Hawaiian Pidgin for Beginners.

Dave Black posts about Hawaiian Pidgin:

If you ever move to the Islands, you will need a guide to Hawaiian Pidgin expressions. Here’s my list. I was born in Honolulu in 1952. I moved to Kailua in 1955. I lived in Kailua until I left for Biola in 1971. We used all of these expressions while growing up, but some we used more than others. In this list, expressions in bold type are those for which we NEVA WEN use the corresponding English equivalent, so you will want to learn these first. If you have time to only learn one expression, learn “pau.”

Pau means ‘done’ — or, to give the more thorough list of equivalents in the online Hawaiian Dictionary s.v. pau, “Finished, ended, through, terminated, completed, over, all done; final, finishing; entirely, completely, very much; after; all, to have all; to be completely possessed, consumed, destroyed.” (It says “PNP pau,” where PNP is apparently Proto-Nuclear-Polynesian.) Some of the entries are well-known outside of Hawaii (Da kine ‘whatchamacallit,’ Lanai ‘patio,’ Wahine ‘woman’), others not so much (Ono ‘delicious,’ Pilikia ‘trouble’). I was particularly struck by Buggah ‘person’ and Howzit ‘hello,’ both of which have straightforward etymologies (bugger, how’s it) but which I am somehow surprised to find a basic part of Hawaiian pidgin. Thanks, David!


  1. Arguably the Pidgin term most nativized in Standard American English is go for broke.

  2. That’s Pidgin?! The things I learn!

  3. OED:

    colloquial (originally U.S.). to go for broke: to risk everything or make every effort in order to achieve something; to try one’s hardest, do one’s utmost; to go all out.
    1935 Catal. Copyright Entries: Pt. 3 (Libr. of Congr. Copyright Office) 30 1792/2 Let’s go for broke.
    1963 Guardian 5 June 6 If he were to go for broke on behalf of the Negroes..the President would endanger the moral reform cause.
    2000 M. Gladwell Tipping Point 105 We decided, let’s go for broke. Let’s produce five full [television] shows..before we go to air.

    Nothing about Hawaii, but it’s an old entry.

  4. David Eddyshaw says

    “Buggah” reminds me of Tok Pisin bagarap “break down, spoil, wear out.”

    My feeling is that the Royal Navy has much to answer for.

  5. Green’s Dictionary of Slang also ignores Hawaii (and surprisingly only takes it back to 1953 (E. Hemingway, letter 23 Jan.: “Why not go for broke once again”).

  6. My feeling is that the Royal Navy has much to answer for.

    Most of us are familiar with the story of Winston Churchill’s quip that British Royal Navy tradition consisted of nothing but “Rum, buggery and the lash”! It appears that Sir Winston himself denied he ever said it, saying when asked about it that “I wish I had said it!”

  7. Charles Perry says

    Am I missing something, or where’s “shaka, bro”?

  8. I read about it in some book on Hawaiian Pidgin; more specifics e.g. here:

    “Go For Broke” was the motto of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, an Army unit comprised of Japanese Americans from Hawaii and the mainland United States. The motto was derived from a gambler’s slang used in Hawaii to “go for broke,” which meant that the player was risking it all in one effort to win big. The player would put everything on the line.

  9. I used to read Hawaiian Pidgin Bible for laugh.

    1 You wen hear da Jesus story? He da Christ Guy, da Spesho Guy God Wen Sen. He God Boy. Dis da time da Good Kine Stuff Bout Christ start fo happen.
    2 Isaiah, da guy dat wen talk fo God long time befo time, he write dis inside da Bible: “God tell, lissen up!
    “I goin sen my messenja guy.
    He goin go ahead a you
    Fo get eryting ready
    Befo you come,
    Cuz you my real Spesho Guy, you know.
    3 Inside da boonies,
    My messenja guy goin talk real loud an real strong
    Fo erybody hear:
    ‘Eh! Make da road ready
    Fo Da One In Charge!
    Make um strait fo him!’ ”

    Still can’t believe they really talk like this.

  10. The motto was derived from a gambler’s slang used in Hawaii to “go for broke,” which meant that the player was risking it all in one effort to win big.

