Glossary of Hawaiian Words and Local Idioms
These words and phrases appear in our stories but may not be known to
some readers. Primary sources are the Hawaiian Dictionary (University of Hawai'i Press) and Pidgin to da Max
Two diacritical marks are prevalent in the Hawaiian language: the 'okina, or glottal (') and the kahako=, or macron. Most
fonts can't show the kahako=, which is a line over the appropriate letter. Therefore, we do not use them in Island Scene Online
stories. But an "=" after the appropriate letter indicates a kahako= in this glossary.
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The red-footed, brown, or masked or blue-faced booby. All indigenous to Hawai'i and also breeding elsewhere.
Jagged, rocky lava.
In most common usage, a modifier meaning smart, clever or witty.
Chief, ruler, monarch.
There are over 30 shadings of meaning under the entry in Pukui's Hawaiian Dictionary. The most common
are love, affection, compassion, kindness, greeting, farewell and regards.
A group of small endemic Hawaiian honey creepers, with yellow and greenish feathers.
A family or personal god or a deified ancestor who might assume the shape of an animal like a shark, octopus,
bird or dog, or even an object like a rock or a cloud.
Kava. A plant of the pepper family that is native to Pacific islands, its root is the source of a narcotic
Area west of Honolulu, used as a direction term for west.
A hula school; a meeting house for hula instruction.
House, building, lodge, hall; to have a house.
To do again, repeat, renew, repair, mend; encore.
A foster child or adopted child. Also used as a verb, as in to hanai a child.
White person, Caucasian; American, English; formerly, any foreigner.
Pregnant; to conceive.
A place of worship or a shrine. Some heiau were elaborately constructed stone platforms, others simple earth
A creeping grass or weed.
Club, association, society, corporation, company, institution, organization and, in Pukui's Hawaiian Dictionary,
nine other types of groups, formal and informal.
To pull or tug, as on a rope; to give support, as to a political party.
A trigger fish with a blunt snout like a pig (pua'a).
Priest, sorcerer, magician, wizard, minister, expert in any profession.
Baked shredded meat.
Specifically, native-born or host. But in usage, has come to mean anyone who has lived in Hawai'i a long
A demigod who could take the shape of a man or a pig.
According to Pukui, a full-blooded Hawaiian. But in today's common usage, any person of native Hawaiian
Unwoven cloth made from tree bark.
Taboo, prohibition, forbidden. Also used in pidgin as a verb to lay claim, as in "I kapu da big piece."
Doctor, physician, medical.
Algaroba tree. From Peru and first planted in Hawai'i in 1928, it has become very common and useful. The
wood from the tree is valued for cooking fires.
A clear place or oasis within a lava bed where there may be vegetation.
A valuable endemic Hawaiian lumber tree used for canoes, surfboards and calabashes. Now more often used for
furniture and ukulules. Also used to describe a person as brave, bold, fearless, warrior-like.
Help, aid or assistance.
A duck native to Hawai'i.
Rascal (most common usage), mischievous, naughty, unethical or unprincipled, illegal, fraudulent, destructive.
Come in; welcome.
To pool thoughts and prayers to solve common problems.
Teacher, tutor, manual, primer, model, pattern.
Grandparent, ancestor, an older relative or close friend.
Porch, veranda, balcony.
Pandanus leaf usually used for weaving.
Necklace of flowers, leaves, shells, feathers, etc., given as a symbol of affection.
Irrigated terrace, especially for taro.
Good will, good disposition, generosity, grace; kind, humane, gracious, benevolent, benificent, obliging.
Thanks, gratitude. To thank.
mahalo nui loa
Thank you very much.
A native vine with shiny fragrant leaves, used for lei and decorations, especially on important occasions.
It is a member of the periwinkle family.
Toward the ocean. Used in giving directions.
To die, dead.
Supernatural or divine power; spiritual.
When used as an adjective, usually means "small" or "stingy." The most common noun usage refers to a reef
ma'o hau hele
Native yellow hibiscus.
Toward the mountains. Used in giving directions.
Legendary race of small people who worked at night, building fish ponds, roads, temples. While industrious,
they were also of mischievous nature, and hold a similar place in Hawaiian mythology as leprechauns do in Irish.
Threadfish, which was much esteemed for food. Also a native variety of taro, and a variety of sweet potato.
Annual Moloka'i to O'ahu canoe race.
|na= pua no'eau |
The skillful, talented or artistic children of Hawai'i.
Soft, sweet, melodious, as music or a gentle voice. Also, softly blowing, gentle-mannered or soft-spoken.
From Pukui: A spreading, succulent shrub found on coasts of tropical Asia and some islands of the
Pacific. Flowers are white and may be streaked with purple. The berries are white and about 1.3 cm long, looking like hailstones.
A goose native to Hawai'i, is the state bird.
To be inquisitive, questioning or nosy, often used to describe a "busybody."
no ka 'oi
A phrase used after a noun -- usually a place name -- meaning "is the best."
Family; blood-related or extended.
A hard wood tree of varying heights and forms that grows abundantly in wet areas. The tree is also called
'ohia lehua or lehua. Lehua is also the flower of the tree.
The large mackerel-type fish known as wahoo in Florida.
A saltwater or freshwater fish; a goby.
trash, rubbish, garbage.
Smooth, unbroken type of lava.
Work is done.
General name for small mollusks.
In traditional Hawaiian usage, a verb meaning to cut crosswise into pieces, as fish or wood. But through usage,
has become a noun meaning any of many varieties of raw fish or other seafood salads.
Correct or proper procedure; goodness, well-being.
Hole. Necklaces made of shells with holes, called puka shells, were popular in the 1970s.
A movable couch.
pu=pu= kani oe
Endangered O'ahu native tree snail.
Any kind of protuberance, from a pimple to a hill.
Small, guitarlike musical instrument, chiefly associated with Hawaiian music.
Breadfruit. A tree belonging to the fig family, which is grown for its edible fruits and sometimes for ornament.
Also, a round, smooth stone used in Hawaiian games as a bowling ball, bell clapper, die, etc.
Certain species of crevalle, jack or pompano; an important game fish and food item.
|chicken skin |
Local version of "goose bumps." Sometimes used as an adjective.
Japanese fishcake used in many local dishes.
Favorite local dish consisting of a hamburger patty on a bed of rice, topped with a sunny-side egg and
drenched with brown gravy.
A local idiom for Chinese pork cake.
Japanese rice ball.
Slang for Chinese. Derogatory, depending on context.
Slang for Portuguese. Derogatory, depending on context.
Friendly hand gesture with middle fingers curled under, and thumb and pinky extended out. Used to express
Japanese for soy sauce.
The act of saying negative things about another person, usually behind their back.
uku million, uku pile
Pickled plum sometimes found in the middle of musubi.