Headlines this morning (Saturday 1/13/2018) proclaimed that "Hawaiians woke up to emergency alerts" on mobile phones that a missile strike might be incoming. But no local news source here in Hawaii would have reported it that way. The term Hawaiian is not used locally to mean "resident of the state of Hawaii", unlike other English nouns formed by adding "-an" to a place name. Only people of Hawaiian ancestry are "Hawaiians".

So what does the noun "Hawaiian" really mean in English? "Descendants of Hawaiians" seems circular. The Merriam-Webster online dictionary is not all that helpful. It says "a native or resident of Hawaii; especially : one of Polynesian ancestry", which ignores the fact that there are lots of people of Polynesian ancestry in the world, some of whom have even moved to Hawaii, but who didn't thereby become Hawaiians.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – tchrist Jan 14 '18 at 22:21

As a mainlander on the West Coast, I did not know that only people descended from the original, pre-colonization, Polynesian population are known as "Hawaiians." Makes sense, though.

According to the University of Hawaiʻi, which publishes a handy Hawaii style guide,

Hawaiian: Refers to people of Hawaiian descent. People who live in Hawaiʻi are referred to as Hawaiʻi residents.

The 2014 AP Stylebook corroborates:

Hawaii ... Hawaiians are a members of an ethnic group indigenous to the Hawaiian Islands and are also called Native Hawaiians. Use Hawaii resident for anyone else living in the state.

So to answer your underlying questions as best I can: 1) Yes, non-islanders would unthinkingly use "Hawaiian" to refer to white (and black, Hispanic, etc.) residents of the islands. 2) You are correct that authorities do suggest using "Hawaiian" only to refer to people of Hawaiian descent. 3) Non-Hawaiian residents of the state should be called "Hawaiʻi residents."

As a note: AP Style tells us to spell the name of the state "Hawaii," without the ʻokina, as is the offfical name of the state. (For non-Hawaii residents, that's the apostrophe-like thing.) However, the name of the university system is properly spelled with the ʻokina.

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  • For now, I have no opinion to express about your answer. I have not accepted it yet, however. I don't know how it got a green check mark. – Greg Lee Jan 14 '18 at 1:46
  • @GregLee I have no opinion about your comment but I don't have a check mark. – Azor Ahai -- he him Jan 14 '18 at 1:56
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    @GregLee: I think the checkmark you saw may have actually been gray. For question owners, an "empty space" in the shape of a checkmark appears next to answers on their questions. Unfortunately, the color of this "empty" checkmark is fairly similar to the color of the actual checkmark that appears after an answer is accepted. – herisson Jan 14 '18 at 4:25

The message, as close as one can tell, was

Emergency Alert


There was no use of the term "Hawaiian" in the message.

But when it was reported to the rest of the US, the news people used the term "Hawaiian" in the sense that it is understood in 49 of the 50 states.

Seems reasonable to me. False alarm. You may stand down.

As to "Hawaiians woke up to emergency alerts" on mobile phones, that is perfectly normal news-speak. It means that these alerts were being broadcast/displayed when most people on the islands were waking up. There is nothing untruthful about it if you understand the idiomatic meanings.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – tchrist Jan 15 '18 at 22:09

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