How to use the Samoan word, Uso

Uso is the Samoan word for either brother or sister, depending on your gender.

You’ll see/hear this word thrown around a lot amongst Samoans – “Eh, uso!” or “Ua ‘li’i, uso?” and sometimes more ‘urban’ Samoans will make this short word even shorter: “Hey, uce!”

Not my favorite variation of the word, but I’ll let it slide as long as we’re using it in the right context.

These days, I notice a lot of guys calling their sisters (or female relatives/friends) ‘uso’, or girls calling guys ‘uso’ and I can’t tell whether they’re just trying to be all “bend-the-rules-cool”, or they really don’t know the correct way to use this word.

SO I figured it was my responsibility as a citizen of Samoa (seriously, I was born there) and a publisher of Samoan-related stuff to share a little knowledge. To be fair, and in the interest of non-judgement, I myself only learned this distinction a few years ago.

Thank goodness for adult community education and a NZ government that encourages Pacific language learning.

This post is also inspired by a couple of very enlightening articles by teacher and blogger Liz M.


Any questions?

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Known offline as Lillian (Lils, Lei'a) Arp, Hamo Geek Girl is just learning what it means to be Samoan. When she's not here, she's over at Manaui: Savour Oceania mostly talking about her other favourite topic: Food!

3 thoughts on “How to use the Samoan word, Uso

  1. Can you make an article that follows this article for the words “Tuagane” and “Tuafafine”. I think the “Fa’afafine” would also appreciate a comment or an explanation on how we accept them in our society vs how they are treated in others? Keep up the good work, I always come here for Samoan reference because of the research.Thank you so much for your work, your site is a precious gem. God Bless.

  2. LOL the Usos call everybody that even non relatives along with Uce, it makes no sense for brothers and sisters to only be referred to as “Uso” by their same gender siblings while opposite sex siblings use a word that’s not anything close to “Uso” they’re not only the brother or sister to their siblings of the same gender. People aren’t trying to all “be bend the “rules” cool” there are no “rules” people can say whatever they want and they’re just being logical, you’re trying to be all “pretentious know it all grammar Nazi” lecturing people on how to speak and saying “I’ll let it slide as long as “we’re” using it in the right context” as if someone died and made you ruler of all Samoans.

    1. Thank you for your entertaining comment, Anonymous champion of the Samoan language. Just to clarify…

      In linguistics, a “rule” is only a description of how people -- cultures -- organise ideas into words and sentences … It’s not a commandment, so nobody’s calling you a sinner for being too “cool” for school and changing things up to suit yourself. But there’s a difference between breaking the rules because you don’t agree with them and breaking the rules because you don’t know them.

      This post is a simple tip aimed at readers who want to know the rules because they’re interested in communicating effectively with people who actually speak Samoan.

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