What Does Mahalo Mean?

What Does Mahalo Mean?

Anyone who has visited Hawaii will tell you that, aside from the islands’ joyous greeting ‘aloha’, ‘mahalo’ is the next big word you’ll see everywhere.

It’s not a hard word to work out – within a few minutes of being there, you’ll most definitely gather that the word mahalo means ‘thank you’; but mahalo is a word, like so many in Hawaiian and other rich languages, that covers a range of meanings and unique cultural values, and it’s part of what makes Hawaii an amazing place.

In a general sense, mahalo is used to express gratitude and admiration. It can also be used in other contexts, where you may want to express praise or convey your esteem or respect for something, or a group of people. This word can also be used to pay your respects to somebody specifically.

Here is short video about the word Mahalo:

The origin of the word mahalo

Although the exact origin of the word is unclear, linguists and historians have a theory about where mahalo came from, and how it came to be such a big part of Hawaiian culture.

According to the Pukui and Elbert Hawaiian dictionary, ‘mahalo’ is derived from the Proto-Polynesian word masalo; but the concept of gratitude and respect has been a fundamental part of Hawaiian culture for far longer than the word has been in use.

It has been recorded that the earliest visitors to Hawaii saw that although Hawaiians practiced a grateful and admiring culture, they had no particular word to express gratitude and to specifically say thank you. It was much later, following their contact with the western civilization, that the Hawaiians affixed the word mahalo to mean thank you; but the norm is a foundational part of Hawaiian culture.

Mahalo can be considered one of the "trending words" in the Hawaiian culture. Oddly enough people in the United Kingdom also use many of the Hawaiian words and phrases like "mahalo" and "aloha". 

Some people say that alot of the "slang" terms or phrases came from Honolulu Hawaii. Often times, Honolulu Hawaii is the first place visitors travel to visit Hawaii. Mahalo is definelty on the best hawaiian word phrases people can use! Also if your considering Hawaii travel, I highly recommend Maui or The Big Island for your first visit. 

Seriously, if you plan to visit Hawaii, brush up on your Hawaiian phrases and words, like Mahalo and Aloha, and travel to Maui or the Big Island! You can get some aole pillikia while your here! 

Here is how the dictionary tells us to pronounce Mahalo (try not to laugh):


Mahalo in a deeper sense

Even though the word mahalo made its way into Hawaiian dictionary long after the word aloha, it has quickly become the second most important word in the language, because of the philosophy behind the word, which is rooted in gratefulness, appreciation, and compassion.

Hawaiians use this word to express normal, everyday gratitude, as well as to convey deeply-felt appreciation and thankfulness for the world and the people around them.

How do you use mahalo in everyday life?

The first way to use mahalo in everyday life is simple: use it to mean thank you. But if you want to elaborate and get to know the language slightly deeper, you could try saying mahalo nui loa, which means thank you very much.

And if you’re wondering what to say in return when someone says mahalo to you, there’s no need to worry – simply stick with the very familiar ‘You’re welcome.’ But if you want to learn a few Hawaiian replies to this beautiful word, try ‘a'ole pilikia,’ which means ‘it’s no trouble,’ or ‘he mea iki,’ which means ‘it’s a small thing.’

As an interesting side note, a lot of the trash cans in Hawaii have the word mahalo written on them.

Here is a short video on Mahalo (check it out, its super short):


Putting it All Together

This has led more than a few tourists to believe that the word means trash; but this couldn’t be farther from the truth! Mahalo is about respect, appreciation and gratitude; but that means that, even if you do make an honest mistake like this, don’t worry, because mahalo means not allowing honest mistakes to break your relationship and respect for those around you.

Also another word people often associate with Mahalo is "Mahalo Nui Loa". Which translated means "thank you very much". In addition to that, another word of the day is "Malama Pono". Which translated basically means taking care of the nature in Hawaiian culture.

It's a common Hawaiian phrase, like the word "sandwich islands" which is something we're going to discuss in a future blog post. The Hawaiian language is so great because of these awesome phrases and words that people from all around the world have adopted. 

What does one say in response to Mahalo?

If you are just curious as to the proper response when someoone says Mahalo. It's this, ALLLOHHAA! No seriously, when someone says Mahalo, you can say "Aloha" or just plain your welcome. Don't worry about it too much, the locals don't care what you say back as long as your being respectful of their culture and Hawaiian language customs.

Sidenote: According to Wikipedia, Mahalo is a Hawaiian word meaning thanks, gratitiude, admirtaion, praise, esteem, regards and respects. According to the hawaiian dictionary, the word Mahalo is derived from the word Masalo, which means "thanks" and gratitude".

Typically this word was used in following contact with Westerners. The first time Mahalo was found was in 1865 English-Hawaaiian Dictionary. 

Mahalo isn’t said lightly; it’s a way of expressing everyday thanks that’s rooted in a wider, deeper thankfulness for the world around you.

Mahalo means that you’re thankful from the bottom of your heart, even for seemingly small gestures of goodness, and it’s an idea that sits at the very heart of what makes Hawaii great.

PS. If your interested to learn about the word "aloha" click here to see out other article!