Besides the ukulele and slack key guitar, one of the most distinctive sounds in Hawaiʻi is Hawaiʻian Pidgin English, or Pidgin for short. The colorful creole language — a mix of Hawaiʻian 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 Hawaiʻian, 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 Hawaiʻian words, many of which are used in Pidgin too, like lua (loo-uh), meaning toilet.
- Bra / braddah /bruddah — Bro, brother.
- Bumbye — Eventually, later on.
- Buggah — Person, usually male.
- Choke — A lot, as in there’s usually choke papayas at the farmers’ market.
- Hamajang, hammajang — Messed up, askew, out of order.
- Kau kau (cow-cow) — Food, meal, to eat.
- Moke — Rhyming with choke, 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 (pictured above and defined below) are his preferred footwear.
- Shishi (she-she) — Pee, to pee. Please do this in the lua, and not in the ocean; coral bleaching is real.
- Slippahs — Flip-flops, sandals.Generally the final r isn’t pronounced in the English words in Pidgin, something it has in common with some Boston and British accents.
- Stay — is, are, but only when referred to impermanent states like location or emotion, similar to estar in Spanish.
- Stink-eye — a dirty look of disapproval, doubt or distrust. Try to speak Pidgin and you’re likely to get this.
- Tita — The female equivalent of moke. Mess with her and you’ll get more than stink-eye.
- Wen — Used in front of a verb to signify past tense. “He wen go” means “He went.”