Try Wait: 13 More Tips on How to Speak Mo’ Bettah Pidgin

Pidgin English is unique to Hawaii and varies island to island, and even by region. Pidgin not only is based on how you speak but how you act and the shared cultural knowledge.


Dollar Tree Eighty kine fabric design by Anna

Imua! (Let’s Go!)

Following my last blog on how to speak mo’ bettah Pidgin, here are a few more insights:

1. Keiki – A child or children. Plural is also keiki. “The keiki are welcome at the party.”

2. Mauka or makai – Mountain side or ocean side. This is very important when receiving directions in Hawaii since no one uses street names. “We live on the lower road by the farmers market, mauka side.”

3. Dollah-tree-eighty – If you can’t remember the cost of something, usually not much, you could say it cost a dollah-tree-eighty.

4. Manini – Skimpy, small. Manini means small or stingy; “he probably left a dollah-tree-eighty for a tip.” The word comes from those small striped reef fish (convict tang) that are delicious but don’t have much meat on them.

Manini Hawaiian Reef Fish

Manini Hawaiian Reef Fish

5. Brah/braddah man – I like to use this as an exclamation when I see an old friend: “Braddah man!” They usually answer, “Sistah girl!” or “How you stay?” I actually call my husband Braddah man when he’s bossing me around, to replace “yes, sir”…you can call everyone brah, even the ladies. “Howzit brah?”

6. Sandals are called rubbah slippahs.

7. Something delicious is broke da mout’.

8. Everyone has heard of pupus! Snacks or hors d’œuvres. Makes the keiki laugh when you say, “We’re having a pupu party tonight.”

9. Pakalolo is marijuana; literally the crazy weed (paka = weed, lolo = crazy). This probably doesn’t need explanation, but you wouldn’t want to eat a pakalolo cookie by mistake because no one told you what that herb was…

10. A kama’aina is a local or someone who lives in Hawaii, but now it seems to mean someone with a Hawaii driver’s license who qualifies for a discount.

11. Hammajang – This means messed up…Often used to refer to someone who is drunk or wasted…“He got all hammajag last night.”

12. Okole – We always use it as a nice way to refer to your behind or bum, but apparently it means the actual…well, da kine…puka.

13. Auntie or Uncle – Respectful way of referring to your elders. Especially useful if you cannot remember the first name of the coaches at swim practice: “Thank you, Uncle, for helping the keiki today.”

Photo by Anna Severson

Keiki at play on Front Street, Lahaina

No Ack! (Stop Showing Off!)

Talk Story: Stop, listen, ask questions, and chat. In Hawaii, as a visitor or haole, it is important to be aware and considerate in your encounters. This can be going to the post office, hanging in your condo complex, or joining a group of paddlers. Don’t come in a hurry, loud with your “mainland” agenda. If you are on vacation, remember most locals work two jobs and aren’t automatically as cheery as the folks in the luaus working for tips. Nothing personal, just try to understand our point of view. Allow an extra five minutes to talk story for most transactions, but don’t force it if the person is busy.

Hawaii Time: People do run late or miss calls for bizarre reasons. We might go out for a surf or go watch the sunset and miss your text messages. A Eucalyptus tree might fall over a phone line and the alarm doesn’t go off. A fire might close the road and Fed Ex can’t make it over. We might stop to talk story with the neighbor and have a beer. Getting impatient doesn’t move things along. A missed appointment or the construction worker who didn’t show up for work…they are running on Hawaii Time. Keep in mind we are on an island in the middle of the Pacific so things take a while to get here. It’s not always endearing. Be flexible.

Most of the time, pidgin slang is used informally or among friends and was actually almost banned from classrooms in the ‘80s. Now there is a certain prestige in speaking pidgin or being able to join in when the ukulele comes out (“tell Faith Yanagi I love her/Tell Faith Yanagi no go cry/and no go out with Mits Funai”). There is also more pride using the beautiful Hawaiian names for places and pronouncing the words correctly (“Shit Falls” is now Oneloa Bay, “Hailey Miley” is pronounced “Haili’I Mailē” etc).

My particular strain of pidgin is from Maui in the ‘70s and ’80. It’s a mix from local friends at school and haole (white) surfer hippy parents with a bit of Potagee (Portugese) thrown in since I was raised in paniolo (cowboy) country. For me, Pidgin is also acknowledging everyone (not just the high maka maka fancy folks) with a head tilt up, not a nod down, and saying howzit or stopping to talk story

There is a myth that locals don’t like the tourists or haoles on Molokai or wherever. It reminds me of people who go to Paris and say the French are all jerks. That’s because they enter a café speaking English loudly, ordering a diet coke with extra ice cubes in a to-go cup…“When in Rome, do as the Romans do…”

Each person speaks pidgin a bit differently, but even if you don’t speak pidgin, you can enjoy your Hawaii day and adopt the Hawaiian Vibe: have a good sense of humor, be empathetic, patient, and humble, and don’t rush through transactions. Ok, a few well appointed pidgin words can diffuse a tense situation…especially if you’ve lived here since da hanabata (snotty-nosed) days!

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George Walter

August 26, 2016

Great blog, Anna. Had me laughing. I havent heard “Fate Yanagi” for a long time. So funny.


August 26, 2016

Mahalo Brah!

… I was hesitating on the spelling of “Faith Yanagi”!

See you in the neighborhood…

Anna Severson

December 2, 2016

Oh wow – that is the best evah. Mahalo nui. Goin post em on Facebook

Heidi Thorson

August 26, 2016

This is great! Thank you Anna.

Sherri Williams

September 3, 2016

Also made me smile and remember my first days on Maui in the late 70’s…………I need to remember the pace of “hawaii time” and “lucky we live Hawaii” every day!

Mike Perry

October 15, 2016

Really enjoyed reading your blog. Didn’t know you were with Hi Life. Last time i saw you was at the Pacific Vibrations event at Puka Puka. That was fun, hope they have more. Much aloha from da Paia side. Mike

Anna Severson

October 15, 2016

Aloha Mike! Nice hearing from you and I’m glad to hear you’re with Hawaii Life. It’s a great match for me… See you Bumbye. Anna


November 8, 2016

Huh…. what you said?….


February 10, 2019

Paka means tobacco, not weed. It’s Portagee, not Potage. Also, it’s hammajang and hanabata. Mo bettah you check da spelling first next time.

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