“Haole” is not a bad word
Is “haole” a bad word?
No. It’s just a word, a noun that has come to mean white person, Caucasian, American, European. Haole used to mean anything or anyone foreign, such as `āina haole (foreign land), but as often happens in language, the meaning changed to this specific use.
Linguists take their cues from the native speakers of the language to determine what a word means, how it’s appropriately used, and under what circumstances.
Haole likely entered the language before Capt. Cook’s arrival in 1778, when Hawaiian speakers needed a word to describe whalers, ship jumpers, and other non-natives. Some scholars believe that haole comes from “ha” and “ole,” meaning “no breath,” but there isn’t sufficient evidence to support this theory.
There are other haole-based words in common use today. ‘Ōlelo Haole (foreign speech) means English language. And as a hapa-haole alumna of the Kamehameha Schools, I’ve had a lot of haole brownies in my day (see the recipe.)
Of course, say the word “haole” with enough vitriol or put f***ing in front of any word, and it’ll become derogatory. So haole, by itself, is not a bad word. Do not take offense … unless offense is meant. And depending on what you did, you shouldn’t be surprised.