Elysian Fields Avenue is a broad, straight avenue in New Orleans named after the Avenue des Champs-Élysées in Paris. It courses south to north from the Lower Mississippi River to Lake Pontchartrain, a distance of approximately 5 miles (8.0 km). The avenue intersects with Interstate 610, Interstate 10, and U.S. Highway 90, Gentilly Boulevard passing by Brother Martin High School. The part between North Claiborne Avenue(Louisiana Highway 39) and Gentilly Boulevard (U.S. Route 90) is Louisiana Highway 3021 (LA 3021); the piece from N. Claiborne Avenue south to St. Claude Avenue carries Louisiana Highway 46 (which turns east on St. Claude Avenue).
For more than half of its route, from the river to Gentilly Boulevard (U.S. Route 90), it is six lanes wide; the remainder north of Gentilly Boulevard is four lanes wide. Anchoring the lake end and river end (northern and southern termini) respectively are the University of New Orleans and the Esplanade Avenue Wharf.
The location of Elysian Fields Avenue originated in the early 19th century placement of a sawmill canal on the Marigny Plantation, which at that time was just outside New Orleans proper (the present French Quarter). In 1831 the Pontchartrain Railroad was built from that location straight to Lake Pontchartrain. The railroad carried both goods and passengers. Among the railroad’s steady revenue sources was mail, which was carried from New Orleans to Lake Pontchartain for transfer to Mobile, Alabama-bound ships. The railroad, which came to be known locally as “Smoky Mary”, operated until 1935. The tracks were removed in the 1950s.
[gdlr_quote align=”center” ]Where y’at![/gdlr_quote]
What’s a Yat?
“Yat” is a term for the quintessential neighborhood New Orleanian. It’s derived from the local greeting, “Where y’at!”, although it tends not to be used by locals in the way it’s used by outsiders. I never really heard the term while growing up, and neither did many of my fellow New Orleanians. It’s come into casual acceptance, although the acknowledged expert on local speech, Bunny Matthews, hates the word and considers it a pejorative. Bunny told me he though that it’s “the kind of thing that a Tulane student from the Northeast would come up with.” Personally, I don’t think Tulane students from the Northeast were that clever, but I respect Bunny’s thoughts on the matter.
Many if not most New Orleanians will use a few, some or all of the terms below, but not all New Orleanians employ the truly hardcore local pronunciations. A brief explanation of what constitutes the true essence of local speech and its users is offered here, excerpted from Tim Lyman’s introduction to Bunny Matthews’ wonderful first book of comic strips featuring New Orleans dialogue, F’Sure!: Actual Dialogue Heard on the Streets of New Orleans, now sadly out of print. In a bit of double irony, not only is Tim not a local (Bunny describes him as a “Yankee”), but Bunny himself refuses to use the word “Yat” to describe either locals or their speech. Still, it’s one of the best descriptions of localness I’ve ever read:
For those of you unfamiliar with New Orleans culture, a good place to start is that there are basically only two kinds of people in New Orleans.The first is those folks that live, as one [of Bunny’s] cartoon characters puts it, in Gatorland — “Yeah, you know … ova dere across Magazine where dey all wear dem shoits wid lil’ gators on ’em.” Otherwise knows as Uptown, you can tell folks from Gatorland in the cartoons because they speak English. Another clue is that all skinny people are from Gatorland, although not all people from Gatorland are skinny. And they often have 59 rows of teeth.
The other kind of New Orleanian is Everyone Else, dose folks dat talk normal. Be they Black, White or Creole, whether they live right in the backyards of Uptown or way out in da Ninth Ward, Chalmette, or even across da River, they are united in the fact that their homes and lives have not been renovated, that life is the same as it’s always been, only worse.
The best generic term for Everyone Else is “Yat”, a word too often limited by its etymology so that it refers merely to those who greet you with “Where y’at?” most often. Yat is actually much broader than this; it is a state of mind.
Unlike the Gatorlander, who is always consumed with the particulars of trying to live the modern life, the Yat is convinced that modernity is a disaster. Naturally enough then, the Yat feels most alive in the most disastrous of circumstances. The average New Orleanian housewife, as Bunny once noted, has an internist’s working knowledge of every possible disease that can be caught in these parts. The man who holds the attention of the barroom is the guy who can top everyone else’s hard luck stories. The Great Flood of May 3, 1978 was the most exciting of recent times, at least until another Hurricane comes. Even Carnival is talked of by the Yat in the most matter-of-fact ways, only the abominations of tradition being noteworthy.
