Talk Story

Talk Story

Hawai’ian Pidgin is just as much fun, and even more widely spoken, although we overheard it more than it was spoken to us. While called “Pidgin”, linguistically it is considered a creole language. Pidgin is an anglicized approximation of the Chinese word for business, and it commonly refers to spoken communication that develops among people who do not know each other’s language, but need to work together or want to trade goods. True pidgin has no grammar or structure provided by the many forms of speech present in formal language, relying instead on adopted, invented, mashed-up nouns, and simple verbs sourced in the speakers’ native tongues. Pidgins vary according to their parent languages.

Creoles, on the other hand, do have grammars and so allow more complex and extensive communication, which is why they persist and often supplant their pidgin sources. Creole is the name given to language developed by the children of pidgin speakers.

Here is a fun vocabulary guide to Hawai’ian Pidgin, from howtoliveinhawaii.com1.

auntie – A respectful term for a woman who is of your parents’ generation or older: The aunties have volunteered at the school for many years. A respectful way to address such a woman: Can I help you carry that, auntie?
borinkee – A person of Puerto Rican descent. !!! (whose ancestors came to Hawai’i early in the 20th century, to work in the sugar cane fields)
brah – Short for braddah or bruddah (“brother”). A casual, friendly way of addressing a male: Eh, brah — you wanna go surf?
broke da mouth (broke dah mowt) – Extremely delicious: Dis Potagee soup broke da mouth, auntie!
buk buk (book book) – A person of Filipino descent (see also manong).
bumbai (bum-BYE) – Short for “by and by.” Otherwise, or else, eventually: You bettah study bumbai you flunk da test tomorrow.
buss you up or all buss up – To fight and win, or hang one on drinking.
chang – Miserly, overly frugal: C’mon, gimme some more, brah — you so chang!
chicken skin – Goosebumps: Dat ghost story always give me chicken skin!
da kine – A catch-all phrase that is often used to fill in a mental blank when talking, similar to “whatchamacallit”: Let’s go to da kine place we grind at last week.
grind – Eat.
grinds – Delicious food.
haole (HOW-leh) – A Caucasian person, not including people of Portuguese descent.
howzit – A greeting, equivalent to “How are you?” or “How is it going?”
kanaka (kah-NAH-kah) – A person of Native Hawaiian descent.
katonk or kotonk (kah-TONK or koh-TONK) – A person of Asian descent born and raised on the U.S. mainland.
kau kau (KOW kow) – Food, eat.
‘k den – An expression of farewell, equivalent to “OK, then — goodbye.”
like beef? – An invitation to fight, equivalent to “You wanna step outside and settle this?” (see also scrap).
lolo – Stupid, absent-minded, crazy. Moron, imbecile.
manong – A person of Filipino descent (see also buk buk).
moke (MOHK) – A local man who looks and acts tough.
no need – Equivalent to “you/I don’t need it” or “that’s not necessary”: No need shoes in Hawaiʻi — just slippahs!
pake (PAH-keh) – A person of Chinese descent. A tightwad.
pocho – A person of Portuguese descent. (See also potagee.)
popolo – A dark-skinned person of African descent.
potagee (POH-tah-gee) – A person of Portuguese descent. (See also pocho.)
rajah dat (RAH-jah dat) – Equivalent to “Roger, that!” meaning “Yes,” “OK,” or “I agree.”
rubbish – Trash, garbage.
scrap – Fight, argue (see also like beef?): In small kid time, me and him scrap all da time afta school.
shaka (SHAH-kah) – Hand signal in which index, middle, and ring finger are folded down while thumb and pinkie are extended, with palm facing body. Means “hi,” “goodbye,” or “thank you.”
shoots – Equivalent to saying “OK” or “I strongly agree”: Shoots, I’ll take some of dat free kau kau!
shoots den – Equivalent to saying “shoots then,” meaning “OK, goodbye” or “OK, see you later.”
sistah – The feminine equivalent of brah.
slippahs – Equivalent to “slippers,” meaning flip-flop sandals.
small kid time – Equivalent to saying “back when I was younger”: I know her since small kid time.
sole (SO-leh) – A person of Samoan descent.
stink eye – Dirty look: Da tita gimme stink eye when I ask her out.
talk stink – Trash talk. Talk behind someone’s back.
talk story – To chat or gossip. To reminisce with friends.
tanks – Equivalent to saying “thanks” in a sarcastic way: Tanks, bruddah — now dat I no need!
tita (TEE-tah) – A local woman who is tough and masculine. Feminine equivalent of moke.
uku (OO-koo) – Lots: No need any — I got uku million of dat.
uncle – Masculine equivalent of auntie.
wagon – Shopping cart.
yobo – A person of Korean descent.

Hawai’ian Pidgin claims gestures – body language – too. The grammar is not easy to explain. Instead, I’ll leave you with one of the most entertaining and expressive speakers of Hawai’ian Pidgin, Andy Bumatai, in an episode of his YouTube podcast The Daily Pidgin: “A Rough Day”.


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