Maui Slang

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Maui Slang

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American slang differs widely depending on where you are in the country, and Maui slang is some of the most original in the United States. Indeed, listening to Maui local lingo can have you feeling like you're hearing a separate language altogether! Here is a list of several important Maui slang terms and phrases.

Kama'aina:
A Hawaiian word that literally translates as "children of the land," "kama'aina" is used to denote Hawaiian residency and distinguish between visiting tourists and Hawaiian citizens. To all intents and purposes, however, "kama'aina" in Maui's local language really means only one thing: "kama'aina discount." Found everywhere from hotels to restaurants and coffee shops, a kama'aina discount is a way of making island amenities available to those who have to endure the high price of living in paradise. While many places may ask to see a Hawaiian driver's license, some places figure that if you can pronounce this Maui slang term correctly, then you must be "kama'aina."

Keiki: Another native Hawaiian word that you will hear in Maui local lingo, "keiki" refers to the children that run rampant around the island's beaches and resorts. Nearly all restaurants feature a "keiki" menu, and most resorts will have a "keiki" pool. At Honolua Bay, one of the most famous and well-respected surf breaks in the world, the innermost section of the bay is known as Keiki Bowls, a reference to all the young kids on bodyboards that congregate amid the exploding white water and shallow reefs.

If can, can; no can, no can: A phrase in Maui lingo that sums up the easygoing mentality of the local populace, this oversimplified mantra applies to virtually any aspect of life. It's another way of expressing that if you have the opportunity to do something and it happens to work out, then by all means go for it. On the flipside, if it's just not happening and it's turning into more of a headache than it's worth, then don't worry about it. Many times the sentiment can be further simplified by just saying, "if can," leaving the knowing recipient to mentally fill in the rest. For example, "Do you want me to stop by and get groceries on the way home?" "If can."

The Pali: For many visitors to the west side of Maui, the stretch of road that hugs the dramatic seashore from atop the sheer rocky cliffs is just another part of the highway. However, this five-mile stretch of road is known in Maui slang as the Pali, a word derived from the Hawaiian for cliff. Reference to this stretch of road is usually accompanied by some sort of bad news, such as road closure due to a fire or accident on the Pali.

Honoapi'ilani Highway vs. Highway 30: Here's a tip to Maui visitors trying to learn the local language: If you're looking for a dead giveaway that you're not from the island, refer to a road by its official road number as you would on the mainland. Here on Maui, locals simply refer to the two-lane stretches of road by their name, and most locals would be surprised to find out that the roads even have a number. Highway 30, which runs along the perimeter of the resort-lined west side of the island, is known to locals as Honoapi'ilani. Its name literally translates as "the bays of Pi'ilani," and refers to a dirt footpath that once connected all of the bays within the territory ruled by the once great King of Maui, Pi'ilani. Trouble is, hardly any tourists can pronounce Honoapi'ilani, and when stopping to ask how to get on Highway 30, they are usually met by a quizzical look and a shake of the head.

Hawaiian scale wave size: A point of much pride and contention in the surf world, Hawaii is virtually the only place in the world that measures the size of a wave by the height of the back of the wave as opposed to that of the front. Consequently, a three foot wave on the Hawaiian scale usually translates to a wave with about a six foot face. So when you're watching the news on your next Maui vacation, and you hear that the waves are going to be three to five feet, don't expect to take your six dollar foam boogie board from the corner convenience store down to the beach and find some nice mushy rollers to ride.

Mahalo: While many people recognize this as the Hawaiian way of saying "thank you," some visitors to the island seem to derive another meaning from this ubiquitous word: trash. The somewhat justifiable reason for this confusion is that many of the public trash cans around the island display a prominent "Mahalo" sign on the lid to thank the person for using the trash receptacle as opposed to throwing trash on the ground. So, the next time you're in Maui, be sure not to ask the front desk clerk where the nearest trash can is located so you can get rid of all your "mahalo."

Pau: Another of the Maui slang terms taken directly from the Hawaiian language, the word "pau" means that something is "done," or "finished." At a restaurant, your waiter may ask if you are "pau" with your plate, or you may hear "How are Julie and Rob doing on their work? Are they all pau?"

Choke: Having no violent connotations and nothing to do with how to start a cold engine, the word "choke" in Maui slang refers to when there is an exceptionally large amount of something. For example, "Why don't you and Jason come over to our house after surfing? We've got a few beers left over and choke food from the party last night.""

Maui no ka oi: Finally, no list of Maui slang terms and phrases would be complete without the slang phrase that is beloved by both tourist literature and hardcore locals: "Maui no ka oi" meaning "Maui is the best." Ask any longtime visitor or overly proud local why they want to spend their life on this tropical paradise in the middle of the Pacific, and the query will nearly always be met with a smile, a chuckle, and a simple "Maui no ka oi."

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