Are They Neighbor Islands or Outer Islands?

As far as I can remember, our house style at HONOLULU Magazine, Oahu-centric as we admittedly are, has been to refer to the other Hawaiian Islands in print as “Neighbor Islands;” complete with capitalization, the way one would punctuate any formal geographic region, such as North America.

In fact, that seems to be the rule at all local media. But if I remember correctly, it was something of a big deal in the 1990s for Honoluluans to retrain themselves to say “neighbor island” instead of “outer island” in everyday speech as well. After all, "outer" sounds sort of dismissive, while "neighbor" sounds friendly.

Lately, I’ve been noticing a lot of the twenty- and thirtysomethings I know referring casually to the “outer islands” in conversation. I flinch every time I hear it, the same way I do when I hear someone refer to the Mainland as “the States.”

Maybe I’m missing something here. Is some kind of linguistic shift taking place? Is “outer island” acceptable again?  Was “neighbor island” just an artifact of the PC ’90s? What’s going on?

We’ve launched a poll, at right. Please let us know which one you use in conversation, “neighbor islands” or “outer islands.”