ever notice how most places in hawai’i start with the letter h, w, k, m, or l ? well, here’s why: the entire hawaiian language only has twelve stinkin’ letters—and five of those are vowels. i don’t know whether to be impressed by this or filled with disdain. it’s kinda the same way i feel about chopsticks: using them is an impressive skill and all, but you guys couldn’t think of any more effective means of picking up rice?
any-hoo, here are some of the hawaiian words i’ve been exposed to thus far:
- aloha—this is the most overused word in hawai’i. there’s no alternate expression the way, in English, you have “hello,” “hi,” “hey,” and so on. they just have the one word for greeting. period. and then on top of that, it also means “goodbye.” hell, it even means “i love you.” that’s gotta get confusing, no? i can only imagine how much teenage angst this word’s multiple meanings has caused.
- mahalo—meaning: “thanks.” this word bugs me only because of the clerk at the ma’alaea harbor shops souvenir store. “mahalo for your business,” she said as she rang up my postcards, and “will you be doing some snorkeling today? or seeing the whales?” i told her no, that i was going to the parade. “oh! well, enjoy your walking! mahalo!” she said, handing me my purchase. “but oh—you don’t need some snacks? some bottled water?” i told her i’d be fine. “mahalo, mahalooooo,” she sang. “oh! and enjoy your walking!” this was said as if it was just occurring to her for the first time. she sounded programmed to me, like a hawaiian stepford clerk. she managed to make “mahalo” creepy.
- hale (HA-lay)—i saw this word at the end of everything, and i finally looked it up to find out that it just means “house”
- keiki (KAY-kee)—meaning: “child”; you’ll see this on menus a lot
- pupu—meaning: “appetizer”; another menu word
- grinds—not of the hawaiian language exactly, but very hawaiian just the same; meaning: “food”
- kama’aina (ka-ma-EYE-nah)—meaning: “longtime resident” or “barack obama”
- malahini (ma-la-HEE-nee)—meaning: “visitor” or “little black girl trying to buy shorts”
- ono (OH-no)—meaning: “delicious”
- yeah? (ya)—meaning: “is that correct?”; this word seems to be borrowed directly from fargo, north dakota; it’s used and pronounced exactly like you’d hear it there. for example, “aloha! you ordered the gallon tub of haupia, yeah? to go, yeah?” for some reason, hawaiians have chosen to lay equal claim to this habit.
- okole (OH-ko-lay)—in the tradition of recycling, this word means either “ass” or “a sea creature, eaten cooked, perhaps a sea anemone.” imagine asking what’s for dinner and being told “ono okole.” do you not see again the makings of a painful misunderstanding?
in my opinion, the lack of letters in the hawai’ian language does seem a bit limiting as far as vocabulary goes. on the other hand, though, it probably makes for one hell of an easier game of scrabble.