15 Hawaiian Pidgin Phrases To Know Before Traveling to Hawai`i

Hawaii

In Hawai`i, you’re surrounded by a symphony of words, sounds, and phrases unique to the islands. We call it Pidgin—and I grew up hearing a mixture of different languages spoken throughout Hawai`i, like English, Hawaiian, Japanese, and Ilocano, to name a few. Locals have their way of communicating, so you may need to learn some Hawaiian Pidgin before visiting. 

1. “Da kine”

You’ll hear this phrase a lot, most likely originating from “the kind” in English. Locals use this as a placeholder when they can’t think of the word. “We go da kine this weekend,” and no doubt your friend somehow knows you mean you’re going to the movies.

2. “Mauka” and “Makai” 

Asking for directions? Then you might hear these words. In Hawaiian, “mauka” refers to the upland or the mountainside, and “makai” refers to the seaward or the oceanside. For example: “Zippy’s in Pearl City is on Kamehameha Highway, mauka side.” 

3. “Try”

We say “try” when we ask someone to do something, like, “Hey, try pass me that magazine.” I didn’t realize until I went to college on the mainland how often I use “try” when asking someone to do something.

4. “Chicken skin” 

If you think about actual chicken skin, you might be able to guess that in Pidgin, it means “goosebumps.” Like after you hear the ghost story about Old Pali Road, you get chicken skin.

5. “Shoots!”

Want to go to the Maoli concert next weekend? “Shoots! We go!” Think of this as a very enthusiastic way to agree to something—usually said with an implied exclamation mark at the end.

6. “Bumbai”

Use this in place of “or else” or “otherwise.” As a kid, my grandma used to say, “Bumbai you no learn,” whenever I made the same mistakes.

7. “Pau hana” 

This phrase is taken directly from Hawaiian, as “pau” means to finish, and “hana” means work. This translates to being done with work, like on a Friday afternoon, it’s “pau hana time.” 

8. “Broke da mout”

Sometimes your food tastes so good and `ono (Hawaiian for “delicious”) that it “broke da mout.” That kalua pig is so good it hurts, in a good way.

9. “Coconut Wireless”

This phrase is the local take on hearing something through the grapevine. Especially when the gossip mill is running, word gets around through the coconut wireless.

10. “Hanabata” 

In Japanese, “hana” means nose, and “bata” is how you would say butter in a Pidgin dialect. So, “nose butter” comes together to mean runny nose—can you picture it? We use this to refer to Hanabata Days or small kid days.   

11. “Haole” 

The evolution of “haole” has changed over time, with multiple meanings, such as a foreigner or someone without a country. Nowadays, you’ll most likely hear this word to identify someone of Caucasian descent.

12. “Kama`aina”

Anyone locally born in Hawai`i, or has resided in the islands for an extended period is considered “kama`aina,” or local. Not to be confused with “kānaka maoli” which refers to Indigenous Native Hawaiians. 

13. “Stink eye” 

You might give someone the stink eye and not even know it. This is giving someone a dirty look, like when you’ve waited for that parking stall at Waimea Bay for 20 minutes, then someone steals it from you. 

14. “Hana hou”

If you go to a lu`au or performance, you’ll probably hear people in the audience shouting, “hana hou!” They’re calling for an encore or for the performers to go one more time.

15. “Mahalo” 

I once heard a story of a tourist who saw the word “Mahalo” printed on a rubbish can and thought it was the word for trash. This word is Hawaiian for “thank you,” and yes, we appreciate you picking up your ʻōpala (trash) when you leave!

Posted in

Zaida Marston

Zaida Marston is a freelance content writer for B2C and B2B SaaS brands and organizations. With more than 10 years of creative writing experience and a background in theatre arts, she combines compelling storytelling with value-based content for audiences of all kinds. Aside from writing she's an avid reader, scrapbooker, and TV/movie junkie. You can find her professional work in her portfolio for her latest writing pieces.