10 Hawaiian Words Everyone Should Know

Going to Hawaii?

One thing I found really interesting about my trip to Hawaii was that nearly every local, regardless of their heritage or proficiency in the Hawaiian language, would frequently use Hawaiian words. Even more interesting, they would use these words even in conversation with tourists, assuming we knew their meaning!

While nearly every American knows the word “aloha”*, not that many non-Hawaiians know the rest of the words on this list. These words are very easy to pronounce (I have included links to Forvo, a pronunciation website) and they’ll go a long way in bringing color and depth to your trip to Hawaii!

*I’m very curious, do people outside of the US commonly know the meaning of the word Aloha? Let me know in the comments!


1. Aloha

(Ah-loh-hah) Aloha is not easily translateable into English, it is both a greeting (hello and goodbye) and a state of mind. Costa Ricans will find it similar to the ubiquitous “Pura Vida”.


2. Mahalo

Mah-hah-low. Thank you.


3. Ohana

(Oh-hah-nah) Ohana means “family”, and is used usely and generously in Hawaii.

No Forvo pronunciation is available for this word, but it is very straightforward: “oh-hah-nah”.


4. Shaka

(Shah-kah) A handshape meant to signal general goodwill, often used in conjunction with “mahalo”. Drivers will use this handshape to signal to others on the road.

The history of the shaka is fascinating, and can be found on my Instagram here: https://www.instagram.com/p/BsJQloYjY1g/


5. Ono

(Oh-noh) Ono means “delicious”, and you’ll be using this word a lot in Hawaii. From the freshly-caught fish in sushi or poke form to the many Japanese and Portuguese-inspired treats (try a malasada!) you’ll be well-fueled for your Diamondhead hike.


6. E kala mai

(Eh kah lah mai) Excuse me.

Accidentally bump into another paddleboarder? Say excuse me and throw up a shaka for maximum goodwill!


7. Keiki

(Kay-key) Keiki means “children”, and you’ll see this word everywhere, from kids’ menus to children-centric activities. And at some of the more exclusive bars or beach clubs, you may see a “no keiki” sign.


8. Poke

(Poh-kay) Probably the most-used word (behind aloha) and definitely the most mispronounced. It rhymes with O.K.


9. Honu



(Hoh-noo) Turtle. Hawaiians are very protective of their turtles, and for good reason. These majestic, slow-moving creatures are severely endangered. Anywhere you find honu, you’ll probably find signs instructing you in the ways to keep them safe.


10. A hui hou

(Ah-hoowee-hoe) You won’t want to say it, but this means “goodbye” or “see you later”.


Want to learn more?

Interested in learning more about the Hawaiian language, or Hawaiian Pidgin English? Check out my blog post on The Languages of Hawaii!



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The "shaka" sign ? is ubiquitous in Hawaii, where it is said to have originated, used by drivers on the road to signal goodwill when you let them pass, and replicated on logo after logo for Hawaiian businesses. There are many theories about its origin. There is one about a sugar cane plantation worker who was missing three of his fingers. There is another with an early Spanish visitor who might have tipped his thumb to his mouth to indicate they should all drink together in peace. Regardless of the origin, you'll see the shaka everywhere in Hawaii, including the shape of this waffle cone, filled with haupia (coconut cream) and topped with pineapple ice cream. Yum!

A post shared by Sara Maria Hasbun (韩梅/사라) (@misslinguistic) on


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In the Hawaiian language, Hawaiian Creole English is called "ʻōlelo paʻi ʻai", which literally means "pounding-taro language". This is a different language from Hawaiian, and not quite mutually intelligible with English, but out of all world English creoles, it is supposed to be the one that is the most comprehensible to English speakers. Funnily, to me it sounds a lot like Singaporean English, even though it has a very different linguistic recipe. It is born from the diverse tongues of plantation laborers who spoke Japanese, Portuguese, Cantonese, and Korean, mixed with Hawaiian and English. What started as a linguistic mishmash was learned by a second generation as their native language, giving it standardized grammatical structures and turning it into what linguists consider a "fully-realized Creole," or, what you might call a "real" language.

A post shared by Sara Maria Hasbun (韩梅/사라) (@misslinguistic) on



One comment

  1. The only Hawaiin word I knew before reading this was Aloha and I learnt that from watching movies. But now I know more. Yaay. And you are right, they are easy to pronounce!

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