    I’m afraid I’m dubious about getting my etymologies from regimental histories. The 442nd RCT unit history may be impeccable about the regiment’s story, but…

  11. Note that the 442nd Regimental Combat Team was organized on March 23, 1943, while the OED has a citation from 1935.

  12. J.W. Brewer says

    @hat: the OED’s 1935 citation is to the Library of Congress’ catalog of newly-copyrighted works. It would not surprise me if the copyright so recorded was that of the very Hawaiian-sounding song “Let’s Go for Broke,” which was first recorded by Andy Iona and the Islanders in or about 1935. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aV9ihe4PnRc

  13. J.W. Brewer says

    @SFReader, as it happens, after David Black moved from Hawaii to the mainland to begin his university studies he eventually became a seminary professor specializing in New Testament Greek, although I don’t know if he had any involvement with the translation into Hawaiian Pidgin. He has even published a book titled “Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek,” although I can’t speak to its quality.

  14. J.W. Brewer says

    The songwriting credit for “Let’s Go for Broke” goes, by the way, to Harry Owens, described thusly at a leading discographical website: “American composer, band leader and songwriter, born in O’Neill, Nebraska on April 18, 1902. He became the music director of The Royal Hawaiian Hotel in 1934. Harry Owens is best known for his Oscar winning song Sweet Leilani, sung by Bing Crosby in the motion picture Waikiki Wedding.”

  15. J.W. Brewer says

    Separately, I had always thought (under the influence of the Pogues, no doubt) that the canonical form of the statement Churchill may not have actually made was “rum, sodomy, and the lash.” Is there a scholarly literature on the bona fides of the “buggery” variant versus the “sodomy” variant?

  16. Still can’t believe they really talk like this

    That’s just to entertain tourists. Among themselves, they revert to 18th C English, as taught by Captain Cook et al.

  17. WP says that the 1951 film Go for Broke!, based on the story of the 442nd, popularized the term.

    The 442nd, composed of Japanese Americans, was offered to them as a way to prove their loyalty despite their Japaneseness, by serving as cannon fodder. They were at the head of the American forces retaking Europe, and suffered the heaviest casualties.

  18. J.W. Brewer says

    Here’s another recent blog post by David Black on the pros and cons of studying linguistics – the list of 5 pros and 5 cons is someone else’s but he seems to endorse it. I think the immediate context is “should you study linguistics if your primary interest is in being able to understand the New Testament in Greek,” but it may generalize. http://blog.daveblackonline.com/2021/12/another-book-on-linguistics.html

  19. Every year, from third to sixth grade, we had an ukulele unit in music class every spring. (The music teacher had bought thirty-some ukulele’s, and she was going to put them to use.) This entailed singing, and strumming along to, a lot of Hawaiian folk songs. Playing “Little Grass Shack” and the like for a few weeks, I picked up a little bit of pidgin, which the regular music teacher certainly encouraged. However, in fifth grade, we had a native Hawaiian student teacher (in both the regular music classes and the instrumental music classes with teachers who visited twice a week). He really wowed us with his amazing skills on the ukulele, but he had a very negative attitude toward pidgin—analogous to the negative attitude toward AAVE seen among a fair number of educated black Americans. He definitely believed that there was a real problem with significant numbers of native Hawaiians from lower-income background who had trouble because they were not fully proficient in standard American English.

  20. Here’s some more detail about the use of “go for broke” during WWII. Not claiming that the phrase originated then, but this account of the 442/100th battalion provides good context.


    Mainlanders can be flummoxed even in high-level business and professional conversations and meetings by the local and pidgin terms that are casually used by almost everyone here in Hawaii. E.g., you might be trying to get a department head to take responsibility for getting something done and he keeps saying, That’s not my kuleana.” You’d better learn what kuleana means, and fast. (It means “business, realm of responsibility.)

    The Pidgin in conversations among those raised here in certain communities can get so thick that it is genuinely hard to follow if you are not used to it.

  21. It would not surprise me if the copyright so recorded was that of the very Hawaiian-sounding song “Let’s Go for Broke,” which was first recorded by Andy Iona and the Islanders in or about 1935.

