawaii should know let me know and I’ll add them!