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three girls talking

In Hawaii pidgin isn’t a type of bird, but a way of speaking. Called “olelo pai ai” or “pounding-taro language” in Hawaiian, Hawaii Creole English makes a frequent appearance in the dialect of kamaaina (locals).

In Hawaii’s plantation days, pidgin grew out of a need to communicate between English-speaking and non-English speaking immigrants. Much like Hawaii’s ethnic makeup, pidgin is a mixing pot of ethnicities from around the world including Portuguese, Hawaiian, Cantonese, Japanese, Filipino, Korean and Spanish.

When visiting Hawaii you’ll catch excerpts of pidgin everywhere – from the girl serving you shave ice on the North Shore of Oahu, to the directions on where to find the bathroom at the beach. If you’re planning a trip to the islands, eat where the locals eat, wear what they wear, and learn how the locals speak.

For those looking to spread their wings and get familiar with Hawaii’s local lingo, here are some key terms to brush up on. You stay talk story like one akamai kamaaina in no time.

  • Akamai (ah-kah-my): Also Hawaiian for “smart,” akamai means to be intelligent. For example, “that sistah stay akamai.
  • ”Bumbye (bum-bye): Means later or eventually. For example, “I can’t stop by now but will come bumbye.
  • ”Bumbucha (bum-boo-cha): A term used to describe something that is very big or large. For example, “that is one bumbucha plate lunch.
  • ”Cockaroach (kah-kah-roh-ch): Another name for roach, in Hawaii “cockaroach” is also used as a verb, meaning to steal. Such as “who when cockaroach all da malasadas?
  • ”Garans (gah-rahns): Meaning to guarantee something, this term is regularly heard in the term “garans ball barans.” For example, “garans ball barans that place has the best saimin in town.
  • ”Hana Hou (hah-nah hoe): Once more, or again. Typically used at the end of a performance to encourage entertainers to play or sing one more song.
  • Lua (loo-ah): One of the most important words to learn anywhere you go, in pidgin English, lua means bathroom.
  • Ono (oh-no): This is an actual Hawaiian word that is used in pidgin English as well. It is used to describe food that is delicious or good. For example, “that meal was ono.
  • ”Pau (pow): Meaning to be finished or complete. Such as being pau with a project or work.
  • Pau Hana (pow hah-nah): A local phrase meaning to be done or finished with work. This term is frequently seen in bars or restaurants which offer “pau hana” or happy hour specials.
  • Pupu (poo-poo): A frequent sight on local menus, pupu means appetizer.
  • Shoots (shoo-ts): Can be used when bidding good bye or approving of a statement. It is typically used as a positive affirmation.
  • Slippah: The local term for flip flops, these thonged footwear are a common sight from beaches to bars.