    Wow, you’re right (and it’s on the album Hawaiians in Hollywood), and that certainly changes things. I’m now far more willing to entertain the possibility that the phrase is indeed of Hawaiian origin. I’d like to see an actual lexiographical reference to that effect, though.

  22. John Cowan says

    So kuleana is Pidgin for pidgin.

  23. David Eddyshaw says


    I recommend the Krio Bible, which is easy to find oniine:

    Wɛn PAPA GƆD bigin mek di wanol wɔl di wɔl nɔ bin gɛt shep ɛn natin nɔ bin de de yet. Daknɛs bin de oba di wata ɛn PAPA GƆD in Spirit bin de oba di wata. Nain Gɔd se, “Mek layt kam” nain layt kam. PAPA GƆD si di layt i si se i gud. Dɛn PAPA GƆD mek di layt ɛn di daknɛs de difrɛn say, i gi di layt nem “De” ɛn di daknɛs i gi nem “Nɛt.” Ivin tɛm kam ɛn do klin, dat na bin di fɔs de.

    There are a lot of what I suppose one might call “syntactic false friends” for an English speaker trying to follow Krio: you don’t actually understand quite as well as you think you do …

    I don’t know to what extent this is true of Hawaiian Pidgin.

  24. J.W. Brewer says

    Here’s an archived story from around 20 years ago about the Hawaiian-Pidgin New Testament, with information about the primary fellow behind it, who is rather interesting as part of what I suspect was and is the quite small Venn-diagram overlap between “academics who were professors of linguistics in brand-name secular American universities” and “members of the SIL missionary/translator subculture.” http://archives.starbulletin.com/2001/07/14/features/index.html

  25. Like Hat, I’ve been skeptical about the Pidgin origin of “go for broke” but that copyright date is pretty convincing. 1935 was also the year Hilo Hattie (stage name) started moonlighting at the Waialae Country Club (not a hotbed of Pidgin-speakers, imagine), where she was soon discovered by Harry Owens. It was also the debut year for Owens’s very popular Hawaii Calls radio program. Lots of the old hapa haole numbers from the 1930s contained at least as much Pidgin as Hawaiian in their lyrics.
    Territorial Airwaves has assembled and revived access to a lot of the old songs, including Pidgin English Hula, Let’s Go For Broke, and the like.

  26. Incidentally, regarding “PNP pau,” there’s no “pau” listed in the Austronesian Comparative Dictionary (under Hawaiian); can anyone clarify this?

  27. For David Eddyshaw: Here’s the beginning of the Baebol Long Bislama

    Jenesis 1: God i mekem wol ya
    1 Bifo we bifo olgeta, God i mekem skae mo graon wetem olgeta samting we i stap long tufala, 2 be long taem ya, wol ya i narafala olgeta. Hem i stap nating nomo, we i no gat wan samting nating i stap long hem. Tudak nomo i stap kavremap bigfala wota, mo Spirit blong God i stap go i kam antap long hem. 3 Nao God i tok. Fastaem, hem i talem se, “I mas gat delaet.” Nao delaet i kamtru olsem we hem i talem. 4 Mo taem hem i luk delaet ya, hem i luk we i gud tumas. Nao hem i mekem delaet mo tudak, tufala i seraot, 5 mo i putum nem blong delaet se Dei, mo i putum nem blong tudak se Naet. Nao dei ya i finis. Hemia i fas dei blong wol.

  28. J.W. Brewer says

    There was apparently a worldwide vogue for Hawaiian music in the 1930’s: I got put onto the trail of that 1935 Andy Iona recording because it was mentioned in a November 1938 issue (scanned in the google books corpus) of The Indian Listener: Official Organ of All India Radio, which would tell you weeks in advance what the various stations would be playing when so you could be sure to tune in to catch what you wanted to hear. “Let’s Go for Broke” was scheduled for approx. 1:15 p.m. on November 30 on Delhi I, broadcasting at 866 kHz. Imagine the 10″ shellac record pressed in the U.S. or maybe by a licensee in Europe slowly making its way by steamship to Bombay and then being brought overland by … well probably railroad rather than elephantback (unfortunately) to the Delhi I studios.

