Hawaii has two official languages — English and Hawaiian — but it also has a widely spoken unofficial language, Hawaiian Pidgin or Hawaiian Creole, informally called Pidgin. All three languages have contributed to the islands’ unique vocabulary and sensibility, as shown by these 13 useful phrases to know before you go. (Also check out these Key Hawaiian Pidgin Words.)
Check out this YouTube video for more tips on pronunciation, plus a few more key phrases!
1. A hui hou
Hawaiian for “until we meet again,” pronounced ah hoo-ee hoe).
2. Broke da mouth
Delicious. These days you tend to see it on menus more than hear it said (when it may sound like “broke da mout”), but it’s always a good thing.
3. Chicken skin
Goosebumps, or the tingly feeling of fear, awe or similar deep emotion that produces goosebumps. Obake, the Hawaiʻan Japanese word for ghost stories, often produce chicken skin, but so can witnessing a beautiful hula performance under a full moon (like the free Twilight at Kalahuipuaa event each month at the Mauna Lani Resort.)
4. Da kine
This Hawaiian Pidgin pronunciation of “the kind” is a placeholder for a word or phrase you can’t remember or, if it might be considered rude, that you remember but don’t want to say. “Da kine” can also replace whatever verb, noun or adjective speakers assume their listeners will understand, good or bad. While it may be the most iconic phrase in Hawaiian Pidgin, as a visitor, you’re more likely to see it on a T-shirt or bumper sticker or hear it on the radio than have someone use it with you (unless they think you’re da kine who da kine).
5. E kala mai
Hawaiian for “excuse me,” pronounced eh kah-lah my.
6. E komo mai
Hawaiian for “welcome,” in the sense of “please come in,” pronounced eh koh-mow my.
7. Hana hou
Hawaiian for “Encore!” When you want the slack key guitarist to play one more song, don’t flick your Bic; shout “Hana hou” (hah-nah hoe) instead.
“How’s it going?” said quickly and minus the “going.” Note: If someone says “Howzit bra?,” they’re not asking about your lingerie; you’ve just been called the abbreviated form of brother, “braddah.” Consider it a plus!
9. If can, can
Often followed by “If no can, no can,” this is shorthand for the widely shared ethic of “We’d like to help you and we’ll do our best, but you are in the world’s most remote island chain, so please understand that not all things may be possible in the time or manner you might prefer or expect.”
10. Kamaaina discount
If you don’t have a Hawaii state ID, you won’t get one of these anyway, but you may wonder just what it is when you see or hear it in local advertising. Kamaaina literally means child (kama, pronounced kah-mah) of the land (‘āina, pronounced eye-nah), typically someone who grew up or has lived in the islands a long time, but isn’t necessarily Native Hawaiian. Some hotels, restaurants and tour operators that primarily cater to visitors will offer discounts to local residents, who often have lower wages and higher costs of living than many on the Mainland. Discounts for keiki (children, kay-key) and kūpuna (seniors, koo-poo-nuh) are also common.
11. Like beef?
The answer to this is always no. Even better, “Oh no, I’m so sorry, I must have made a mistake and I promise it won’t happen again!” as you back away slowly from the person who has just asked if you want to fight them. You really don’t, especially since they’ve clearly mistaken you for someone who knows how to beef.
12. ‘Ono grinds (or grindz)
Delicious food. You’ll see both words used on their own a lot, but don’t confuse ono the fish (known as wahoo in Florida and the Caribbean) with ‘ono, the Hawaiian word for “delicious,” even if they’re both pronounced oh no and often written the same (and even though ono is ‘ono).
13. Pau hana
Literally, work (hana, pronounced hah-nah) that has ended or finished (pau, pronounced pow.) Generally it refers to the time of day when everyone can kick back, and perhaps kick back a beer or other adult beverage. Locals may also refer to pau hana drinks as just pau hana. The great thing about being a visitor is that pau hana time starts pretty much when you arrive.