Local Guide - Dictionary
There are many words that the Kama'aina (locals) speak every day, as second nature, that are rarely heard on the Mainland.
You may notice while driving around town that our street names (and most words) are full of vowels. This is because there are only 13 letters in the Hawaiian alphabet: A, E, H, I K, L, M, N, O, P, U and W. And 18 sounds a, e, i, o, u, ä, ë, ï, ö, ü, h, k, l, m, n, p, w, and w with a v sound.
The 'okina (') is a glottal stop like the sound between the ohs in "oh-oh" and is also a consonant. In order to clarify pronunciation, you will often see the glottal stop ( ' ) or 'okina and macron used on words such as Hawai'i.
Here we have compiled a list of interesting words, pronunciations and meanings. We do not expect you to be able to pronounce Kalanianiole Highway as soon as you step off the plane, but this list and the quick reference guide will give you a good start.
`A`â - [ah AH'] - Rough, clinkery lava Vs., pâhoehoe (smooth lava). `A`â to a car is like a can opener to metal.
A hui hou! - [ah hui hou!] - Good bye! See you later!
`Āina - [AI' nah] - Land, earth. As in, "Aloha `Âina", (love of the land or of one's country).
Akamai - [ah kah mai'] - Smart, clever, wise, intelligent. You may take it as a compliment if someone tells you that you are akamai.
Ala - [ah' lah] - Road, path / rise, awaken. Ala Moana Boulevard is redundant terminology. Ala = road. Moana = open sea. Boulevard = broad avenue (in French).
Ali`i - [ah lee' ee] - Chief / chiefess, royalty, /nobility/ a member of the chiefly class. These days, airlines use this word to signify "first class" , as in ali`i class.
Aloha - [ah loh' hah] - Love, greetings, goodbye, pity, compassion, mercy, affection, farewell ; spirit of love, affection, kindness. As in: Aloha wau iâ `oe (I love you); Aloha `oe (Farewell to you).
Ānuenue - [AH' noo (w)eh noo (w)eh] - Rainbow. Manoa Valley, where the University of Hawaii is located, is famous for its rainbows, but chances are good that you will see one no matter which island you visit.
Coconut Wireless - How information is passed in Hawaii. On the mainland you may have "heard it through the grapevine".
Da Kine - [da kine] - Means anything you want it to!
Hâlau - [HAH' lau] - Long house, as for canoes or hula instruction, hula school.
Hale - [hah' leh] - House, building, institution, lodge, station, hall. As in, Honolulu Hale (Honolulu House, name of City Hall for Honolulu); Halekulani (Honolulu hotel), Haleakalâ (mountain on Maui).
Hana - [hah' nah] - work, job, activity; do. As in pau hana (done with work). Not to be confused with beautiful Hâna [HAH' nah] on Maui.
Hana hou! - [hah' nah hou!] - Encore! / To do again. Lit., "do it again". A performer's accolade in Hawai`i.
Hânai - [HAH' nai] - Adopted or foster child. In Hawaii everyone seems to have a Hânai family, which is why we call our elders "Auntie" or "Uncle". Friends are affectiantely referred to as "Brah", "Sistah" or "Cuz" as a part of this tradition.
Hau`oli Lâ Hânau! - [hau' oh lee LAH' HAH' nau!] Happy Birthday! Lit., happy + day + birth
He`e nalu - [heh' eh nah' loo] - To surf, surfing. Don't forget to take a lesson while you are here!
Hele - [heh' leh] - To go, come, walk. Hele mai (Come hither), Hele aku (Go away).
hōkū - [HOH' KOO'] - Star - You will see an abundance of these on the Big Island, up close and personal if you travel the 13,796 feet to the observatories at the top of Mauna Kea. The telescopes are operated by astronomers from 11 countries.
Holoholo - [hoh' loh hoh' loh] - To go out for pleasure. People go to Honolulu to holoholo!
Ho`olaulea - [hoh oh lau leh' yah] - Celebration. Often a family picnic, gathering.
Ho'okipa - [hoh oh kee pah] - To entertain, hospitality. Our ho'okipa is legendary.Hūi! - [HOO' (w)ee!] - Halloo! Yoohoo! When you get to a friend's house and no one is around, call this out. This is much more polite, and more Hawaiian, to call out instead of loudly knocking at the door. Also, a simple way of saying, "Pssst."
Huli - [hoo' lee] - Turn, turn over. As in huli huli chicken grilled over kiawe charcoal.
