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French Quarter, New Orleans | © Sami99tr/WikiCommons
French Quarter, New Orleans | © Sami99tr/WikiCommons

15 New Orleans Words and Phrases You Should Learn Before Visiting The City

Picture of Rebeca Trejo
Updated: 9 February 2017
As with history, food, music, ethnicities and traditions, New Orleans has its own method of human communication. Ever since its 1718 inception, the city’s multicultural settlers have brought with them foreign expressions and pronunciations that have perpetuated throughout the local jargon and transformed into the contemporary dialect. Filled with particular wording styles, the Big Easy’s linguistic evolution blends decades-old influences from a diverse scenario of cultures and communities.

Since learning the local language of the city you are visiting can only bring you benefits, here’s a crash-course of 15 phrases and words that’ll help you learn how to talk that NOLA talk.


‘Pass A Good Time’

Coming from the French word usage ‘pass,’ pass a good time is an often-called-upon phrase used by New Orleans natives when invoking ‘a good time,’ a recklessly pursuing chant for pleasure and fun.

For example, if you go to Pat O’Brien’s and order a Hurricane to drink, you are bound to pass a good time.

‘Lagniappe’

Pronounced as a French word, lagniappe (lan-yap) is a Cajun-French inspired noun that means ‘a little extra.’ Often used to describe something good, this word is the NOLA-call for receiving anything extra, or better yet, receiving something for free.

For example, if you order a Po-boy and you get a free side of fries with it, it’s called lagniappe.

‘Who Dat?’

A chant mostly yelled in support of the New Orleans Saints, Who Dat? is a colloquial expression that originated in minstrel shows and vaudeville acts during late 1800s and early 1900s, and was taken up by jazz and big band performers in the 1920s and 30s. Today, after the Saints scored their historic Super Bowl win back in 2009, the phrase has become a theme in the Crescent City and an all-around shout for a celebration.

For example, if you are watching the game at a local bar and the New Orleans Saints score a touchdown, you better scream ‘WHOOO DAT’ at the top of your lungs.

‘Creole’

With a rather ambiguous history, Creole (Kree Yol) is a French-Spanish inspired term that references pivotal components of the Big Easy culture. While, early on, Creole was used to identify New-World-born salves, free people of color, and mix-heritage descendants, the word lives on through the city’s culture, architecture, local accents, and most importantly, style of cooking.

‘Cajun’

The word Cajun (kay-jen), which derives from ‘Acadia’ (a term used to reference Nova Scotia and other Canadian provinces where French immigrants settled during the colonial era), can seem quite confusing because it holds three different meanings. The first describes the 1700s French-Acadians who – after refusing to swear an oath of loyalty to the British crown – immigrated from Nova Scotia to Louisiana, the second talks about a southern cooking style, and the third describes a French-inspired dialect carried on through time by the Cajuns living in the Pelican State.

‘Pinch The Tail And Suck The Head’

No! This phrase holds no sexual connotation; it actually explains the proper way to eat crawfish (a freshwater crustacean and a New Orleans staple). The trick goes something like this: rip the tail from the body, pinch the tail to loosen up the spicy meat, and, after eating it, suck the head of the delectable critter, where you’ll find all the tasty juices and deliciously seasoned fat.

‘Krewe’

Best known for its association with Mardi Gras, Krewe is an old English spelling for the word ‘crew.’ The word, which is thought to have been coined in the early 19th century, refers to a parading club or organization that strolls around New Orleans during carnival season aboard a uniquely designed float, represents their own traditional and unique themes.

‘Fais-Do-Do’

Originated before World War II, the expression fais do-do (Fay DOUGH DOUGH) refers to a Cajun dance party. The term means ‘go to sleep,’ and it derives from the command mother’s offered brawling infants during the all-night dancing fiestas.

‘Where Y’At?’

Where y’at? is a traditional greeting asked by New Orleanians who want to know what’s up. You are being asked how you are doing, as opposed to the common out-of-town translation, which is often confused for ‘Where are you.’

For example, if you are wandering through the streets of the French Quarter and somebody asks you ‘Hey (insert your name here), Where ya’t?’, you should confidently respond ‘Awrite.’

‘Throw Me Somethin’, Mista!’

In New Orleans a Mardi Gras parade may as well be classified as a national sport, and the parade-goer is expected to participate in the action by catching whatever is being thrown at them from the passing floats while yelling ‘Throw me somethin’, Mista!’ at the tops of their lungs to get the parade-rider’s attention. Whether it be beads, plastic cups or doubloons, an spectator’s success will be measured by the amount of ‘throws’ he is able to amount by the end of the parade.

‘Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler’

One of the quintessential Louisiana phrases, laissez les bon temps rouler is a Cajun expression meaning ‘let the good times roll’ – that is, to make merry! Mostly associated with New Orleans and frequently heard during Mardi Gras celebrations, the saying conveys the ‘joie de vivre’ (joy of living) that floats around the city’s air.

For example, in New Orleans, visiting tourists and locals alike like to laissez les bon temps rouler!

‘How’s Ya Mama An’ Them?’

Howsyamommaanem? is a collective term spoken as one word only by true New Orleanians. The phrase, often regarded as a true Southern salute, refers collectively to all of someone’s family members, but most importantly, his or her mother.

‘Cher’

No! I’m not talking about the singer. Derived from French-speaking Cajuns and Creoles living in Louisiana, Cher (sha) is an endearment slang used when greeting someone loved.

For example, ‘Mais, cher! I’m so glad to see you!’

‘Snowball’

Made with finely shaved ice and flavored cane sugar syrup, a snowball is the New Orleans confection equivalent of a snow cone. This Depression-era classic treat represents a big deal in NOLA, not only because it has been one of the city’s staple desserts since 1930s, but also because it gets pretty hot here during the summer – I’m talking 100 degrees.

‘Gris-gris’

Originating in Africa, a gris-gris is a voodoo amulet holding a spell that can be applied for nefarious purposes, such as putting a gris-gris on someone or as a force to ward off evil. Often used in jest, term used to describe the type of religiomagical system practiced by folks in the New Orleans Voodoo tradition.

For example, if you hear somebody saying they are going to put a gris-gris on you, run…fast!

 

By Rebeca Trejo