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Say What?

The people of New Orleans have their own language. Its tone, lilt, and slang are indigenous to this city and reflect its ethnic history and tradition. New Orleans is part of the deep south, but you won't find much of a stereotypical southern drawl; in fact, there are several distinctive dialects. One of the most surprising is a Brooklynese style heard in the 9th Ward, Irish Channel, and Chalmette sections of New Orleans. Little or no French is spoken by the majority of folks in New Orleans, but common parlance isn't without French influence. Aside from having everyday words and expressions that aren't used elsewhere in the States, New Orleanians throughout the city give meaning to and pronounce certain words their own way. Many of them are related to food. See our list of Cajun food terms on NewOrleansRestaurants.com.

Most Popular Terms

  • Bayou (by' you)
    Slow stream, or body of water running through a marsh or swamp.
  • Cajun (kay' jun)
    French Acadians who settled here after immigrating from Canada.
  • Creole (cree' ole)
    Descendents of French, Spanish, and Carribean slaves and natives; has also come to mean any person whose ancestry derives from the Caribbean's mixed nationalities.
  • King cake
    Extra-large oval doughnut pastry dusted with colored candied sugar. A plastic baby doll is hidden inside the cake--the lucky person who gets the piece of cake with the doll inside (and doesn't break a tooth or swallow it in the process!) buys the king cake for the next party of the Mardi Gras season.
  • Lagniappe (lan' yap)
    Something extra that you didn't pay for--thrown in to sweeten the deal--like a baker's dozen. (See mardigrasneworleans.com for more information)
  • Laissez les bons temps rouler (Lazay Lay Bon Tom Roulay)
    Let the good times roll.
  • Mardi Gras
    Fat Tuesday, the day before Lent...The day to celebrate before the traditional Catholic tradition of sacrificing and fasting during the 40 days of Lent.
  • Praline (Praw' leen)
    Brown sugar pecan-filled candy patty. (Very sweet and so delicious you can't eat just one!)
  • Snowball
    Shaved ice (nearly powder) served with flavored syrups. Those of you in the north might throw 'em...we eat 'em!
  • "Who Dat?"
    • A New Orleans Saints fan
    • A chant for New Orleans Saints fans: "Who dat? Who dat? Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints?"

B

  • Ball (bal masque, tableau ball)
    A Mardi Gras krewe's formal event and dance
  • Banquette (ban' ket)
    Sidewalk--French meaning a small bank along the road
  • Bayou (by' you)
    Slow stream, or body of water running through a marsh or swamp.
  • Beaucoup Crasseux (boo coo cra sue)
    Translated: very dirty
    Contributed by KAJUN
  • Big Easy
    "The Big Easy" became the official nickname for New Orleans after a contest was run years ago. Historically, New Orleans has weathered primitive conditions, yellow fever, hurricanes, floods, wars--English, French, Indians, Union--and just plain hard living. Being a survivor was something to celebrate. In addition, New Orleans is noted for an eclectic mix of cultures that have held onto their traditions and languages. New Orleans is also constantly celebrating! There are music festivals, food festivals, etc., throughout the year. The bottom line is that "The Big Easy" won because it fits! If it's fun, tastes good, and sounds right, then we're all for it!
  • Boeuf Gras
    The fatted bull; a Lenten symbol of the last meat eaten before a season of fasting.
  • Boogalee
    Translated: A Cajun
    Contributed by J. Vegas
  • Bourre (BOO ray)
    Translated: A French card game. "Wildly popular way to gamble on the old riverboats, and still is among Cajuns. Makes high-stakes poker look like Old Maid--it's that vicious. I love it!" P.S. The term "coon-ass" for Cajun comes from the English corruption of "canas," meaning a country bumpkin.
    Contributed by J. Vegas

C

  • Calliope Street (Cal' i ope)
    (The ope said like rope--no "e" heard.) Don't ask where "Cal-lie-o-pea" is; nobody will understand what street you're looking for!
  • Cajun (kay' jun)
    French Acadians who settled here after immigrating from Canada.
  • Camelback (cam' l bak)
    A single row house with the back half made into a two-story. The front section remains a single.
  • Captain
    Leader of a Carnival organization.
  • Carnival
    • The party season before Mardi Gras. Starts on January 6 (Twelfth Night). Celebrated with king cakes at Mardi Gras parties.
    • Cruise line from New Orleans offering Caribbean cruises!
  • Cayoodle
    A mixed breed dog.
    Contributed by Jimmy
  • Cher
    New Orleans Translation: An expression many use when greeting another. A term of affection meaning "dear" or "love"
    Contributed by "a French Quarter Fan" with this comment: "I am sure this has its origins in the French "cheri," but it just turns my legs to water when uttered by a N'awlins native..."
  • Chute-the-chute
    • Playground slide.
  • City that Care Forgot
    A nickname for New Orleans.
  • Court
    A Krewe's King, Queen, Maids and Dukes.
  • Crescent City
    A nickname for New Orleans, originating from the shape of the Mississippi River as it bends around the city.
  • Creole (cree' ole)
    Descendents of French, Spanish, and Carribean slaves and natives; has also come to mean any person whose ancestry derives from the Caribbean's mixed nationalities.
  • Crescent City Connection
    Twin bridges connecting the Eastbank with the Westbank.

