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Hey Brah! 13 Hawaiian Pidgin Terms to Master Before You Visit

Written by Staff Writer
You might already be familiar with French, Italian, German, Spanish, and Chinese. However, all across the globe, some people also speak pidgin. Not a native language, pidgin comes about when two or more groups don’t share a common language. In order to communicate, they develop something new, called a pidgin language. Many of these have come about due to one thing and one thing only: business. Pidgin languages developed for trade, maritime activities, and, simply, to do business between groups who didn’t share a common tongue.
In Hawaii, pidgin is a part of the state’s very makeup. In fact, the U.S. Census just recently recognized Hawaiian Pidgin as one of the official languages spoken on the islands. The history of Hawaiian Pidgin is linked to the wave of immigrants on the islands. Overtime, several pidgin words and phrases have made their way into everyday life on the islands. If you’re  visiting Hawaii and want to understand this unique language, try to familiarize yourself with these common words and phrases!

Da kine

When you can’t quite think of the word you want to use, Hawaiians might say da kine. Literally meaning, “the kind,” da kine can sometimes be used in the context of saying “the real thing.”

Fo real

Most non-Hawaiian pidgin speakers can guess what this pidgin term means. Fo real is often said to express that something is “for real”. It can also be used as a question to state something like “Really?”.

Brah

One of the most common Hawaiian pidgin terms is that of brah, meaning “brother”. And, as you might’ve guessed, a brah doesn’t have to be your brother by blood.

Chicken skin

 While chicken skin might mean a different thing to English-speaking travelers, Hawaiian Pidgin uses this phrase when describing what most call “goosebumps”.

To da max

If you need to add some emphasis to what you’re saying, Hawaiian pidgin calls for “To da max.” It not only provides emphasis, but also can refer literally to a “no limits” situation.

Mo bettah

If you want to express something that is excellent, you can’t go wrong putting your Hawaiian pidgin in practice with mo bettah.

Broke Da Mouth

When you travel to Hawaii, you will certainly want to try the local cuisine! Whether that means visiting a local restaurant or a traditional luau, you might hear the phrase broke da mouth or broke da mout. This is a useful Pidgin phrase to know, especially if you want to compliment the chef. It means the food is delicious!

You may also like: Must Eat Honolulu: Where to Dine When You’re in Paradise

Holo Holo

Have you ever had the desire to wander with no real purpose? Sometimes, roaming aimlessly can be an adventure by itself! It probably won’t surprise you that there’s a Pidgin word that means “to wander without direction or cruise around”. That word is holo holo. It’s derived from the official Hawaiian word holoholo (with no space) which means to stroll or promenade.

Howzit

To native English speakers, it’s  probably obvious that howzit is a combination of the words “how”, “is”, and “it”. You’ll likely hear howzit a good deal while traveling throughout Hawaii. Native Hawaiians seem to enjoy greeting new people and talking with them. Howzit is their way of saying, “Hey! How’s it going?” or “How are you?”

Kōkua

The word kōkua means “help” or “assistance”. You might see the word on signs in a local Hawaiian area. The most likely scenario is to hear this word in conjunction with mahalo when someone expresses gratitude for the help received. As a visitor, it’s important to recognize the word for “help”. Hopefully you’d never have a need to use this word, but it’d be disrespectful for you to ignore a request for help from a native. If you see or hear kōkua followed by luau, the phrase is referring to assistance in the form of a contribution.

Pau

Pau (pronounced “pow”) it’s used when a task is finished or something is completed. It means “all gone”, “no more”, or “time’s up”. If you hear pau hana, that means “after work”. That phrase refers to the best Happy Hours you can find on the islands! Be mindful not to use pau when referring to something that’s dead, though…the correct term for that is make (mah-kay).

Talk Story

There’s a normal conversation, and then there’s a “talk story”. That’s how the islanders call “catching up” or gossiping with their friends or family. It’s an activity that can last far into the night, and a social occasion more than a simple relaying of facts.

Malihini

As an outsider on the islands, you might hear some natives say malihini. It means “outsider”, “stranger”, or “non-islander”. Native Hawaiians use it regarding tourists (you know, those ones wearing socks and shoes). So, as someone who just arrived after scoring those cheap domestic flights, you might just hear the word malihini a lot when you’re around!

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