A few words on New Orleansese: in a city whose very name is pronounced in nearly 100 different ways by its citizens, all the way from the filigreed, nearly five-syllable “Nyoo Ahhlyins” to the monosyllabic grunt of “Nawln'”, it takes a very sensitive ear, not to mention years of practice, to pinpoint the incredible binds the native speaker encounters, those specific words where the slow tongue gives up and makes a leap of faith. For those who have never heard it, you must begin by imagining Brooklynese on Quaaludes.
The dialect changes, too, within the City, from Schwegmann’s to Schwegmann’s. Each neighborhood has its own input to the living language. But mostly, the local dialect is one of inflection. Whether it’s a “you” or a “ya” or a “y'”, whether there is time for a “th” or only a “d”, all depends on the placement of the word in the phrase, where the accents fall.
Some folks wonder aloud why [Bunny’s cartoon] characters are often so fat and ugly. Strange question to ask when a little neutral observation reveals that 99 percent of native New Orleanians are both overweight and unpleasant to look at. Of course, it’s the diet. The food in New Orleans is the best in the world, but light it ain’t. Like the character who exclaims, “It ain’t da seafood dat makes ya fat anyway — it’s da batta!” … carefully ignoring the fact that he eats the better part of a whole loaf of French bread with every half-dozen oysters. Obesity and facial dots seem a small price to pay for such pleasure — me, I’ll take the food.
— by Tim Lyman
Now that you’ve had a peek into the heart and soul of what makes us locals tick when we talk, I offer you this lexicon of local speech, so when you visit New Orleans you won’t wonder, “What in the hell is he/she talking about?”
I hope that this brings back memories for natives, and I also hope that it may enlighten visitors to the Crescent City. It may help make the difference between a mere tourist and a truly interested visitor, and I think that’s an important distinction. You don’t want to look like an idiot, saying “Huh?”, when the lady behind the counter at the po-boy shop asks you, “Ya want dat dressed, dawlin’?”
My thanks to the oodles of members of the old New Orleans Internet Mailing List, other New Orleanians (expatriate and still livin’ at home) on the ‘Net, family and friends for their invaluable aid and the contributions they made to this list.
A note on pronunciation
I’ve tried to reproduce phonetic spelling of New Orleanian words and places as best as I could, without being able to reproduce the IPA alphabet online. In my phonetic spelling, the “@” character will be used to represent the schwa, or neutral vowel sound (represented in dictionaries and IPA as the upside-down “e”).
The syllable of major stress will be capitalized, and the syllable of secondary stress will be preceded by an apostrophe. Also remember a general rule of thumb: New Orleanians tend to stress the first syllable of most words and place names.There are also certain standard English words (other than the articles and pronouns) which are pronounced in very special ways in New Orleans, and these will also be included below.
One major point of pronunciation with locals is to never pronounce words that end in “er” or “ing” as spelled. Examples: trailer = trailuh (or “traila”), border = borduh, driver = drivuh, etc.. The “ing” words are always pronounced without the “g”. Examples: swimming = swimmin, looking = lookin, walking = walkin, etc.
See the movie!
Award-winning filmakers Louis Alvarez and Andrew Kolker of the Center for New American Media have made an absolutely marvelous half-hour documentary film entitled “Yeah You Rite”, which is a lively look at the at the unique language of New Orleans. Not only is it a lot of fun, and very enjoyable for both native and visitor alike, but it’s also a tremendous and serious study and perfect example and portrayal of a unique regional dialect. A very good friend of mine is a linguist, and has taught this film to his Intro to Linguistics students. It’s available for a fairly high institutional price through the above link; you might ask them if they have a home video version available. If enough people ask, they might make it happen.
A Lexicon of New Orleans Speech
ALGERIAN – Someone from Algiers (the only part of the City of New Orleans to lie on the West Bank). Some locals say “Algereens”, but we always said Algerians. It’s funnier.
ALLIGATOR PEAR – Avocado.
ANYWAYS – And, then; and, so.
ARABIAN – Someone from Arabi, in St. Bernard Parish. See “Algerian”.
AWRITE – The appropriate response to the greeting “Where y’at?” Also, a greeting in and of itself: “Awrite, Ed!”
AWRITE, HAWT – A female response of agreement.
AX – Ask.
BACKATOWN – (i.e., “back of town”) the section of New Orleans from the River to North Claiborne, popularly used in the 6th adn 7th wards (submitted by caljazz98-at-aol.com)
BANQUETTE – The sidewalk. Pronounced <BANK-it>. Usage fairly rare nowadays.
BAT’TROOM – A room in the house where one doesn’t find bats, but where one bathes, attends to the elimination of bodily waste, or locks oneself in and cries until one gets one’s way.
BERL – To cook by surrounding something in hot, bubbling 212°F liquid; the preferred method for cooking shellfish.
