Hawaiian is a rich and living language, but most Hawai’i residents speak English or Pidgin, a creole that emerged during Hawai’i’s plantation days. Residents (or Kama’aina) will use Hawaiian words and phrases as part of their vocabulary. Here are the top words (and phrases) you’ll want to know before visiting Hawai’i.
Aloha – love.
“Aloha”, while its literal meaning is that of love, to acknowledge the “ha,” or “breath of life” within each person, it is generally used as a greeting or to say goodbye.
In English, we do something similar when we hang up the phone after saying, “I love you,” rather than goodbye. This is by far the most common word you’ll hear in Hawaii, and while it is used all the time, it still carries a cultural weight of compassion and affection.
Mahalo – thank you.
This one leads to occasional mix-ups, since trash cans are often marked Mahalo (as in, “thank you for throwing your trash in a bin”).
Kōkua – help, support.
Kōkua is used similarly to the word “cooperation,” so you might hear a flight attendant say, “mahalo for your kōkua,” when giving instructions.
Wahine – woman, Kane – man.
If you’re looking for a restroom, you’ll want to know these two.
The direct translation of this word is less important than the event. A Lū‘au is a celebration that focuses on the taro plant, and it involves food, drinks, and performances by Hawaiian and Polynesian dancers and musicians.
Mauka – mountain.
If something is on the mauka side of the highway, it’s on the side closest to the mountain. The opposite is Makai – seaward. Since most major roads in Hawaii can be oriented to either a mountain or the ocean, this is a useful way to give directions (or to get them!) if you aren’t sure what direction you are coming from.
A hui hou! – until we meet again.
You may also hear this at a lū‘au instead of “encore!”
Pau – done, finished.
An ‘Ono (delicious) home-cooked meal might be pau, but that doesn’t mean you’re pau hana (done working) — there’s still the clean-up!
Hui! – hey you!
A polite attention-getter. If you’re on a guided tour and your guide calls, “Hui!” they may have something they want you to see, or you may be in danger and they need your attention. On a side note, guides will encourage you to be mindful of the ‘aina (land) as you visit, since the ecosystem is sensitive and precious. After all, we only have one Hawaii.
Remember, these are phrases you’ll probably hear in Hawaii peppered throughout conversations in English, but there are plenty more– in fact, an entire language! Hawaiian, both modern and ancient, is fascinating and has all kinds of practical and very cool ways of expression. Let us know your favorite Hawaiian or Pidgin phrase in comments!