D

  • Den
    Mardi Gras float warehouse.
  • Doubloons (duh bloons')
    Aluminum coins stamped with a parade krewe's insignia and theme.
  • Dixie (There's just no other way to say it!)
    Making money in the "Land of Dixie" was a term used by rivermen and merchants, because $10.00 bank notes were general denominations, and the French word for ten is "dix".
  • Do-do (dough dough--not du-du!)
    In New Orleans, it's a cute word children use when tired and sleepy (from the French "to sleep": dormir).
  • Dressed
    Sandwiches served with lettuce, tomatoes and mayonnaise: "the works" (and, of course...the way those with class catch their Mardi Gras throws!).

F

  • Fais do-do (Fay' dough dough)
    A Cajun dance party, after the children have gone to sleep (see above!).
  • Fat City
    A region of Metairie (see below) and a popular place to party during Mardi Gras, originating from the term Fat Tuesday (the literal translation of Mardi Gras).
  • Favor
    A souvenir that krewe members give to friends
  • "Fixin' to"
    About to
  • Flambeaux (flam' bo)
    Lit torches historically carried during night parades.
  • "Four Major Points on the NO Compass"
    Of course the four major points on the NO compass are: Lakeside, Riverside, East Bank, and West Bank (over which the sun rises every day!)
    Contributed by Bryan Melan
  • Front room
    Known other places as the "living room".

G

  • Gallery (galllll rreeeee)
    Balcony--walkway outside of homes on the second floor.
  • GNO
    Greater New Orleans area.
  • Gris gris (gree gree)
    Voodoo good luck charm
  • Gumbo Ya-Ya
    Translated: everybody talking all at once; i.e., at a loud party.
    Contributed by J. Vegas

H

  • Hi-rise
    Anything above sea level! (Just joking--with a bit of truth!)
    The elevated interstate roadway.
  • Hurricane Party
    What some residents do after securing their houses for a hurricane: throw a party! (If it's safe to stay, that is!) Get some snacks, drinks, and buddies, and hunker down to watch the TV news give hurricane updates! Hurricane is also the name of a famous New Orleans drink. Be careful; they sneak up on you.

I

  • Indians
    Local African-American families and social clubs who dress up in very ornate, hand-beaded, sequined and feathered outfits to represent their street or gang during Mardi Gras.
  • "It don' madda"
    Translated: "It doesn't matter."
    That seems like the right way to say it to me, Jill!

K

  • King cake
    Extra-large oval doughnut pastry dusted with colored candied sugar. A plastic baby doll is hidden inside the cake--the lucky person who gets the piece of cake with the doll inside (and doesn't break a tooth or swallow it in the process!) buys the king cake for the next party of the Mardi Gras season.
  • Krewe (crue)
    A Carnival organization's members.

L

  • Lagniappe (lan' yap)
    Something extra that you didn't pay for--thrown in to sweeten the deal--like a baker's dozen. (See mardigrasneworleans.com for more information)
  • Laissez les bons temps rouler (Lazay Lay Bon Tom Roulay)
    Let the good times roll.
  • Locker
    Known other places as "closet".
  • Lundi Gras
    The day before Mardi Gras, when King Rex and King Zulu arrive on the riverfront.

M

  • Makin' groceries
    Buying groceries.
    Contributed by Brooke Zimmerman: I still make groceries, only now I live in W.V. and nobody knows what I'm talking about!
  • Mardi Gras
    Fat Tuesday, the day before Lent...The day to celebrate before the traditional Catholic tradition of sacrificing and fasting during the 40 days of Lent.
  • Maskers
    Float riders and anyone dressed in costume.
  • Metairie (Met' tree)
    A suburb of New Orleans--between the airport and New Orleans.
  • Muffuletta (Moo Fa' lotta) and a lotta it is!
    Super-large, round, fat sandwich filled with salami-type meats, mozzarella cheese, pickles, and olive salad (we challenge you to eat all of it!).
  • MY-Nez
    Translated: "mayonnaise"
    Contributed by Sister Anne Joan: "MY-nez is a pronunciation unique to Creole New Orleanians; it reflects the French pronunciation of a visibly French word, the actual meaning of which I do not know. When I moved out of New Orleans to enter the convent, I used to avoid pronouncing it; nobody knew what I meant! Bless y'all's dawlin' hawts."

