Featured Photo: Jakob Owens
During the pandemic, I decided to move from Berkeley to Oahu to WFHawaii for my senior year of college. As a proud Bay Area native, I’m well versed in SF slang, but my hella extensive knowledge of NorCal lingo didn’t cut it on the island. I quickly learned I needed to adapt to the local language to survive my stay. Pidgin, formally known as Hawaiian Pidgin English or Hawaiian Creole, is the Aloha State’s third unofficial language and a hallmark of Hawaiian culture.
Whether you’re on a mission to find the best poke bowl on Oahu’s North Shore or trying to catch a wave with a local instructor, learning these phrases will help you navigate the islands and make the most of your stay.
Hawaiian slang for “how’s it going?” This phrase doesn’t require a response and is commonly accompanied by a friendly shaka.
2. Pau hana
Phrase meaning “finished work.” This is the equivalent of happy hour on the mainland so when you overhear someone say “pau hana,” you know it’s time to kick back with a Mai Tai!
3. Bra / Braddah
Roughly translates to “brother.” Calling someone “bra” or “braddah” is a sign of endearment and doesn’t necessarily mean you’re related. Rather, this expression is often used as an informal way to greet a friend. We all know Ohana means family, and family wouldn’t be the same without our braddahs and sistahs.
An exclamation of excitement! Don’t be surprised if you hear a harmony of “cheehoos” after a group of local Hawaiians start a cliff jumping competition at China Walls or prep for their evening shift.
Crazy, dumb, or kooky. This phrase is often thrown around in a joking way, but you probably won’t want to be known as lolo outside of your friend group.
6. Broke da mouth
Pidgin for delicious. If you hear this phrase spoken outside the restaurant as you wait to be seated, you’ll know you’re at the right place.
Forbidden or taboo. Deeply rooted in Hawaiian history, this phrase first emerged as a code of law that governed all aspects of Hawaiian life. It is important for visitors to respect the āina or “land” when visiting the islands, so when you see a sign marked with this word, make sure to listen.
Used to enthusiastically express agreement. When someone asks if you want to go to the beach, the only appropriate response is “shoots!”
9. Das why
Pidgin for “that’s the reason.” If you’re wondering why you didn’t qualify for the Billabong Pipeline Masters, but you’ve only had one surf lesson, there’s a good chance das why.
10. Hana hau
Hawaiian slang for “to do again” or “one more time.” This phrase is used synonymously with “encore.” As soon as you board your flight home from the islands, you’ll be saying “hana hau!”