Besides the ukulele and slack key guitar, one of the most distinctive sounds in Hawaii is Hawaiian Pidgin English, or Pidgin for short. The colorful creole language — a mix of Hawaiian and English syntax and vocabulary, plus words from Japanese, Portuguese, Ilocano, Tagalog, and others — arose in the plantation era when speakers of all those languages needed an easy way to communicate with each other. Now it’s a source of pride for many that they speak Pidgin as well as standard English (and increasingly Hawaiian, too.)
While it takes years for nonnative speakers to learn Pidgin’s intonations and grammar, it’s easy to learn a few key words before you visit — not to use in your own speech, but to recognize them in others. Be sure to also check out these 15 key Hawaiian words, and top phrases many of which are used in Pidgin too, like lua (loo-uh), meaning toilet or bathroom.
Want rock that cool Big Foot Aloha vibe? We’ve collected a few options for you.
And if you're having a hard time, don't worry...
Other visitors also have a tough time.
1. Bra / braddah / bruddah
Definition: Bro, brother.
Pronunciation: Brah, brah-dah or bra-dah
How to use it in a sentence: Howzit braddah? How you? You good?
Definition: Eventually, later on.
How to use it in a sentence: Wen we go Disneyland? Bum-bye.
Definition: Person, usually male.
How to use it in a sentence: Da buggah is always late.
Definition: A lot.
Pronunciation: Choke, like in standard English.
How to use it in a sentence: You like one penny? No worries, I get choke!
5. Hamajang, hammajang
Definition: Messed up, askew, out of order.
How to use it in a sentence: My hair was all hamajang so I put in hair gel to make it nice.
6. Kau kau
Definition: Food, meal, to eat.
How to use it in a sentence: My maddah wen make some kau kau. You like?
Definition: This is the local version of a stereotypical redneck male. He drives a pickup truck and hunts, but probably surfs, too. Pidgin is his preferred language, and rubber slippahs (defined below) are his preferred footwear.
Pronunciation: Mok’ — rhymes with “choke”
How to use it in a sentence: All da mokes wen chase me outta da watah!
8. Shi shi
Definition: Pee, to urinate.
How to use it in a sentence: Please shishi in the lua (bathroom), and not in the ocean — coral bleaching is real.
Definition: Flip-flops, sandals (as seen up top). Generally the final “r” isn’t pronounced in the English words in Pidgin — something it has in common with some Boston and British accents.
How to use it in a sentence: Ey brah wea my slippah stay?
Definition: Is, are, but only when referred to impermanent states like location or emotion, similar to “estar” in Spanish.
Pronunciation: Stay, like in standard English.
How to use it in a sentence: Wea Brian stay?
Definition: A dirty look of disapproval, doubt or distrust. Try to speak Pidgin and you’re likely to get this.
Pronunciation: Stink-eye, like in standard English.
How to use it in a sentence: Eh, no geev me dat stink eye.
Definition: The female equivalent of “moke.” Mess with her and you’ll get more than stink-eye.
How to use it in a sentence: She stay full on tita, yeah?
Definition: Used in front of a verb to signify past tense. “He wen go,” means, “he went.” Wen also indicates past tense when used in front of a verb.
How to use it in a sentence: How much you wen geev him?
Speaking it can even make every day life challenging for locals.