Things Hawaii Locals Say that Mainlanders Don’t Understand

10 Questions Locals Get Asked All the Time-3

Do you ever have that moment where, in a split second, you correct yourself and say “finish” instead of “pau?” I’m pretty sure most of us locals have had that happen. As Pidgin English is no longer a dialect, I guess you could say Hawaii locals are bilingual. And, as such, sometimes it’s hard to understand what we’re saying. To be honest, some locals have a heavier island accent than others, but the oral grammar structure of local people differs from what is Proper English. Here are some things local people say that mainlanders don’t understand. And, to help you out, there are some explanations for you too. 😉

But before we begin… a brief history

Pidgin English was a Creole language created by the plantation workers in the old days. When sugar cane and other goods were being produced and harvested, the workers, who came from all around the world, needed a way to communicate with one another. Pidgin English was formed: a combination of Hawaiian, English, Tagalog (and other Filipino dialects), Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, and Korean (there is probably more but these are the main languages). Most of Pidgin English is structured on the Hawaiian grammar, so don’t be surprised if it sounds weird, like we’re doing the Yoda talk sometimes!

Saying “Yeah?” at the end of each sentence

“She went to the store, yeah?” “It’s five o’clock, yeah?” “You like the book, yeah?” Islanders say this all the time. It’s not that we’re questioning you, it’s just something we say, even if it’s not a question.

Saying “That’s why” instead of “because”

I never realized I did this until I learned Tagalog. At the end of a sentence, Filipino speakers will say, “kasi,” which means “that’s why” or “because.” As I grew up learning and speaking Pidgin English, it was only when a friend pointed out to me the “that’s why” at the end of my sentence that I realized it was definitely odd! Instead of starting our sentences with “Because,” we explain ourselves and then finish it with, “That’s why.” It just works better at the end that’s why. 😛

Saying so-and-so “guys”

This is the worst thing to text someone who doesn’t understand Pidgin English. In the Hawaiian language, if you don’t want to say the names of everyone in the group/family/relationship, you would state the first name and follow it with “ma” to indicate plurality. In English, for example, I always refer to my Aunt Francine and Uncle Delwyn as “Aunt Francine guys” just so I don’t have to spell out both her name and my uncle’s name. So next time your local friend says a name and follows it immediately with “guys,” you know who they’re talking about.

Having to say “Pau” instead of “Finish”

You can’t say you’re a local if you haven’t had to code switch between “pau” and “done” or “finish.” For as long as I’ve lived away from home, even I catch myself almost saying “pau” and then switching to an English word. The Hawaiian word “pau” means “to finish,” so don’t be surprised if your local friend pauses for a split second before stating they’re done with something. Also, most locals with raise their hands to show they are empty. This also signifies finality.

Saying “Shoots”

This means we’re cool with it, or let’s do it. It doesn’t mean we want to shoot you. Saying “shoots” is usually accompanied with the shaka sign and a smile.  

Saying “Brah” or “Cuz” or “Sis”

Don’t be surprised if we start using these names on you as we get to know you. These will just slip out, but they’re no cause for alarm. In fact, you should be proud if a local starts using these names on you because it most likely means you’re family to them (unless they’re mad… then watch out if they’re mad :P). .

Calling another Polynesian person by “Aunty” or “Uncle”

If your local friend happens to meet another Polynesian while you’re with them, don’t be alarmed if they start calling that stranger “aunty” or “uncle.” To us, we have an automatic connection with people we meet from the islands. And it usually doesn’t matter which island, whether it’s the Hawaiian islands, Samoa, or New Zealand. Within the Polynesian triangle, everyone is family. Also, don’t be surprised when your local friends kiss these people on the cheeks. It’s custom.

Saying “How come?” instead of “Why?”

This might also be derived from Tagalog, but as far as I know, I still say “how come?” instead of “why?” If your local friend says “how come?” then just know it’s the equivalent of “why?”

Enunciate every word 

I can’t say how many times I’ve been embarrassed in saying someone’s name because I literally read every syllable and vowel. My own last name I spell phonetically so people can say it right (kay-cow-o-ha… got it? No. It’s ok). But living on the mainland and meeting people with unfamiliar last names is hard for us locals. For example, the name “Ainge,” I read as “A-een-gay.” When, really, it’s just pronounced “Aynge.” Or, we might pronounce every consonant, such as the “t” in “mountain” or “Keaton.” We have our own strange slurs, but we’ve learned to enunciate and say long hard names, so take it easy on us when we read words and signs in weird ways. 😛

Is there a word or a phrase you use that your mainland friends don’t understand? Is there a word or phrase your Hawaii local friend uses that you want to understand better? Comment below! 

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