Top Hawaiian Words and Phrases


In 1978, 19 years after becoming the 50th state of the United States, native Hawaiian was recognized as the official state language of Hawaii. Legally it “may be used on all emblems and symbols representative of the State, its departments, agencies and political subdivisions.” When traveling to Hawaii, you will see that the Hawaiian language is still widely used in everyday life throughout the islands.

The Hawaiian alphabet is comprised of 13 letters (A, E, I, O, U, H, K, L, M, N, P, W), including one “letter” called okina that is actually an apostrophe. And while there’s no reason to learn Hawaiian before your vacation, you may want to familiarize yourself with the most basic and popular terms (including Pidgin slang) you’re likely to hear on your upcoming trip.

Hawaiian WordsTop Hawaiian Words and Phrases:

  •  ‘Aina – land, earth
  • Akamai – smart, clever, intelligent
  • Ali’i – royalty
  • Mauka – inland, towards the mountains (commonly used for giving directions)
  • Makai -towards the ocean (commonly used for giving directions)
  • Manō – shark
  • Kama’aina – native Hawaiian or a long-time resident (expect to see discounted rates for “kama’aina”)
  • Kapu – forbidden, sacred
  • Kohala – humpback whale
  • Honu – turtle
  • Haole – foreigner, stranger (usually Caucasian in reference)
  • Hale – house, building
  • E Komo Mai – welcome, come in
  • Hana Hou – one more time
  • Mahalo – thank you
  • Malihini – newcomer, stranger, tourist
  • Da Kine – all-encompassing pidgin term meaning whatchamacallit, that thing or stuff
  • Ohana – family, relative
  • Shaka – common expression and friendly gesture for hi, bye and thank you
  • Keiki – child, children
  • Moana – ocean
  • Pau Hana – finished working, happy hour
  • Kapu – sacred, taboo, forbidden, no trespassing
  • Kokua – help or give assistance
  • Lanai – patio or balcony
  • Paniolo – Hawaiian cowboy (usually found in the town of Makawao on Maui)
  • A Hui Hou – until we meet again
  • Broke Da Mouth – extremely delicious
  • Choke – a lot
  • Grind – eat
  • Grinds – delicious food
  • Slippahs – flip flops, sandals
  • Talk Story – chat, gossip, reminisce

While the list of commonly used Hawaiian words and slang terms are numerous, we hope these basics will at least help you feel more comfortable and welcome in the beautiful Aloha State!

All photos by Natalie Brown.

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