BINHAVIN, BEEN HAVIN’ – To have had something for a long time, as in … Q: “How long ya had dat dress? A: “Oh, I binhavin dat.”
BINLOOKIN, BEEN LOOKIN’ – To have searched for something for a long time, as in “I binlookin f’dat book.”
BOBO – A small injury or wound.
BOO – A term of endearment, frequently used by parents and grandparents for small children, even small children who happen to be 40 years old … Believed to be Cajun in origin.
BRA – A form of address for men, usually one with whom you are not acquainted. Usually used in this manner: “Say, bra …” Ostensibly an abbreviation for “brother.”
Often heard in amusing contexts, such as the question “Say bra, what time da midnight movie starts?” asked of me when I was an usher at the Village Aurora Cinema 6 in Algiers. Another good one was contributed by Gumbo Pages reader Larry Beron: “A friend of mine went to the Rally’s at Vets and Bonnabel in Metairie and overheard the driver of the car ahead of him ask the drive-up clerk, ‘Say bra … how many meats y’all put on them double-cheeseburgers?'”)
BRAKE TAG – An inspection sticker on your car, proof that you’ve passed the required annual safety inspection. It encompasses several areas of your car (e.g., horn, wipers, etc.) but is primarily concerned with the integrity of your brakes. Given the fact that New Orleans is surrounded by various lakes, rivers and canals, a bad set of brakes could mean that you might end up at the bottom of one of those bodies of water at the very least. Throughout New Orleans (although I’m not sure about other parts of Louisiana), the inspection sticker is called a “brake tag”. If it’s expired and you get pulled over, you’re guaranteed to get a ticket. (Believe me, I know.)
BY MY HOUSE, BY YOUR HOUSE, etc. – Analogous to the French terms “chez moi”, “chez toi”, etc. Usage: “He slept by my house last night.” “At” is never used in this sense.
CAP – A form of address for men, usually ones with whom you are not acquainted. Women generally do not use this term. See also PODNA and BRA.
CATLICK – The predominant religion in New Orleans. And, according to some Baptists, all Hell-bound.
CEMENT – A standard English word, but with a special pronunciation. Locals say <SEE-ment>, not <s@-MENT>.
CHALMETIAN, CHALMATION – Someone from Chalmette, a city in St. Bernard Parish that’s part of the New Orleans metro area, often called “Da Parish.” Out-of-towners often pronounce it with the hard “ch” sound as in “charge”. It’s more like <shall-MAY-shen> or <shall-ME-shen>, and the city is pronounced <shall-MET>.
Once occasionally used as an insult; many New Orleanians had a low opinion of Chalmette. However, given the horrendous devastation of St. Bernard Parish brought on by MR-GO and the failed levees following Hurricane Katrina, and the outpouring of grief and warm feelings to the people of Da Parish, it is considered gauche to make fun of Chalmations these days.
CHARMER – The quintessential female Yat. Pronounced <CHAW-muh>.
CHIEF, CHEEF – A form of address between men, along the lines of “cap” and “podna”.
COARDNER – Corner. As in, “I’m going down to the coardner to get me a shrimp po-boy.” This is a contribution from native New Orleanian Powtawche N. Williams, who says, “My family in the 7th Ward uses it all the time.” (I’ve never heard it, me … but my family’s from da 9th Ward, so who knows?)
CUSH-CUSH, KUSH-KUSH, COUCHE-COUCHE – An old French/Cajun breakfast dish my grandmother used to prepare. The words rhyme with “push”, and it is prepared by browning or searing cornmeal in an oil glazed pot till light brown, then served hot with sugar and milk in a bowl, just like cereal. (Contributed by Ave from Chalmette)
DA – The.
DAT – That.
DAWLIN’ – A universal form of address. Women use it to refer to both sexes, men use it toward women.
DEM – Them.
DERE – There. As in “Dere ya go!”, an expression of encouragement or acknowledgement of having done something for someone else.
DESE, DOSE – These, those.
DIS – This.
DODO, MAKE DODO – Sleep. From the Cajun French “fais do do”, or “make sleep”. In Acadiana, the term “fais do do” is used for a Cajun dance, and is thought to have originated when the parents would tell their kids to hurry up and “fais do do” so that they could go to the dance; alternately, it’s said that the hosts of the house dances (bals de maison) would have a separate room for parents to put their small children, and the lady watching them would keep singing lullabyes and saying “fais do do” so that they could sleep amidst the din of the dancing Cajuns.
DOUBLOON – A coin, approximately the size of a silver dollar, minted on a yearly basis by the various Mardi Gras krewes. The standard type is made of aluminum and they’re thrown from Mardi Gras floats by the parade riders. The distinctive sound of a doubloon hitting da cement is enough to start a mad scramble, where you’re likely to trample on an old lady, or alternately be trampled by an old lady.
