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NOLA Speak

We say a few things differently here - take a look

We talk different here in New Orleans. To the visitor, it might seem like we’re speaking in code, what with the long list of colorful only-in-New Orleans words and phrases bandied about on street corners and front stoops.  And don’t even get us started on pronunciation. We say the street name bur-GUN-dee, not burgundy, just because that’s the way it is. As for Calliope, say KAL-e-ope and you’ll pass for a local.  Informed by centuries of Technicolor culture and a simmering stew of ethnicities, New Orleans speak is as individual as the city that inspires it.

Where y'at? Shotgun house. Parrain. Flying horses ... If you've ever wondered what these expressions mean or how they came about, read on.

Paul Broussard
Dirty Coast Clothing - Magazine Street
Back o' Town

This is the section of New Orleans that developed around the former New Basin Canal, roughly near the present-day Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The area was in "back of" the natural levees along which the city first developed.

Boo

A term of endearment a parent or grandparent would call a small child, presumably Cajun in origin. Sometimes refers to your sweetheart, too.

Boo-coo

A lot. Origin in Haitian Creole and French (beaucoup).

Brah

A shortened form of "brother," used between men to address one another.

By my house

Means "at my house." This is just like the French expression "chez moi."

Cher

This term of endearment is Cajun in origin.

Cold drink

Soda or soft drink.

Dressed

When you order a po-boy, "dressed" means you want lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, and mayo on it.

Faubourg

The French word for suburb, this refers to areas now in the city that would have been outside the original city limits, such as Faubourg Marigny or Faubourg Tremé.

Fais Do Do

A Cajun dance party. Lots of good food, lots of good music.

Flying horses

Any merry-go-round or carousel, but specifically the antique carousel in City Park's Carousel Gardens.

Jambalaya

A rice dish with meat or seafood, similar to Spanish paella. The word is said to come from the Provençal word "jambalaia," meaning mish-mash or pilaf.

King cake

These are treasured coffee cakes served during the Carnival season – January 6 or Epiphany through Mardi Gras Day. Little plastic babies are inside the cake and the person who gets the baby in their slice is responsible for bringing the next cake. This Carnival tradition is celebrated everywhere in New Orleans – schools, offices, hospitals and more. You will be hard pressed to turn your head during Carnival and not see a king cake.

Lagniappe

A little something extra (pronounced LAN-yap). This could be a free dessert at the restaurant or a treat on the pillow at your hotel.

Laissez les bon temps rouler

French for let the good times roll, our motto here in New Orleans.

Make dodo

(Pronounced doe-doe.) Go to sleep. Comes from the French faire dodo, which is from faire dormir.

Making Groceries

Old-timers in New Orleans "make groceries" at the store.

Marraine/Parrain

Godmother/godfather.

Neutral ground

The median or grassy strip in the middle of a road. The term is said to have originally referred to the wide median on Canal Street, which separated the residents of the French and Creole part of town from the more newly settled American sector.

Parish

Louisiana has parishes instead of counties, since it was originally ruled by the Roman Catholic nations of France and Spain. From the French paroisse.

Po-boy

Short for poor-boy. A French bread sandwich and signature dish of New Orleans. The origin of the name is not settled, but it may refer to the sandwich being a staple meal of poor workers or children. It has also been proposed that these sandwiches would have be purchased with a worker's tips (French: pourboire) or that they were made using the "tips" of a loaf of French bread.

Shotgun houses

One of New Orleans' most distinctive architectural symbols, these are the long, narrow houses you see with rooms all lined up in a row. The design is thought to be an evolution of the African "long house" style brought to Louisiana via Haiti. The name is thought to come from the West African word shogon, or "God's house,” although some historians also say it refers to a house where you can fire a shotgun and the bullet goes through every room – also the shape generally, of a shotgun.

Where y'at?

This standard New Orleans greeting means simply "How are you?" or "What's going on?" So don't tell the asker where you are. Just say you're doing alright.

Who dat?

Cheer of New Orleans Saints fans everywhere, shortened from "Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints?" Saints fans are also called “who dats.”

Ya mom'n'em

Your immediate family. "How's ya mom'n'em?"

Yeah you right!

Expression of agreement or happiness.