31 Phrases You'll Only Understand if You're From Hawaii

Hawaii | © Kalenemsley/Unsplash
Daniel Matthews

If you’ve ever been to Hawaii, you’ll know the Hawaiian people have their own unique culture and legends. Maui is named after the demigod who, according to myth, yanked the islands out of the sea and lassoed the sun from atop the Haleakala volcano. Hawaiian Pidgin is officially a language, with unique phrases you can learn about below.



Intelligent. You’re pretty akamai for wanting to learn about Hawaiian Pidgin.

All buss

(all bus)

Wasted. You’re all buss when you’ve had far too much to drink. Or if something is all buss, it’s broken and messed up. You don’t want to get all buss and spend too much time in the sun.


A really big cockroach. If there’s a B-52 on your wall, it’s not an airplane or a rock band; it’s definitely a roach.


Leave. If you’re heading home from vacation, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to exclaim: “I’m so sad I have to bag Hawaii and go back to work!”

Beer in my ear

Deaf or hard of hearing. Originally, the phrase came from a Primo Beer commercial. It makes sense because it’s kind of tough to hear with beer in your ear.

Boom kanani

(boom kuh-nuh-knee)

Ah yeah! You say boom kanani when you’re excited and happy. Snap a great pic while you’re in Hawaii, post it on social media, and tag it #boomkanani for maximum effect.

Boro boroz

(bo-low bo-lowz)

Tired, worn out, worn down. While at a luau (a traditional Hawaiian feast), you don’t want anyone to say: “That tropical shirt is a little boro boroz, don’t you think?”

Broke the mouth

This food is delicious. If you’re at a luau wearing a boro boroz tropical shirt, but you exclaim that the food positively broke the mouth, it might just make up for the shirt.

Chicken skin

Goosebumps. Plenty of surfers get chicken skin when faced with bumboocha (big) waves.

Cho cho lips

(choh choh lips)

Big lips. As in: “Check out the cho cho lips on that guy, he could use them as sails.”

Dea him

(deah heem)

There he is. You probably hear this one a lot when some tourist guy stumbles off into the jungle alone and then emerges five hours later unscathed.

Dog luck

Good luck. Like “broke the mouth,” dog luck means the opposite of what it sounds like. It makes sense, though; dogs do have it pretty good.


An acronym meaning From the Big Island. Not to be mistaken for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Geev um

(gheeve uhm)

Do your best, don’t quit. If you’re fishing for mahi mahi but can’t catch any, geev um.

Giri giri

(ghi-li ghi-li)

The swirl in an Asian person’s hair. Hawaiian Pidgin is sometimes reflective of how many Asian tourists and inhabitants there are on the islands.

Hana hou

(ha-nah ho)

Do it again. If you’re trying surfing for the first time and you get all buss by a wave, you have to hana hou.

Hanabaddah days

(ha-nah-bah-dah dayz)

Back in the day, just like old days. For example: “Hanabaddah days, we used to have the islands all to ourselves.”

Island style

Laid back, happy. Not an official style, per se, but more of a philosophy.

Jan ken po

(jahn ken poh)

The Japanese game from which rock-paper-scissors originated.

Jus buckaloose

(juss buck-ah-loose)

Originally a descriptor for a kite breaking off the string, now it means hang loose, take it easy. When you go to Hawaii it’s best to jus buckaloose island style.

Kumu hula

(kooh-mooh who-lah)

A hula dance teacher. Most people who have never hula danced need a kumu hula.

Lau lau

(lau lau)

A traditional dish of salted pork, chicken, or fish wrapped in ti or banana leaves and steamed or baked.

Local kine grindz

(low koh kai-n grine-z)

Selection of favorite local foods (grindz). When you go to Hawaii, sample the local kine grindz wherever you are.

Make “A”

To disgrace yourself. You don’t want to make a yourself with a bad tropical shirt at a luau.

Mempachi eye

(mem-pah-chi ai)

A dazed, glassy-eyed stare. Get all buss and you’ll have a mempachi eye.

No ka oi

(no kah oy)

The very best, number one. Hawaii is no ka oi to visit.

Pau hana

(pow ha-nuh)

Celebration of the end of the work day. The equivalent of “Five o’clock, let’s party!” on the mainland.

Rat bite

A bad haircut. Very understandable, given what it looks like when a rat gnaws on something.

Shoots then

See you later. I’ll shoots then at the luau.


(wee-key wee-key)

Fast. Especially appropriate since one can say “wikiwiki” very quickly.

Wop yo jaw

(whop yo jawwww)

Told you so, I knew it. Often the speaker will rub the bottom of her chin towards the person she’s talking to as she says “wop yo jaw.”

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