Doubloons usually come in a variety of colors, and collectors try not only to collect all available colors, but also the exclusive krewe members-only versions made of brushed aluminum, brass or even silver. Doubloons have traditionally been collected with great fervor and rabidity, but from what I can tell their popularity has fallen off over the years. Pronounced <d@-BLOON>, and the cries of “Da-BLOOOOON!!! Da-BLOOOOOOON!!!” can often be heard along parade routes.
Unfortunately, the passion for catching doubloons and for doubloon collecting seems to have waned in recent years. Seems people want cups, or those stupid long strings of beads, rather than a nice, collectible doubloon. I think it’s a shame.
DOWN DA ROAD – A staple in the vocabulary of the St. Bernard Parish Yat, along with up da road. This term is travel directions for someone headed to lower St. Bernard Parish traveling on St. Bernard Highway (US Highway 46). You are usually in da parish when you use this phrase with a destination of either Violet or Poydras. For example: “Let’s go down da road and pass over by the trailah pawk.”
DRESSED – When ordering a po-boy, “dressed” indicates lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and MYNEZ, on it. See NUTTINONIT.
EARL, ERL –
1. A vegetable product used for cooking, making roux, etc.
2. A petroleum product used to lubricate the engine of your car.
3. Your Uncle Earl. (Most New Orleanians have an Uncle Earl; I do.)
ELLESHYEW – Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge. Occasionally preceded by the term, “Go ta hell …”
ERNGE, URNGE – An orange-colored citrus fruit.
ERSTERS, ERSTAS – Oysters.
ESPLANADE – Walkway. The street name is pronounced <es’-pl@-NADE>, and the last syllable rhymes with “raid”, not “rod”.
FAUBOURG – A suburb or outlying neighborhood, as in Faubourg Marigny. Usually pronounced <FO-berg> by natives.
FLYIN’ HORSES – Accented on the first syllable. A merry-go-round, sometimes specifically describing the merry-go-round in City Park, but also used in general. I’ve never heard this term used outside of New Orleans to describe a merry-go-round or carousel.
FOR – a preposition used by New Orleanians instead of “at” or “by” when referring to time. E.g., “Da parade’s for 7:00, but we betta get dere for 6 if we wanna find pawkin’.” This one tends to be particularly confusing to non-natives.
FRONATOWN – (i.e., “front of town) the area from North Claiborne to the No. Broad St. and beyond, up to Bayou St. John, particularly if you walked “northwesterly” on Orleans Ave. Popularly used in the 6th and 7th Wards (submitted by caljazz98-at-aol.com)
1. A statement of agreement. See YEAH YOU RITE.
2. An excellent (but out of print) book by local artist Bunny Matthews, featuring cartoons with “actual dialogue heard on the streets of our metropolis”.
F’TRUE – Pronounced <f@-TROO>. When phrased as a question, it means “Is that so?” or “Ya kiddin’!!”. When phrased as a statement, it’s an affirmation, a shortened version of “Nuh uh, I ain’t lyin’ ta ya …”
GAWD – A supernatural deity, worshipped by most New Orleanians.
GO CUP – A paper or plastic cup for consumption of alcoholic beverages out on the street, as open glass containers (and cans too, I think) are illegal. As a Bunny Matthews bartender character once said, “Here, cap — I gotta give ya dis beer in a cup, ‘cos da City Council passed dis law sayin’ I can go ta Angola fa serving ya a beer in a goddamn beer can …”
Many non-New Orleanians are astonished that we can drink out on the street in go cups. When I left New Orleans, I was astonished that you can’t do it anywhere else (which nearly got me arrested in Los Angeles … uncivilized savages.)
GOUT – Pronounced <GOO>. French for “taste.” Usually applied to coffee. As in, “You want a little gout?” Mostly old people are the only ones still saying this.
GRIP – A small suitcase, usually not a hard-shell one, more like a schoolbag or an overnight bag. Other locals have used this to refer to all types of suitcases. “Don’t fo’get ya grip!”, says ya mamma, as you’re leaving the house.
GRIPPE – The flu.
GRIS-GRIS – Pronounced <GREE-GREE>. Noun, A (voodoo) spell. Can be applied for nefarious purposes (“to put a gris-gris on someone”), or as a force to ward off evil, like wearing a gris-gris bag (the folks at the Voodoo Shop on Dumaine will make one to order for about $20).
HAWT – A term of endearment used primarily by local females.
HEY, BAY-BEE! – Pronounced <hey, BAAAAAAAY-bee> with the “BAY” drawn way out. A greeting between any two people of either gender.
