Updated: March 1, 2023
If you’re a haole (pronounced howlee in slang) like me, you probably don’t know your a’a (ah-ah) from your pāhoehoe (puh-hoy-hoy) when it comes to Hawaiian slang words. If you’re also like me, you do your homework before traveling to new places by reading up on the local history, identifying famous cultural and historical sites you want to visit, and learning to speak some of the local language.
If you’re planning a trip to Hawai’i (huh-vah-ee), learning some Hawaiian slang can be fun, might help you seem a little less like a tourist. It also shows respect to the locals (kama’aina – ka-ma-aye-na), who are very proud of their island heritage.
Let’s take a brief look at the history of Hawaiian slang. This article will provide some help with pronouncing Hawaiian words, and teach you some popular Hawaiian phrases you should know before visiting the islands. Shoots? (Okay?)
A Brief Introduction to Hawaiian Slang
‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i is the native Hawaiian language. This is the language native Hawaiians speak, and is different from Hawaiian Pidgin English and Hawaiian Creole English. A lot of local signage, street names, and advertising use ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i.
Hawaiian Pidgin English, also known as Hawaiian Creole English or simply ‘Pidgin,’ is the language spoken in Hawai’i by the locals besides the official languages of English and Hawaiian taught in school. Pidgin is a simplified version of a language spoken by people without a common language between them. A creole language is an entirely new language formed from two or more languages.
Hawaiian Pidgin has its roots on the sugar cane plantations, as the need for native Hawaiians, English-speaking residents, and foreign immigrants to communicate arose. Hawaiian Creole has influences from Chinese, English, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, and Hawaiian. The language adopted many loanwords from these other languages, and people began speaking it outside of plantations in the 19th and 20th century.
Hawaiian slang is mostly comprised of a mix of ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i, Pidgin, English, other foreign languages spoken on the plantation, and new words that are somehow an amalgamation of all of these.
Pronouncing Hawaiian Words
Most haoles (like me) grew up speaking Standard American English (SAE) at home as a first or second language. Hawaiian consonants are often pronounced the same as they are in SAE with some exceptions—like W, sometimes pronounced like V, as in Hawai’i (huh-vah-ee).
The Hawaiian alphabet is derived from the English alphabet for writing in ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i. There are 13 letters in total: A, E, I, O, U, H, K, L, M, N, P, W.
You pronounce vowels in Hawaiian like Spanish:
- a: ah
- e: eh
- i: ee
- o: oh
- u: oo
Also, you pronounce all the vowels in Hawaiian words. You pronounce a word like mauka as mah-oo-ka. There are exceptions, of course, like in basically all languages. You pronounce Pau like pow. Haole is how-lee, not how-leh.
Both pau and haole use combinations of vowels called diphthongs, which have specific pronunciations:
- ai: tide
- ae: bye
- ao: how
- au: pow
- ei: eight
- eu: eh-you
- iu: ee-you
- oe: oh-eh
- oi: voice
- ou: bowl
- ui: oo-ee
Also, some Hawaiian words have special characters (diacritics), including the ‘okina, and the kahakō. The ‘okina is the single quote at the beginning of the word or between two vowels, and it adds a glottal stop between words or sounds, like saying “uh-oh.”
The kahakō, or macron, is the line on top of a letter indicating a long vowel. Try pronouncing the following words out loud as we introduce you to some popular Hawaiian slang words.
Hawaiian language consonants are not an exact when it comes to translation from SAE. Some are lacking completely, while others are combined based on their sounds. Da ting (the thing) is one example.
Popular Hawaiian Slang Words
Aloha is commonly used as both hello and goodbye in Hawaiian and has many other meanings both as a stand-alone word and in combination with other words. Some examples:
- Aloha: hello in Hawaiian, and goodbye.
- Aloha kakahiaka: good morning.
- Aloha ‘auinalā: good afternoon
Da kine, likely derived from the kind, is an all-purpose substitution word or placeholder name for a person, object, or abstract concept. “He wen to da kine to get some da kine.”
Food or a meal out, frequently spelled with a z at the end, not s. “Hey Brah, we go get da grindz.”
Literally, half. Often used when referring to someone whose ancestry is partly Asian or Pacific Islander.
A non-native or foreign person, especially a white or caucasian person.
Taboo, prohibited. If you see signage that says Kapu, it means “Keep Out!”
Crazy or stupid. “Yo, brah, my faddah lolo!”
A Hawaiian feast named for the baked taro root (poi) commonly served.
Literally, hole or pit. Used to refer to the toilet, outhouse, or bathroom.
Thank you. If you want to impress (and you mean it), say “Mahalo nui loa!” or Thank you very much!
Pau Hana (pow ha-na)
Literally, finished work. The phrase often refers to happy hour or drinks after work.
