ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi / Hawaiian Language

Hawaiian Word of the Day: Mākaʻi

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With Super Bowl LVII happening on Sunday, Hawai‘i Island police have teamed up with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to remind Big Island football fans that “Fans Don’t Let Fans Drive Drunk.

So for Feb. 11, our Hawaiian Word of the Day is mākaʻi, which means police. This is not to be confused with makai, which means “at the ocean” or “towards the sea” when the word does not have an ʻokina and kahakō.

Hawai’i Police officers lined the outside of the rotunda at the West Hawai’i Civic Center on Jan. 20, 2023, as Ben Moszkowicz was sworn in as police chief. Photo: Tiffany DeMasters/Big Island Now

Donʻt know what ʻokina and kahakō are? Here is a quick lesson:

The ʻokina, which looks like a backward apostophre — ʻ —, indicates a glottal stop or clean break between vowels. It is not considered punctuation but an actual letter — a consonant. A great example: Hawaiʻi.


The kahakō is not a letter but a diacritical mark. It is a line over a vowel that indicates the letter has a longer vowel sound. This is sometimes referred to as a kō.

So back to mākaʻi. Benjamin Moskowicz is Hawaiʻi County’s new chief of police, which is luna mākaʻi in Hawaiian.

Chief Ben Moszkowicz shakes hands with Kona resident Virginia Halliday following swearing in ceremony on Jan. 20, 2023, at the West Hawai’i Civic Center. Photo: Tiffany DeMasters/Big Island Now

Other variations:

  • hale mākaʻi: police station
  • mākaʻi kau lio: mounted police
  • mākaʻi hoʻomalu pō: patrolling night police
The popular TV police drama Hawaiʻi 5-0 then and now.

Most people know the slang for police in Hawaiʻi: Five-O, from the TV police drama that first aired in 1968, with a revamped, modernized version of the series popular today. The title referred to the 50th stateʻs police department. These days the slang term is used for police in general throughout the country.

But want to get on the good side of a cop? Say akamai kēlā mākaʻi, which means that police officer is smart.

Editor’s Note: Each day in February, we have a new “Hawaiian Word of the Day” during Mahina ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi, Hawaiian Language Month. Check out the other words of the day on the Big Island website by clicking here.


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