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Mauka? Pau? Ono? Local talk 101

by Lea Ka'ai, staff writer

“Are you pau?” asks the waitress. “Am I what?” you respond. “Pau”, she says again with a roll of her eyes. Don’t take offense. “Pau” is one of those Hawaiian words substituted so regularly for its English counterpart that users forget it is not actually part of the English language.

If you’re new to Hawai‘i, then it may be a good idea to take a little crash course to gain your bearings. Deciphering the Local Tongue 101 should be a prerequisite for living here.

First and foremost are directions. You need to find your way around, and how are you supposed to know where to go when the gas station clerk tells you head mauka for two blocks and at the second light go ‘Ewa. Now, you are more lost than ever.

Don’t worry, it’s easier than you think. The directional words used by locals are Mauka, Makai, ‘Ewa and Diamond Head. Mauka translates into mountain and makai into water. So, wherever you are on the island, look to the mountains and you are heading mauka. Face the opposite direction, towards the ocean, and its makai.

On the other hand, ‘Ewa doesn’t actually translate into a visible landmark. ‘Ewa means “to go astray”, and is the name of a town on the westside, but if you are not from around here you probably don’t know where it is. The best way to understand ‘Ewa and Diamond Head is to first figure out where Diamond Head is.There are no hidden meanings here. Look for Diamond Head Crater, right past Waikiki, and you’ll be going “Diamond Head”.‘Ewa will be in the opposite direction.

Once you actually arrive at your destination, it’s time to have some fun. It’s Pau Hana time! Shut down your computer, pack up your briefcase; it’s time to go home. Literally pau is finished and hana is work. Put it together and “work is done”. Restaurants and bars often have pau hana hour. This is that time right after work when most bars have a happy hour with half-off pupus.

“ Pupus?” you ask. What am I supposed to do with a pupu? Eat it, and eat it fast. You only have about an hour to order a $3 plate of buffalo wings and $2 drafts. Pupus are cousins to the appetizers. They are those pre-meal type dishes served in most restaurants, but in Hawai‘i there is often no meal to follow. There are just more and more pupus that are so ono. (Delicious, if you were curious.)

Now it’s crunch time, time for some power studying: ‘Ohana, mahalo, and aloha. Quick, what do they it mean? If you watched Lilo and Stitch you would have learned that ‘ohana means family. In Hawai‘i that could be anyone: your mom’s coworker becomes your aunty, and your dad’s fishing buddy becomes your uncle. The rule of thumb is basically that anyone older than you should be addressed as aunty or uncle.

Mahalo, if you were wondering, does not mean trash, despite the fact that every garbage can at the airport says “Mahalo.” It actually means “thank you”.

The most popular Hawaiian word is aloha. You may think you know what it means but do you know it in its entirety?




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