HICKEY – A knot or bump you get on your head when you bump or injure your head. Everywhere else in the world a hickey is what you get on your neck after necking. Not in New Orleans. See PASSION MARK.
HOUSE COAT ‘N CURLAS – The preferred dress for charmers while shopping at Schwegmann’s.
HUCK-A-BUCKS or HUCKLE-BUCKS – Frozen Kool-Aid in a Dixie cup. A way to keep cool during the summer. I had never neard this term growing up, but contributor Milton Cloutier from the 7th Ward says they used this term in his neighborhood, and another 7th Warder, Darrel Schexnayder, adds even more:
The term was very common for me growing up in the 7th Ward. Neighbors would sell the frozen treats for a nickel, along time ago. Sometimes we’d make them ourselves. They were as popular as “snow-balls” are/were to the rest of New Orleans.There is even proper etiquette for eating huckle-bucks (as I used to call them). The first thing you have to do after paying your nickel/quarter or whatever the cost:
1. Warm the sides until the frost is mostly gone 2. To loosen the frozen berg from its Dixie cup confines by pushing up on the bottom of the cup. 3. Carefully flip it over so that tapered-down bottom is up and out. There are three major advantages to this technique — (1) that’s where to best flavor resides; (2) easy access to the body of the flavored ice and (3) some folks would wrap a coin in Saran Wrap and place it at the bottom.
Musta been a 7th Ward thing.
I’LL TAKE ME A … – May I have a …
INKPEN – A ball-point pen, or any kind of pen, really. Always heavy emphasis on the first syllable … “Lemme borra ya INKpen, awrite?”
INSURANCE – Pronounced <IN-sure-ence>.
JAMBALAYA – A rice-based dish containing meat and seafood, prepared in a nearly infinite variety of ways by Louisianians. The usual out-of-towner mispronunciation has the first syllable rhyming with “jam”, when it should rhyme with “Tom” … <jom’-b@-LIE-@>, secondary accent on first syllable, primary accent on third. But one local pronunciation that was brought to my attention (although nobody in my family said it this way) is <JUM-b@-lie’-@>, primary accent of first syllable which rhymes with “bum”, secondary accent on third syllable.
JAWN – The most popular boys’ name in English, pronounced this way among Localese-speakers. Also, a pot ta pee in. Rhymes with “lawn”. See TURLET.
K&B, KB, KB’s – A local drug store for decades, beloved by locals, whose trademark color was a deep, violent purple. Everything in KB was purple, from the price tags to the ink pens (and their ink) to the managers’ and cashiers’ vests. In the old days, K&B used to have lunch counters and soda fountains, but these were all gone by the time I was in high school in the mid- to late 70s. Also in the old days, there were radio and TV jingles for K&B, the lyrics of which were, “Look on every corner and what do you see? A big purple sign that says ‘Your Friendly K&B!'” In schoolyards, the lyrics were often changed to have the big purple sign say something uncomplimentary and/or obscene. “K&B” stands for “Katz and Besthoff”.
Alas, K&B is no more, having been bought out by some vile Northern chain who changed the chain’s name to “Rite Aid” and got rid of the purple. I will never shop there again under any circumstances for as long as I live. It’s Walgreen’s or Eckerd for me from now on.
“Streetcar” Mike Strauch has put up a K&B memorial page, with the background a brilliant, beautiful K&B purple (see below).
K&B PURPLE – A particular shade of purple that you’ll know if you know K&B. Used in phrases like, “He was so mad, his face was K&B purple”, or, “I can’t believe ya bought dat ugly car! It’s K&B purple!”
LAGNIAPPE – Pronounced <LAN-yap>. A little something extra. Lagniappe is when your butcher gives you a pound and two ounces of hot sausage but only charges you for a pound, or when the waiter at your favorite restaurant brings you an extra dessert or something, and doesn’t charge you. Lagniappe breeds good will, friendship and most importantly, return business. Also, “Lagniappe” is the name of the entertainment pull-out section of the Friday edition of The New Orleans Times-Picayune.
LOCKA – Where you hang your clothes, analogous to the English word “closet”. Example: “Mom-MAH! Where my shoes at?” “Looka in ya locka!” (See LOOKA) Occasionally spelled “locker”, as if it was proper English. Generally always used in place of the word “closet”, but I must confess I have yet to hear this term used in the context of a gay or lesbian person “comin’ outta da locka …” :^)
LOOKA – The imperative case of the verb “to look”. Usually accompanied by a pointing gesture. Often used as a single exclamation: “Looka!”
LOOKIT DA T.V. – To watch T.V. Locals don’t watch T.V., they look at it. Oh, and in proper Localese form, it’s pronounced <TEE-vee>, emphasis on the first syllable.