  29. Hat: Here’s the lengthy pau entry in the recently deceased Steve Trussel’s Combined Hawaiian Dictionary. He was one of the old friends we lost in 2020 (not to Covid).
    Here’s the title page listing his sources: https://www.trussel2.com/haw/

    Trussel also put Robert Blust’s (ed.) Austronesian Comparative Dictionary online, and a bunch of other ones as well.

  30. Thanks very much! So here’s what I was looking for.

  31. J. W. Brewer: There were interesting Hawaii-India ties during that world-wide craze for Hawaiian music:

    “In India utilizing slides were not uncommon even in ancient instruments like Vichitra Veena and Gottu Vadyam. However, the present version of Slide Guitar was first introduced in India by Mr. Tau Moe in the late 1920s. Tau Moe and his wife Rose Moe, a well known singer with their Hawaiian Band EMMI lived in Kolkata (Calcutta) from 1941-47, during which period they made many records with HMV, EMI and toured extensively around Asia. Tau Moe’s star student in India was Mr. Garney Nyss who became India’s leading Slide Guitar artist.” Details here: https://debashishbhattacharya.com/hindustani-slide-guitar.php

    About 15 years ago the young Debashish Bhattacharya, a masterful slide guitar player of India, came to Hawaii to honor Tau Moe, who was then very old. We saw the concert at which their meeting occurred, and have since seen Debashish here many times. There’s quite a bit of Debashish on YouTube. Here’s an example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q8WWNKhdy-w

  32. David Eddyshaw says



    I doubt whether untutored Anglophones would be as likely to wrongly imagine they’d fully understood that as they would with the Krio (though to a very limited extent, that may be an illusion on my part generated by the fact that I have encountered Atlantic English-lexifier creoles a whole lot more often than Pacific … even so, I can’t parse much of the Bislama, despite actually knowing what it means.)

  33. @David: Does Tok Pisin look any more parsable? (It comes most easily to me, since I used it a lot during fieldwork in PNG, though mine’s a bit archaic by now.)
    Stori bilong God i mekim kamap olgeta samting
    1 Bipo bipo tru God i mekim kamap skai na graun na olgeta samting i stap long en. 2 Tasol graun i no bin i stap olsem yumi save lukim nau. Nogat. Em i stap nating na i narakain tru. Tudak i karamapim bikpela wara na spirit bilong God i go i kam antap long en. 3 Na God i tok olsem, “Lait i mas kamap.” Orait lait i kamap. 4 God i lukim lait i gutpela, na em i amamas. Na em i brukim tudak na tulait. 5 Tulait em i kolim “De,” na tudak em i kolim “Nait.” Nait i go pinis na moning i kamap. Em i de namba wan.

  34. David Eddyshaw says

    In a word … no. I think I could reverse-engineer it a bit (though it would be easier to read a book about Tok Pisin …)

    I’ve actually got a copy of Terry Crowley’s Bislama Reference Grammar … perhaps I should read it properly. I think I’ve got the hang of the morphology …

    It may be a largely question of familiarity with the basic function words, where I am relatively confident as far as the Cispondian Atlantic English-lexifier creoles go. They’re what tend to catch the uninitiated out, unsurprisingly. (I also persist in the – I gather – unfashionable and/or utterly discredited notion that the AELCs are pretty West African in their general modus operandi, really, to a degree which I find helpful. Or so I imagine …)

  35. I recall a photo book of PNG with captions in English and Tok Pisin, including:

    Wreckage of a Japanese destroyer

    Sip bilong Japan im bagarap pinis

  36. I just got word that Bob Blust, one of the great Austronesianists, died earlier today.

  37. David Eddyshaw says

    I’ve got his splendid book The Austronesian Languages.

  38. These are somber news indeed. For quite some time Blust was The Austronesianist. I have friends who were among his many collaborators. This follows closely on the passing of John Lynch last May.

  39. It’s interesting to me, as a Classical/Koine Greek teacher, that a common verb in Ancient Greek for “finish/be done/stop/cease” is pauo, root pau. Obviously a false friend to Hawaiian Pidgin/Creole but a most delightful one.

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