After two weeks in Hawaii, I began to appreciate that Contemporary Hawaii has its own dialect of English — with lots of influence from Japanese and traditional Hawaiian Here’s a list of great Hawaiian words:

Keiki — children or kids’ , as in “that’s a great keiki beach” — or a “keiki portion” on a restaurant menu. For some reason, keiki feels like it means “enjoyable for kids” more than it means “appropriate for kids”, which is why I like it.

Menehune — The Hawaiian tomten/troll/sprite/gnome. A waiter used the phrase “There’s a menehune at work” to try to clue us in that someone was treating us to dessert.

Skosh — From the japanese ‘sukoshi’ — meaning ‘a little bit’, as in “just move over a skosh and you’ll be in the picture”. This word also appeared a number of years ago in The Atlantic Monthly’s wordwatch. I heard it many times used comfortably by Hawaiians.

Honu — The Green Sea Turtle. An majestic and elegant beast. When I think of a turtle, I think of tiny things that lived in the little river near the house where I grew up, or the Ogden Nash “The turtle lives twixt plated decks….”. I don’t think of elegance or majesty. ‘Honu’ has elegance and majesty, enough so that Senator Akaka turns out at Turtle Independence Day as part of his July 4th Celebration

Directions – On the islands, there is a collection of words for directions which use a different coordinate space than north-south-east-west, the cartesian system used most places. As is fitting for an island, there are directional words for a radial coordinate system — ‘makai’ means toward the ocean, and ‘makua’ means toward the mountain, as in “The construction project will extend Leilani Road makai to Ono Ono Road” or “Parking is available on the makua side of Leilani Drive” Different places have different words for the tangential directions, usually using landmarks — i.e. “towards Diamond Head”, or “towards Kailua” — The only other good example of radial coordinates I know of is the commonly used system in Tokyo of agari/kudari/uchimawari/sotomawari to describe towards-downtown/away-from-downtown/counterclockwise/clockwise

Tomo commented that it would be difficult to listen to a traffic report in Hawaii, because as awful as the traffic might become, its really hard to hear something like “There’s an accident at the corner of Huapalahu’u and Aki’i’i’pu’u” without smiling.

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