Shaka is the hand gesture commonly associated with Hawaii. One makes this gesture by taking your closed hand and extending the pinky and thumb, holding your hand with the palm facing the body, and waving your hand bank and forth in half rotational motion at the wrist.
Shaka is meant as a greeting, a farewell, and can be used to express agreement or approval.
Shoots is slang for okay or an acknowledgment. “We go to da beach, brah? Shoots!”
Phrase meaning talking among friends or acquaintances.
Hawaiian Slang Words You Should Know Before You Visit Hawai’i
Ready to learn some more Hawaiian? The following are a mixture of words and slang that will help get the malihini (newcomer or visitor) speaking Hawaiian in no time.
‘Ohana is family, the center of traditional Hawaiian life like in many cultures.
Delicious or tasty. “Hey, dat’s ‘ono grindz!”
Until we meet again.
Broke Da Mouth (or Broke Da Mout)
From broke the mouth, meaning incredibly delicious food. “Ho, dis buggah is ‘ono! Fo’ realz broke da mout!”
Literally, crooked, unstable, wandering, or strayed. It also means west when in Honolulu.
House or home.
Hana Hou (ha-na-ho)
To do again. Usage: like “encore!”
To carry, or pregnant.
To come, go, walk, or move.
A greeting, as in “How’s it going?”
Kama’aina are locals or Hawaiian residents regardless of ethnicity.
Man or male, husband, male sweetheart. Kāne male means married man.
A meal or food. “Yo, dat some ono kau kau!”
Child or children.
A Hawaiian value that translates as responsibility, and the reciprocal relationship between the person and the thing for which they’re responsible. Hawaiians believe we have a kuleana to the land or the earth.
An open patio, deck, balcony, or porch.
The garland, wreath, or necklace of flowers most frequently associated with Hawai’i symbolizing peace, love, honor, or friendship for another.
Literally, “ma” (in, on, at) and “kai” (ocean), meaning toward the ocean. Used when giving directions.
Literally, “ma” (in, on, at) and “uka” (inland), meaning toward the mountains or go inland. Used when giving directions.
Trash or garbage.
Finished, ended, or completed. See pau hana.
Hole. Also small white shells found on Pacific island beaches, especially Hawaiian beaches, often strung into necklaces.
Typically refers to sandals or flip-flops. “We going out? Let me put on my slippahs.”
Woman in Hawaiian or female.
People Also Ask
Here are some common questions our readers also ask about Hawaiian translations.
What does haole mean?
Haole is a Hawaiian word for non-native Hawaiian or Polynesian people, often referring to white people. Usage can be in an insulting or pejorative manner, but it usually refers to a foreigner or tourist.
A popular urban legend suggests that the word stems from “hā” and “ole” (hāʻole) meaning “without breath,” as the first foreigners to come to Hawai’i did not kiss, touch nose to nose, or connect via the forehead as a greeting, but instead shook hands.
The earliest recorded use of the word haole in the Hawaiian language is from the chant of Kūaliʻi.
What is Hawaiian slang called?
Hawaiian slang is referred to linguistically as Hawaiian Pidgin or Hawaiian Pidgin English. However, despite the name, Hawaiian slang is technically a creole—an entirely new language derived from two or more separate languages. Also known as a patois.
Why do Hawaiians say brah?
Brah is slang for brother and refers to any other male person, not just one’s brothers by blood relation. Brah is the equivalent of dude in American slang.
What does Shoots mean in Hawaiian slang?
Shoots is slang for okay or an acknowledgment. “Ho brah, like go grind?” “Shoots, we go!” Also, see rajah dat (roger that).
All Pau (The End)
Traveling to new and different places (or revisiting places you love) is a thrilling adventure no matter where you’re going. However, taking some time to learn the local history, culture, and language will add a regional dimension to your trip, and there’s nothing more fun than learning the local slang.
To summarize, Hawaiian Pidgin came about when non-Hawaiian immigrants came to the islands to work the sugar cane plantations, and native Hawaiians needed a way to communicate both with English-speaking residents and the immigrant laborers.
The local patois borrows entire words from other languages. Also, certain features of Hawaiian Pidgin pronunciation make it strikingly different than pronunciations in Standard American English. One pronounces Hawai’i (ha-vah-ee) differently than Hawaii.
Hawaiian Pidgin noticeably lacks in consonants or consonant sounds, or there are consonants in use where speakers of SAE aren’t expecting them. Da kine is an excellent example. Da (the) substitutes d for th, and kine (kind) drops the ending d.
If you’re ready to learn even more of the culture and ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i, here are some additional resources:
- Ulukau, the Hawaiian Electronic Library
So, as you enjoy some pau hana on the lanai, take a few minutes to review some of the basics, shoots? Keep listening to the kama’aina, and you can pick up the pronunciation and seem akamai (smart). You might fit in a little bit better, and the kama’aina will appreciate that you’re making an effort to embrace their culture.