You’re Not A True Hawaii Local Unless You Understand These 19 Words

Megan Shute for Only In Hawaii on 19 words in the Hawaiian vocabulary.  Our tours are the best way to get educated on the culture of Hawaii in luxury.

The Hawaiian Islands are unique in more ways than any one person could count and that includes our language, vocabulary, and local diction. While most people from Hawaii don’t exclusively speak Hawaiian — except those who call Niihau home — there are a variety of words and phrases from the Hawaiian language that are still frequently used today. From traditional Hawaiian phrases to modern slang and pidgin terms, you’re not a true Hawaii local unless you understand (and maybe even use) these 19 common words and phrases. 

  1. Windward refers to the land upwind, and leeward is the downwind area, often used to describe different sides of the same island.
  2. Howzit essentially means, “what’s up” or “how’s it going?”
  3. Often seen as a placeholder word with no true definition, da kine is often used as the English equivalent to whatchamacallit.
  4. Anything labeled as Kapu is forbidden or taboo. This word is most commonly used on trespassing signs.
  5. Holoholo directly translates to going out for a walk, ride, or sail for fun.
  6. Wahine and Kane, the Hawaiian words for women and men, are often used in bathroom signs throughout the islands.
  7.  Directly translating to “after work,” pau hana is a celebration of the end of the work day.
  8. Pupus are snacks or appetizers.
  9. It is not a balcony or patio, it is a lanai.

10.Meaning welcome or enter, “E Komo Mai,” is perhaps one of the most common phrases you’ll hear in Hawaii

11. Though officially meaning “adopted or foster sibling,” the term hanai is most commonly used to describe those people in our lives we consider family, even if we’re not blood-related. Because everyone knows the word “ohana.”

12. Aloha. While ‘Aloha’ means hello and goodbye, it also is the embodiment of the Hawaiian lifestyle and spirit, conveying feelings of love, kindness and anything good.

13. Kokua directly translates to “help” or “to give aid,” but it is most commonly used as a way to describe helping each other out.

14. These ono grinds are broke da mout, literally translates to “this food is so delicious it broke my mouth.” 

15. Speaking of delicious, a malasada is a Portuguese donut, and everybody should love them.

16. Forget directions like east and west, Hawaiians use the words mauka, meaning towards the mountain and makai, meaning towards the ocean.

17. A hui hou translates to “until we meet again,” and is a lot better than simply saying goodbye.

18. Our state fish is a reef triggerfish, the Humuhumunukunukuapua’a. If you’re a true local, you’ll know how to pronounce this one.

19. Kama’aina literally translates to “child of the land,” but generally refers to locals.