MAKE GROCERIES, MAKIN’ GROCERIES – To do grocery shopping. Thought to have originated with the French expression for grocery shopping, “faire le marché”. The verb “faire” can mean either “to do” or “to make”, and the idiom may have been mistranslated.
MARDI GRAS – This grand pre-Lenten celebration for which New Orleans is famous is pronounced <MAW-dee GRAW>.
MARRAINE – Pronounced <MAH-ran>. Your godmother. Elsewhere the terms “nanny” and “nanan” (pronounced NAH-nan) are also used for godmother.
MAW-MAW – Ya grandma.
MIRLITON – A vegetable pear or chayote squash, which grows wild in Louisiana and in backyards throughout New Orleans. Pronounced <MEL-lee-tawn>, and wonderful when stuffed with shrimp and ham Bayou St. John, particularly if you walked “northwesterly”dressing …have a look at the recipe.
MUFFULETTA – A quintessential New Orleans Italian sancwich, of ham, Genoa salami, mortadella, Provolone cheese and marinated olive salad on a round seeded Italian loaf. Invented at Central Grocery on Decatur in da Quarter. Locals pronounce this <muff-@-LOT-@>, and will tend to just abbreviate it as “muff”. But if you ask a member of the Tusa family (the proprietors of Central), they’ll pronounce it in elegantly proper Italian as <moo-foo-LET-ta>.
MYNEZ – Mayonnaise.
NEUTRAL GROUND – The grassy or cement strip in the middle of the road. The terms “median” and/or “island” are NEVER used in New Orleans. Use of one of those foreign terms instead of “neutral ground” is a dead giveaway that you ain’t from around here, or anywhere close. If you’re lucky, you live on a street with a neutral ground big enough to play football on.
NEW ORLEENS – The way silly tourists pronounce “New Orleans”. Natives do not do this. Exception — song lyrics, as in “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans”, for example, and when omitting the “New”, as in “Orleans Parish”, which is always pronounced <or-LEENS>. Confusing, isn’t it? More on this below.
NUTTINONIT – A po-boy that is not dressed, which only contains the main ingredient(s).
ON DA WES’ BANK, ACROSS DA RIVUH, OVA DA RIVUH – On the West Bank of the Mississippi River, where such places as Algiers, Gretna and Marrero lie. Interestingly, the West Bank is due south of New Orleans (except for Algiers, of course). Make sense? Thought not.
OR WHAT – Pronounced <r WUT>, and placed at the end of a question: “You gonna finish eatin’ dat, ‘r what?”
OVA BY – A general replacement for the prepositions “at” and “to”, particularly when referring to someone’s home, or a destination in general. “Where ya goin’?” “Ova by ma mamma’s.”
PARISH – A Louisiana state administrative district, analogous to the American “county”. When used by locals in the phrase “da parish”, it generally means St. Bernard Parish specifically, which is suburban to New Orleans.
PARRAINE – Pronounced <PAH-ran>. Your godfather.
PASS BY – To stop at a place, for a visit or to accomplish something. “Ya gonna be home later? I’ll pass by ya house.” It doesn’t mean just to drive by in your car and keep going …
PASSION MARK – The little red mark you get on your neck (or elsewhere) after a passionate session of necking. Called a “hickey” or a “love bite” everywhere else, apparently. Pronounced <PASH’n mawk>, of course.
PECAN – A nut indigenous to the South, and beloved in New Orleans as an ingredient in pies and pralines. Pronounced <p@-KAWN>, not <PEE-can>.
PO-BOY – The quintessential New Orleans lunch, a sandwich on good, crispy New Orleans French bread. This definition doesn’t begin to describe what a po-boy is all about, so if you really don’t know you need to get one soon. Take a moment to read a little bit about po-boys.
PODNA – A form of address for men, usually for ones with whom one is not acquainted. Frequently used in the emphatic statement, “I tell you what, podna …”
PRALINE – A sugary Creole candy, invented in New Orleans (not the same as the French culinary/confectionery term “praline” or “praliné”) The classic version is made with sugar, brown sugar, butter, vanilla and pecans, and is a flat sugary pecan-filled disk. Yummmmm. There are also creamy pralines, chocolate pralines, maple pralines, etc. Pecan pralines are the classic, though.
This is one of THE most mispronounced New Orleans terms of all.
