Sunday, March 24, 2013

Hawaiian Loanwords

Aloha! As of late, we've been exploring the history of some of the many loanwords that have become a part of the English language. We've looked at vocabulary from Africa, Scandinavia, and the Czech Republic. Today it's all about partying in the sunshine with a few Hawaiian loanwords.

Aloha - If you only know one word in Hawaiian, this is undoubtedly the one. The greeting literally means "love", but only its use as "hello" and "goodbye" has made its way into English usage.

We aren't surfers, but we imagine this is something
a big kahuna could probably do.
Kahuna - Any surfers out there know that a big kahuna is slang for a "god of surfing". The word originally comes from an identical Hawaiian word which means "doctor", "sorcerer", and even "priest"!

Lei - Planning to visit Hawaii? When you tell friends of your plans, be prepared for someone to jokingly ask if you're going to get lei'd. As you likely know, a lei is a garland of flowers worn around the neck or atop the head.

Luau - This typical Hawaiian feast gets its name from lu'au, meaning "young taro tops", with taro being a popular root vegetable that is often consumed at the feasts.

Ohana - You're right, ohana isn't often used in English conversation. We just had to include it in tribute to all the tears shed while watching a furry blue alien say that "ohana means family" in the animated movie Lilo & Stitch.

Puka - Remember how in the 90s all the cool kids wore those little shell necklaces? Puka means "hole" in Hawaiian, so it's only natural that those round shells with holes in the center are named "puka shells".

Taboo - This word comes from the Hawaiian term kapu, meaning "prohibition, sacred, holy".

Could this boy with a lei
and ukulele be any cuter?
Ukulele - A combination of the Hawaiian words uku ("flea") and lele ("to jump, leap"), it literally means "leaping flea". That sounds like a crazy etymology for a musical instrument, but the naming actually refers to the rapid finger motions necessary in order to play it!

Wiki - The first collaborative, user-editable website was named WikiWikiWeb by a programmer who had recently visited Hawaii. While on his trip, he learned that wiki meant "fast", and thus the name was born. Now there are specialized wikis galore, as well as the one and only Wikipedia, which has a page for just about anything you could ever want to learn about.

Do you know of any Hawaiian loanwords that we may have missed? Add them, along with a definition, in the comments below.