20 Easy Ways to Speak Mo’ Bettah Pidgin Today

When in Hawaii, using a few Hawaiian and Pidgin expressions shows respect for our culture and keeps the language alive while spicing up the vocabulary…here are a few of my favorites along with some tips:


Double Shaka

Mixed Plate Vocabulary Words

1. Holo-holo. Take a day trip with stops. “We’re going to the other side of the island today, want to come holo-holo with us?”

2. Da kine: If you can’t think of the word, da kine is a useful substitute. Also can mean the best. If you are complimenting something and can’t think of a proper superlative, or to replace the tired out “awesome,” just call it “da kine.”

3. Pau…finished. You can easily throw this one in everyday transactions. “When will the construction be pau?” Ask your child if they are pau with their meal. Pau hana means finished with work. Pau hana hana is when you are off for Aloha Friday (TGIF) afternoon and ready for a beer.

4. Hele on means get out of here/move along. “It’s time for me to hele on.”

5. High maka maka is a great expression and difficult to translate. It means stuck up or pretentious. “I don’t enjoy working with Sally; she’s so high maka maka.”

6. Puka means hole. “Did you know there is a puka in your shirt?” You can also fill in the pukas on a document or fix the pukas in your sail.

7. Wiki-wiki just sounds so cool but people don’t really use it…try using it jokingly to tell someone to hurry up. “Ok, get it done wiki-wiki.”  Wiki once means fast and twice means super fast.  All of the computer “wikis” are based on the Hawaiian word including “Wikipedia.”

8. Kuleana: responsibility. “That’s not your kuleana”…can mean that is not your problem or mind your own business depending on tone of voice.

9. Kau kau. A meal. “When is kau kau time?”

The original form of Spam

The original form of spam

10. Akamai means smart/clever. You compliment someone by calling them akamai.

11. A hui hou: “Until we meet again”…used by itself. Can be used at the end of an email.

12. Pono: I think of this like politically correct. “Is it pono to barbeque on the beach?”

13. Small kine / big kine. Use this for placing an order/sizes. Also to refer to the past: “I’ve known her since we were small kine.”

14. Tutu: grandmother.

15. Shaka can be said as a positive reinforcement like “good job” or “kudos” and literally refers to the hand movement we all know. Shaka Boom is when you fist bump and end in a shaka. Double Shaka is when you are super happy and shaka with both hands.

16. Hana hou means one more time. You can call this out if you want someone to sing another song or dance again…or if you want to catch one more wave before going in.

17. Recognotice (my all-time favorite): “I nevah recognotice you over there.” It’s a useful mix of recognize and notice.

Fast Kine Tips

Did you know Pidgin is now listed listed as one of the official languages in the islands by the U.S. Census Bureau?

18. If you are a haole (Caucasian) or visitor, I suggest speaking with your normal tone of voice using a few of the expressions in this blog sparingly (otherwise you goin’ get stink eye). You wouldn’t go to New Jersey and suddenly start speaking like Robert De Niro and saying “fuhgeddaboudit”… Don’t throw in more than one pidgin word in each conversation. Avoid overused words like Aloha and Mahalo, and especially not both together.

19. If you just moved here, avoid using too many Hawaiian words on your voicemail greeting or as your email address, and do consult a kumu (teacher) first before giving your child a Hawaiian name or getting a Hawaiian expression tattoo. You’ll understand why a year or two later.

20. If you’d like an advanced lesson on pidgin and some laughs, check out Rap Replinger and Andy Bumatai…mahalo, aloha, and a hui hou…Nah, nah, nah! Jus’ kidding, bra. Disclaimer: this blog is written from the point of view of a haole who grew up in Hawaii back in the ‘70s and ‘80s…I write that because we were not so pono back then!


Honolua Store in the early ’80s with gas pump out front | Photo by my dad, John Severson

Read part 2 – Try Wait: 13 More Tips on How to Speak Mo’ Bettah Pidgin

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