REGULAH COFFEE – Not “Black Coffee” as in the rest of the country. “Regular” includes lots of sugar and cream. To drink black coffee in New Orleans will cause people to look at you as though you are from another planet. As a Café du Monde waiter was quoted in a Bunny Matthews “F’Sure!” comic strip, admonishing a tourist who had ordered black coffee, “Lissen cap … I gotta tell ya, nobody drinks dis kinda cawfee black. So I ain’t responsible if ya have a hawt attack ‘r sump’in …”
SCHWEGMANN’S BAG – A unit of measurement. Approximately 3 cubic feet. Derived from local icon Schwegmann Brothers Giant Supermarkets, who until recently had absolutely enormous paper bags in which they packed ya groceries. (Now they have those stupid tiny flimsy plastic bags just like everyone else.) Usage: “Hey, did ya catch a lot at da parade?” “Yeah you rite … a whole Schwegmann bag full!” The apostrophe-s is optional.
SHOOT-DA-CHUTE – A playground slide.
SHOW, DA SHOW – The cinema. The movie house. The local motion picture emporium. Where works of cinematic art (or crappy flicks, depending) are shown. True New Orleanians never say, “I went to the movies”, they say “I went to da show.”
SILVER DIME – A small coin of U.S. currency, worth ten cents. Always pronounced with the emphasis on the first syllable, <SIL-vah dime>, even though they haven’t been made of actual silver for over 35 years.
SKEETA HAWK – Or, “mosquito hawk”, the local name for a dragonfly. I’m not sure if this is particular to New Orleans only, but since moving away I have never heard anyone else use the term.
SOSSIDGE – A meat preparation, made of various kinds of ground meats, seafood and spices, stuffed into a casing. Usually spelled “sausage” by English speakers, but pronounced in New Orleans as you see here, always <SAH-sage> and not <SAW-sage>.
STOOP – Usually expressed as “da stoop”. The front steps to your house, particularly if it’s a shotgun duplex. What ya go out and sit on to chat wit’ya neighbas (an’ ta keep an eye on ’em). An example, (partially taken from a Bunny Matthews’ “F’Sure!”) strip:
“Turn on da A.C., Victa.”
“Nuh uh, it ain’t hot enough, it’s still May. Let’s go out and sit on da stoop.”
SUCK DA HEAD, SQUEEZE DA TIP – The technique for eating crawfish. If you’ve never done this, have someone demonstrate.
SUG – A term of endearment used primarily by Yat females. Pronoucned <SHOOG> with a soft “oo” as in “book”.
“THROW ME SOMETHIN, MISTA!” – The traditional (nay, required) request of a Mardi Gras paradegoer to a Mardi Gras parade rider, so that the rider will shower said paradegoer with cheap trinkets like beads, doubloons or cups (actually, the cups are highly coveted, more so than the doubloons are these days, apparently).
TURLET – Ya standard flushable porcelain waste disposal unit found in every bat’troom, referred to by English speakers as a “toilet”. Also good for gettin’ rid of nasty food ya snuck away from da table as a child (like ma mamma’s roast beef … yuck. That lady makes heavenly crawfish étouffée, but she just murders roast beef …)
UPTOWN SIDE, DOWNTOWN SIDE, LAKESIDE, RIVERSIDE – The four cardinal points of the New Orleanian compass. “North, south, east, west” do not work in New Orleans.
VALISE – Suitcase.
VEDGEATIBBLE – Neither animal nor mineral. What ya mamma used to make ya eat before ya could leave the table when ya were a kid. The word has four syllables.
VIOLATION – A person from Violet, Louisiana, in St. Bernard Parish. I’ve never heard this one before, but it’s hilarious. Contributed by Karen Schneider of the Southern Yat Club.
WHERE YA STAY (AT)? – Where do you live?
WHERE Y’AT! – The traditional New Orleanian greeting, and the source for the term “Yat”, often used (primarily by non-New Orleanians, it is said) to describe New Orleanians with the telltale accent. The proper response is, “Awrite.”
UMBRELLA – A standard English word, but with a special pronunciation. We say <UM-brel-l@>, not <um-BREL-l@>.
UP DA ROAD – Same as down da road, only now you are traveling in the opposite direction heading “up da road” to either Chalmette or Arabi.
WRENCH – To clean something under running water. “Aw baby, ya hands ‘r filthy! Go wrench ’em off in da zink.” See ZINK.
Y’ALL – The plural form of the second person pronoun, “you all”. It’s not pronounced as they would in the south, though — no twang, no drawl, just “y’all”. “You guys” is never said and is a dead giveaway that you’re a Tulane student from New Jersey.
YA – You, your.
YA MAMMA – Your mother. Used in a variety of ways, usually endearing. Also usable as an insult, specifically as a simple retort when one is insulted first; simply say, “Ya mamma.” Be prepared to defend yourself physically at this point. I once saw my classmate Vince G. beat the crap out of someone (and someone a year older, at that) back in high school at Holy Cross for uttering this retort.
