Sticky Notes of Thoughts

…because some thoughts are worth remembering

On Vocabulary: Words that Can Mean Anything (Da Kine)

2012-05-06 13.37.03

My friend and I were bemoaning the fact that there really ought to be a word that describes a kind of longing for a word to describe something in particular, abstract or concrete, that hasn’t yet been coined.

Then I realized there is such a word. Well, at least a place holder word: da kine.

People who live in Hawaii are familiar with this term, which is part of Hawaiian Creole English (which people in Hawaii call pidgin). Unlike the English “whatchamacallit”, which can only refer to an object, da kine can fill in for a person or place, as well as verbs, adjectives and adverbs. We also have other words like widget (to represent a thing) or so-and-so (to refer to a person). Foobar and its variants, fubar, foo bar, qux, norf, are popular among computer scientists, but again, only as a noun. Da kine is much more flexible. In the sentence, “I’m going to da kine,” da kine could mean a place or to do something.

Da kine works surprisingly well, at least within Hawaii. It may be the Asian influence of language cognition and the active part the listener must take in a conversation where the recipient of the message is responsible for understanding what the speaker said (whereas in the West, the onus is on the speaker to make the message clear to the others). The fact that Hawaii is isolated from the rest of the U.S. and has a strong sense of community and a unique culture may also help others quickly guess what da kine must represent out of context, based on shared understanding. It also follows the rest of creole structure where grammar is simplified (which may have expanded “da kine” to represent different parts of speech, rather than just a noun).

But when there is a complex context, an involved situation, or a kind of emotion that our existing vocabulary doesn’t quite capture, I wish there was da kine for da kine.

Photo: A wooden statue of Buddha in Honolulu Museum of Art, Hawaii

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


This entry was posted on October 28, 2015 by in Culture, language, Vocabulary and tagged , , , , , , .
Follow Sticky Notes of Thoughts on
%d bloggers like this: