Hawaiian Pidgin: A Beginner’s Guide

Here’s a little grade school refresher for you… Hawaii is a state. It is actually the 50th of the 50 states in the actual United States of America. I know it’s not connected by land to the other 49 states, but it’s a state. People here speak English because…well, because it’s a state (although this is highly controversial in Hawaii because of the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom government in 1893 among other reasons which I do not feel qualified to write about).

I’m beginning with this refresher because I can’t tell you how many people have asked my husband Mike what language they speak in Hawaii as well as whether or not it was difficult for him to come to the mainland and have to speak English. He usually tells them that, because the Hawaiian language was actually outlawed for many years, people here mostly speak English. Except the ones who don’t. Just like everywhere else in the U.S. The reaction is usually one of surprise.

I know, right?

So, for our purposes today we are calling Hawaii a state and the official language here English (controversy is duly noted). But today we’re actually going to talk about another language that is widely spoken here in Hawaii… Hawaiian Pidgin; also known as “ōlelo pa’i ai” (pounding-taro language). It’s based in part on English, began with speakers of different languages trying to communicate with each other and has evolved to form a full-fledged, geographically stable language… how cool is that? It’s like English, Hawaiian, Japanese, Tagalog, and Chinese had a baby and it came out as Hawaiian Pidgin (yes, I know 5 people can’t make one baby-we’re pretending here).

Pidgin can be difficult for a new-comer to understand. The first time I heard it I thought to myself, “What the hell is he saying?” But, with Mike’s help, I slowly began to figure it out. It is actually very entertaining to listen to and even more entertaining to try to speak. When Mike and I pretend that our dogs are talking, we make them speak in Pidgin. For example, one of our dogs might say to the other, “Hey uncle, look at dat cat. Dats one lolo mudda. He all buss up. Stay away from dat bugga.” Try it… you’ll like it.

Some Pidgin Words and Phrases to Know

Bugga-Someone or something not good. Sort of like bugger. But worse.

Dakine-Literally “the kind” but really means more like, “you know what it is” or “that one.” Somehow people know what you’re referring to when you say dakine. I’m still not sure how.

Rubbish-Trash. But no one says trash. They say rubbish. It even says “Rubbish” on the trash chute in our condo. And the one in Mike’s mom’s condo. They must make the chutes special for Hawaii. Or get them from England.

Cau cau– to eat. If someone says, “Hey brah, you want go cau cau?” you should go. Don’t miss out on an opportunity to eat some local food.

Pupus-Appetizers or snacks. Not poop. I know, it does sound funny when someone says, “You like eat pupu?” Try not to laugh.

Tree– Three. Ya, I got tricked on this one. One night at about 4am some drunk guy was yelling outside our window, “Hey u tree faggots! Come back hea! I gone kick yo ass you tree faggots.”

I said to Mike, “What’s a tree faggot?” He hasn’t stopped laughing yet.

Holo holo-To take a trip, go around for shopping or fun. Good times.

False crack-To sucker punch, usually in the face. Try to avoid this.

Cute da bebe– The baby is cute. In the Hawaiian language (as in many other languages) the adjective comes before the noun. So many phrases in Pidgin have a different grammatical structure than standard English. If you understand this, it makes it easier to figure out what the hell you’re hearing.

Ainokea– My favorite word in Pidgin. Basically means “I don’t care.” You’ll see it on T-shirts written like the name of a place (Āinokea, Hawaii). This cracks me up.

No bodda-Don’t bother me. Leave me alone. Don’t worry about it. You have to take the context into consideration with this one. Sometimes on the same T-shirt with ainokea (No Bodda, Āinokea). This also cracks me up.

Buss up– Broken. A piece of crap. As in, “Wat happen brah? Yo car, it all buss up.” Translation: What happened to your car man? It’s a wreck.

Mahu– A transgender man. Don’t go around calling people this. You might get false cracked.

I know this is just the tiniest tip of the Pidgin iceberg but I hope it’s gotten you wanting to hear more of this fantastic, colorful language. To learn more click here for an online Pidgin dictionary or search YouTube for Andy Bumatai’s Daily Pidgin Show for a hilarious introduction to Hawaiian Pidgin.

 

 

 

 

 

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