N

  • Nainain and Parain
    Translated: godmother and godfather, respectively
    Contributed by Bryan Melan
  • "N'awlins"
    "New Orleans"--It's faster that way!
  • Neutral Ground
    Median or grassy area between the paved areas on a boulevard. Named for the original Canal St division between the Americans and Creoles, who did not like each other.

O

  • "Ova By Ma Mama's"
    Translated: "Over by my mother's."
    Contributed by Martin H. Booda

P

  • Pantry (pan-tree)
    Cupboard.
  • The Parish (da Parish)
    Louisiana has parishes, not counties, but this often refers to Chalmette, a suburb outside of New Orleans.
  • "Pass a Good Time"
    Translated: Have a good time.
    Contributed by Carole Thomas-Fajardo
  • "Pass the Vacuum"
    Translated: vacuum the floor
    Contributed by Bryan Melan
  • Picayune (Pic' ee yoon)
    • Small, nit-picky (It was a Spanish coin worth more than a nickel and less than a dime: 6 1/4 cents, to be precise)
    • Name of our newspaper, the "Times-Picayune"
    • Small town north of New Orleans in Mississippi.
  • Pirogue (Pee' row) Yes, it sure looks funny!
    Flat-bottomed canoe, perfect in the bayous.
  • Praline (Praw' leen)
    Brown sugar pecan-filled candy patty. (Very sweet and so delicious you can't eat just one!)
  • Police Jury
    Similar to a city council, but has more legal authority concerning individuals

S

  • Shotgun
    Usually part of a "double"--a single row house in which all rooms on one side are connected by a long single hallway--you can open the front door and shoot a gun straight through the back door, without hitting a single wall...now, I have no idea who has tried this, or even why this is the way one describes these houses!
  • Snowball
    Shaved ice (nearly powder) served with flavored syrups. Those of you in the north might throw 'em...we eat 'em!
  • Slave Quarters
    Houses behind the main building of large plantation homes where slaves used to live.
  • Soc Au' Lait (Sock-o-lay)
    Translated: sack of milk. Used in place of "What the?", "Ouch!", or "WOW!"
    Contributed by KAJUN

T

  • Tchoupitoulas Street (Chop a two' les)
    Interesting street name. One of the trickiest to pronounce--and spell!
  • Throws
    Trinkets such as beads, cups, and doubloons tossed from the floats to the crowds during Mardi Gras parades.
  • "Throw Me Something, Mister!"
    What everyone yells at parades to get throws from the maskers on the floats!
  • Twinspan
    The twin bridges connecting the North Shore at Slidell with New Orleans across Lake Pontchartrain.

U

  • Uptown (uhp' tawn)
    Area "upriver" from the French Quarter.

V

  • Vieux Carre' (Vooo ca ray') (View ca ray')
    French for "Old Quarter," this is a term used for the French Quarter, including world-famous Bourbon Street...experience it in any of our French Quarter Hotels.
  • Vignette (Vin yet')
    A sketch or illustration of a person, place or thing.
  • Voodoo (Voo' doo)
    A form of witchcraft.

W

  • "Went by My Mama's and N'em"
    Visited my mother and family
    Contributed by Jim Russell
  • West Bank
    You have to look east to see the "other" side of New Orleans, on the west bank of the Mississippi.
  • "Who Dat?"
    A New Orleans Saints fan and a chant. "Who dat? Who dat? Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints?"

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Y

  • Yat
    Standard greeting--("Where yat?" is "Hello, how are you doing?"). "Yat"
    is also used as as noun to describe a true native New Orleanian.
  • Yatspeak
    "My ex grew up on da Rue Royale, and she had a way of making the word 'water' sound SO good. More like 'Wahrter.' I love y'all's town. And the world's FINEST women come from New Orleans. You may quote me."
    Contributed by: Carl Huffman
  • "Yea, you right!"
    Translated: "Yes, you are right!"
    Contributed by: Rick Ranson with this comment: "Surely this will qualify as 'yatspeak'"!