How to use the Samoan word, Uso

Samoan Language9 Comments on How to use the Samoan word, Uso

How to use the Samoan word, Uso

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

In the Samoan language, if you are female, your uso is your sister. If you are male, your uso is your brother. 

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

…which is not my personal favorite variation of the word, but everybody’s saying it so now I’m like meh… As long as we’re using it in the right context.

What I’ve noticed, though, is 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, or if they really don’t know the correct way to use this word.

SO I figured it was my responsibility as a citizen of Samoa 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.

Soooo anyway, here’s the deal:

So again… If you are female, your uso is your sister, and you would refer to your brother as tuagane (with the ‘g’ in there pronounced like the ‘ng’ and the word ‘hanger’).

If you are male, your uso is your brother, and your sister is your tuafafine.

Got it?

I think it’s a nice example of how language supports culture. In the Samoan way of doing things, girls have a unique respect for their brothers and guys protect their sisters with their lives.

The fact that we have different words for our siblings based on gender emphasizes that distinction in the way we relate to our sisters or our brothers.

Known IRL as Lillian (Lils, Lei'a) Arp, I'm just a Hamo Geek Girl, sitting behind a screen... learning, deep-thinking and typing up Samoan things.

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

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

    1. Lol no. In Samoan, a woman wouldn’t call her ‘special friend’ her brother. Eww. 😀 We’ve got lots of other, really beautiful words to use for the one we love. My favourites are ‘manamea’ or ‘maasoama’ loll.. But as a female referring to your actual brother (or a brotherly type friend), the pronunciation is [tuɑ’ŋɑ:nɛ] or too-ah-ngah-ne, where the ng is the same sound as in the word hanger, and the e at the end is like the e in red.

      1. Lol, I know I just didnt know of other words outside what you said in the article. What does ‘manamea’ mean? What are some love phrases?

        1. Oooh so manamea is like ‘darling’ or ‘sweetheart’ except much cooler because it’s in Samoan lol. Seriously though, manamea has a lot deeper connotations than those English words of affection. It’s closer to ‘soulmate’ or ‘my beloved’. Something like that :).

  3. I’m a huge wrestling fan and a lot of my faves are the samoans, I have wondered what uso meant as i was sure it was a samoan thing, Glad i found this page. Now as for the Anon comment yes they use the word for everything BUT being samoan THEY know what it means so that gives them the right imo to use it however they choose, non samoans esp wrestling fans use it because of them i would say similar to the use of a certain word that african americans use to each other (btw i am in no way suggesting that they are equal in manner just that the use of it in some context is similar

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