Photo: Deborah Kolb/Shutterstock

10 Untranslatable Hawaiian Pidgin Terms

by Kalena McElroy Aug 9, 2017

1. Talk story

Remember when you were a child and you couldn’t believe how long the adults could sit in the same spot and just talk? “I just wanted fo leave da party but da aunties were talking story foeva.” Gossip, chit-chat, reminiscing, or talking with old friends, in Hawaii we use one word to sum it all up.

2. Tita/moke

When someone says “tita”, there’s likely one person who comes to mind and everyone knows that you don’t mess with her. Tita is reserved for a tough local chick who is not scared to get in a fight and doesn’t take anything from anyone. She’s usually a tomboy, speaks pidgin, and is super defensive about her hometown and family. Moke is the male version of a tita.

3. Grind

No, it’s not a type of skateboard trick. Food is a huge part of the local Hawaiian culture; you don’t know a true potluck until you’ve been to one in Hawaii. Just don’t embarrass yourself and show up with chips and salsa. Each family arrives with tupperware and pots full of spam musubi, shoyu chicken, poke, fried rice, teri beef and mac salad. “Now it’s time fo grind.” It’s what you do when there is so much ono (good) food that you eat like there’s no tomorrow. Also related to kanak attack.

4. Kanak attack

Take a look at the people at the end of a baby luau, graduation party, or after eating tutu’s homemade laulau. What do they all have in common?

Whenever there’s some ono grindz around, the kanak attack takes over. Everyone eats until they’re stuffed, sluggish, tired and about to fall asleep. Kalua pig, squid luau, beef stew, pretty much any local food or plate lunch will do it.

5. Geev’um

“Ho, look braddah on dat wave. He geev’um brah!” Geev’um is like “go for it,” but means so much more and works in so many contexts. Some people say it when they see someone doing something crazy, others use it to say, “try your best”, “you can do it” or “don’t give up”. Yelling it to a friend will give them a boost of confidence to face their fears and take a risk (maybe not always in a good way) because they know you’re backing them up.

6. Calabash cousin

Obama even used this one in a graduation speech at Arizona State University. Although technically not related to you, your calabash cousins are so close that they become an extended part of the ʻohana (family). They are usually the children of close family friends that you grew up with and who are of a similar age. You know everything about one another and forget that you actually aren’t related at all.

7. Holoholo

This term perfectly captures the laid back Hawaii lifestyle: It usually means going for a drive around the island just for the fun of it with no set plan or destination in mind. Maybe you end up walking on the beach or stopping to see if a friend is home. Whatever happens, happens, you go with the flow because it’s all part of the adventure.

8. Kapakahi/hammajang

“What wen happen to your truck? It’s all kapakahi!” These two adjectives are interchangeable and can be used in many different contexts. Hammajang and the Hawaiian word kapakahi can mean anything from bent, crooked, lop-sided, messy, askew or one-sided, to just plain messed up.

9. Da kine

This one is the most convenient and can come up multiple times in any conversation. It’s similar to the English “whatchamacallit”, “thing-a-ma-jig” and “so-and-so”, but can be used in many other ways. Da kine fills in for anything; people, places, objects, really any word that happens to slip your mind at the time.

Aunty’s house, the beach, the remote on the table, or the name of a friend of a friend you saw last week can all be replaced with da kine. “I seen da kine yesterday at da kine, Sandy Beach.” Maybe the name slipped your mind, but the
majority of the time, the listener knows or can easily guess exactly what you’re talking about.

10. Pau hana

It literally translates to “finished work” in the Hawaiian language but is also used to say “after work drinks” or simply “after work”. It’s common to see groups of co-workers at the bar for pau hana to celebrate the end of the work day. It’s a time to relax, kick back, hang out with friends, grab a drink and enjoy the free time out of the office.

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