Humuhumunukunukuâpua`a - [hoo moo hoo moo noo koo noo koo AH' poo (w)ah ah] - Reef trigger fish. A "supercalifragilisticexpialido-cious" kind of word.
Imu - [ee' moo] - Underground oven, heated with red-hot volcanic rocks. Used to cook kâlua pig for a lû`au.
Ipu - [ee' poo] - Gourd drum. Used in hula.
Kahuna - [kah hoo' nah] - Priest, expert in any profession.
Kai - [kai] - Sea, sea water. As in Hawaii Kai, a town on Oahu.
Kâlua - [KAH' loo (w)ah] - Roasted, baked; to bake in an imu (a Hawaiian underground oven). As in, kâlua pig, piece de resistance of any lû`au.
Kaukau - [kau kau] - Food. This is not a Hawaiian word, but a pidgin English word. The Hawaiian term for food is `ai. In Hawaiian, kaukau refers to placing something somewhere. The pidgin word, kaukau, may have come from the Hawaiian word for table, pâkaukau. Or perhaps from a Chinese word for food, chow chow?
Keiki - [kei' kee] - Child. Have you hugged your keiki today?
Kane - [KAH' neh] - Male, husband, man. Looking for the Men's room? You may instead be given the options Kane or Wahine.
Kiawe - [kee (y)ah' veh] - Algaroba tree. Bush with sharp thorns - great charcoal.
Kôkua - [KOH' koo (w)ah] - Help, aid. "Mahalo for your Kôkua" means "Thank you for your cooperation".
Kolohe - [koh loh' heh] - Mischevious, raskel, nauty, prankster. Commonly used in a friendly manner, not in a sense of ridcule or mockery.
Kupuna - [koo poo' nah] - Grandparent, elders, ancestors.
Lânai - [LAH' nai] - Porch, veranda, patio. Note that it is pronounced with two syllables. The island of Lâna`i is pronounced with three: [LAH' nah ee].
Lani - [lah' nee] - Heaven, sky, heavenly, divine, royalty. As in Iolani Palace and leilani which translates to heavenly flower garland.
Mahalo - [mah hah' loh] - Thanks, gratitude.
Ma kai - [mah kai'] - Toward the sea. East-West-North-South directions are rarely used. Instead ma uka (toward the mountains) - ma kai, (toward the ocean) - `Ewa (toward the town of 'Ewa, or West) - Diamond Head (toward Diamond Head, or East from town) serve those on O`ahu well.
Mauna Kea - [mau' nah] - White Mountain - The highest point in the Pacific Basin, and the highest island-mountain in the world, Mauna Kea rises 9,750 meters (32,000 ft) from the ocean floor to an altitude of 4,205 meters (13,796 ft) above sea level, which places its summit above 40 percent of the Earth's atmosphere.
Mauna Loa - Long Mountain - This mountain is just slightly shorter than Mauna Kea at 13,680 feet above sea level but it is aptly named "long mountain" because its area is 2,035 square miles or 50.5% of the Big Island.
Menehune - [meh neh hoo' neh] - Small people of yore. They built ponds, roads, heiau. We wish they would come into our offices at night and clean up the desk, but it seems the just make a bigger mess for us in the morning.
Moana - [moh (w)ah' nah] - Open sea, ocean. As in, Moana Hotel, Ala Moana.
Nō Ka ‘Oi - [nah kah oi] Indeed the best. As is Oahu Nō Ka ‘Oi!
Nênê - [NEH' NEH'] - Hawaiian goose, once endangered. State bird, protected and rare on Maui and Big Island uplands.
Nui - [nui] - Large, big, important, much, great. "Mahalo nui loa" means thank you very much.
`Ohana - [oh hah' nah] - Family, immediate and/or extended. Extremely important in Hawaiian culture. We consider you part of our 'Ohana.
`Ono - [oh' noh] - Delicious; to crave, relish. `Onolicious is slang for delicious. Kâlua pig is `onolicious!
Pâhoehoe - [PAH' hoe hoe] - Ropy, smooth lava. In contrast to `a`â (rough lava).
Pali - [pah' lee] - Cliff, precipice. As in, Nu`uanu Pali, Pali Highway, Nâ Pali coast.
Pau - [pau] - Finished, done. All pau (Done).
Pau hana - [pau hah' nah] - Work is done; after work hours. As in, pau hana (quitting time at work); pau hana hour (happy hour).
Pua - [poo' (w)ah] - Flower, child.
Tapa - [tah' pah] - Cloth made from pounded bark.
Wahine - [wah hee' neh] - Woman, wife, lady. Looking for the Ladies room? You may instead be given the options of Kane and Wahine.