Hawaii Language to Know Before Visiting. Hawaii Pidgin Words and Phrases

Hawaii Language to Know Before Visiting. Hawaii Pidgin Words and Phrases

Did you know that Hawai'i Pidgin was made an official dialect of Hawai‘i in 2015 by da U.S. Census Bureau?

Fo realz!? Yasssiiiir.

If you’re planning on visiting the wonderful islands of Hawaii, it would be wise to brush up on your Pidgin. Why? Because in addition to English, locals primarily speak a unique creole known as ‘Hawaii Pidgin’ or ‘Hawaii Creole English’. It has several variations that are used depending on the location, but all share common words and phrases.


- Pidgin was originally spoken by plantation workers from the Philippines, China, Japan, and other countries.

- Pidgin’s grammar and structure are different from standard English.

- The creole is now a language in its own right that’s used by both locals and tourists.

- Pidgin is commonly abbreviated to “P.”

- Though many locals understand Pidgin, they may not speak it.

What is Pidgin?

Pidgin is a type of language known as a creole. It’s born when people with different first languages need to communicate in a common tongue which is usually the 3rd language. In Hawaii’s case, that third language is English. Pidgin began developing around the 19th century as plantation workers from China, Portugal, Japan and Korea came to work on sugarcane fields and other plantations.

Having their own separate native languages and local dialects, these immigrants needed a common tongue to communicate with one another on the job and at home.

As such, pidgin developed as a hybrid of broken English words peppered with Hawaiian words, Chinese grammar structures and Japanese sentence structure—and it continues to evolve today! Even though English is the primary language spoken in Hawaii, the locals use pidgin words and expressions in everyday speech. 

Hawai'i is the most diverse state in the US and has a rich history of being a melting pot of culture.

In the 1870s immigrant families began to arrive and more children were born on the plantations. Children learned their parents' languages and picked up English at school. But the kind of English they spoke on the playground was influenced by the Pidgin English earlier brought to Hawai'i, by the Hawaiian spoken by their parents, and by their own first languages, especially Portuguese.

By 1900 the new Hawai‘i Pidgin English began to emerge with features from all of these sources. This pidgin became the primary language of many of those who grew up in Hawai'i, and children began to acquire it as their first language. This was the beginning of Hawai'i Creole English. 

By the 1920s it was the language of the majority of Hawai'i's population.

English is the foundation of the language and most of the words come from English. But they are often pronounced in a different way and some may have different meanings. For example: beef can mean 'fight'. Also, some combinations of words have different meanings: e.g. stink eye means 'dirty look' and chicken skin means 'goose bumps'.

Hawai‘i Creole also includes words from many other languages, especially Hawaiian. Here are some examples:

From Hawaiian come the words pau (finished), lanai (verandah), puka (hole), akamai (clever), okole (buttocks), pilau (filthy). 

From Japanese there are words such as obake (ghost) and shi-shi (urinate). 

From Portuguese you might discover in Hawai'i donuts are often called malasadas, and come without a puka. 

Popular Words and Phrases

- ‘Bro’ and ‘Brah’ - In Hawaiian culture, the term “bro” or “brah” is used to address or talk to anyone, even if they aren’t your actual friends. For example, if you’re in a restaurant and you need more sauce, you might say to the waiter, “Bro, can I get some ’dro?”

- ‘Grade’ - This is a word used often to express praise or how awesome something is. For example, “Dude, this place has grade food!”

- ‘Da kine’ - This is probably the most common Hawaiian Pidgin term you’ll hear. It basically means “the kind” and can be used for basically anything. For example, “Da kine, this traffic is bad!” 

- ‘Eh braddah’ - This is used as a friendly greeting to show respect and camaraderie. For example, “Eh braddah, let’s get some ’dro!”

- ‘Shoots’ - This is another term used for “OK” or “sure”. For example, “Shootz, I’m here with my friends.”

Pidgin words and expressions

Some of the most common pidgin words and expressions used in Hawaii are given below —

- Alright: Used like ‘OK’ or ‘fine’ to mean that something is acceptable.

- How’z it:  Hey what’s up. 

- Bump-m-crash: A sudden event.

- Bump-m-plenty: A lot of something.

- Craziness: A lot of people or a lot of activity.

- Chi-chi: Something that is nice or fancy.

- Da kine: Used as a general term for ‘the thing’.

- Loco moco: A very popular dish made with a hamburger patty, a fried egg, rice and gravy.

- Loco pia: Crazy person.

- Slippahs: flip-flops. As in, keep yo’ eyes on da stars and yo’ slippahs on da ground. 

- Mauka: On the mauka side of the island, which means on the mauka (mountainous) side of the island.

- Makai: On the makai side of the island, which means on the makai (ocean) side of the island.

- Talk stink:  negative talk or gossip. As in: Livin’ Aloha mo bettah, no talk stink den good t’ings come to you. 


Slang words/expressions in pidgin

There are also some slang words and expressions in pidgin, which are used by locals as well as tourists. - Da more: Used like ‘the more’ or ‘the more so’ to emphasize something.

- Da less: Used like ‘the less’ or ‘the less so’ to de-emphasize something.

- Da kine: See above.

- Fried rice: A Chinese food item cooked with eggs and vegetables.

- Go long: Used like ‘take it easy’ or ‘relax’.

- Heaha: Used like ‘here we go’, ‘here they come’ or ‘here you are’.

- Oxtail: A part of an animal’s tail that’s used in cooking.

- Sum-kine: Something.

- You da bes: Thank you. 

- Rajah dat: understood. 


Words to help you understand Hawaiian Culture

- Yuck. This Hawaiian word is used like ‘gross’ or ‘yucko’, which is like ‘crazy’.

- Kau kau. This Hawaiian word is used like ‘food’ or ‘to eat’.

- Huli. This Hawaiian word is used like ‘turn’ or ‘to turn’.

- Moi. This Hawaiian word is a fish.

- Ono. This Hawaiian word is eaten for food.

- Pupu. This Hawaiian word is like ‘appetizer’ or ‘snack’.

- Shaka. This Hawaiian hand gesture is like ‘hang loose’, ‘no worries’ or ‘you’re welcome’.

- Shave ice. This Hawaiian food item is like a soft, sweet snow cone.

- Uke. This Hawaiian word is used like ‘to play the ukelele’ or ‘to be used’.

Food Slang

- ‘Gotta go get some poi’ - This is a Hawaiian staple food made from fermented taro root. While it’s normally eaten at breakfast, you might also see tourists eating it as a snack or light meal.

- 'Grindz' - Food.

- 'Broke da mouth' - Delicious.

- ‘Have you tried poke?’ - Poke, pronounced “poh-keh”, is a Hawaiian staple dish made from a variety of raw fish, octopus, or other seafood mixed with soy sauce, sesame oil, and other spices. It’s often served over rice or in a bowl.

- ‘I need some shoyu’ - This is a type of soy sauce that’s popular in Hawaiian cuisine. You’ll often find it served with poke, noodles, or steamed vegetables. 

Dating Slang

- ‘I’m getting some yucks’ - The Hawaiian word for “kissing.”

- ‘I’m getting some pokes’ - Hawaiian term for “making out.”

- ‘I want to get some mahalos’ - A way of saying you want to get to know someone better.

- ‘Get chance?’ – A way of seeking to initiate a romance. “Howzit Jessica, Get Chance o wot?”

Final words

If you’re planning a trip to Hawaii, you’ll definitely want to brush up on your Pidgin. You can have fun interacting with locals and have an authentic Hawaiian experience. Try out some of these slang terms and you’ll fit right in!