YAMAMMA’N’EM – A collective term for your immediate family, as in “Hey dawlin’, how’s yamamma’n’em?” Spoken as one word.
YEAH YOU RITE – An emphatic statement of agreement and affirmation, sometimes used as a general exclamation of happiness. The accent is on the first word, and it’s spoken as one word.
YEUHRM? – Do/Did you hear me? (Heard often at Schwegmann’s.)
ZATARAIN’S – Pronounced <ZAT-@-rans>. A local manufacturer of spices, seasonings, pickled products and condiments. In context, it’s used by some as a generic term for either crab boil or Creole mustard, as it “Put some Zatarain’s on it,” or “T’row a coupla bags o’ Zatarain’s in da pot.” Context is important here; you don’t want to put Creole mustard in a seafood boil.
ZINK – A receptacle for water with a drain and faucets. Where ya wrench off ya dishes or ya hands. See WRENCH.
A guide to the pronunciation of local place names
Some tourists come to New Orleans and, thinking that they know some French, will puff out their chests and pronounce local place names in a way that they think will help them fit in and endear themselves to the natives … only to have the natives look upon them with pity and say, “Where ya from, dawlin’?”
For instance, some people will note with delight that we have streets named after the Nine Muses of classical Greek mythology, but would probably have a seizure if they heard how we pronounced them (“Calliope” still kills me …). And da French names often ain’t what dey seem.
Here’s a list of the ways the natives pronouce some of our our unique place names — streets, cities and local features. Some of you may find them baffling, but don’t think to ask why. We probably don’t know anyway.
Special note: If you’re a student DJ at WTUL and you’re not a native of New Orleans … READ THIS AND LEARN IT! Next time I hear one of y’all butcher our street names on our local airwaves, I’ll pull your ribs out.
Okay, so … if you really want to fit in, learn to pronounce things like this:
ALGIERS POINT – You’re likely to hear this pronounced as <Algiers Pernt>
AUDUBON PARK – Avoid the French pronunciation (which is a good general rule for most New Orleanian place names) of <au-dû-boN> with the nasal “N”. The local will pronounce this <AW-d@-b@n PAWK>.
THE BIG EASY – Avoid uttering this phrase at all costs. Under almost no circumstances would a native ever refer to the City in this way. One major (and baffling) exception: the local music and entertainment awards are called The Big Easy Awards.
BONNABEL – A major street (and high school) in Metairie. The proper pronunciation is apparently Bon-@-BELL, not BON-@-ble … although most natives will pronounce it the latter way. I’m told it’s a mispronunciation, to wit:
Hi, I have a pronunciation for you to add to the lexicon. I’m sure that my great-grandfather, Alfred Bonnabel, will appreciate this.Bonnabel is pronounced Bon-@-BELL, NOT Bon-@-buhl. It is always mutilated on a regular basis and it drives us nuts! At one point, they had even mispelled one of the exit signs on I-10 to read “Bonnable Blvd.”
An easy ay to rember is by thinking of my mother’s name. It is Bonnie Belle. Cute, no?
Teri Lippincott, daughter of Bonnie Belle Lacey Lippincott
So saith the authority.
BURGUNDY STREET – Pronounced <bur-GUN-dee>. Don’t pronounce it like the wine.
BURTHE STREET – in Uptown New Orleans. Pronounced <BYOOTH> … sounds like “youth” with a B in front of it. Why? Beats the hell outta me. I’m told the street is named after a person, but I don’t know the details. I’m also told it’s a French name, but it surely wouldn’t be pronounced like that in proper French (as if any New Orleans street name is). The local postmen know this pronunciation; apparently mail addressed to “Buth” or “Buthe” Street gets delivered just fine.
CADIZ STREET – Pronounced <KAY-diz>. In New Orleans, Spanish place names are butchered even woise den da French ones …
CALLIOPE STREET – Pronounced, believe it or not, <CAL-lee-ope>, and not <k@-LIE-@-pee>. No doubt this particular Greek Muse is barfing up her lunch over on Olympus … However, the steam organ on the riverboat Natchez that plays music is, in fact, the <k@-LIE-@-pee>. Go figure.
CANAL – Usage is always “da canal”. The Industrial Canal, one of New Orleans’ main waterways, along with “da lake” and “da river”. I suppose some Metry-ites may use this term to refer to the 17th Street Canal. Also, Canal Street is the main thoroughfare of the Central Business District, and borders the French Quarter on the Uptown side.
CARONDELET STREET – Pronounced <k@-‘ron-d@-LET>, not <k@-‘ron-d@-LAY>.
CHARTRES STREET – Pronounced <CHAW-t@s> or <CHAW-tuhs>.
CHEF MENTEUR HIGHWAY – Pronounced <SHEF m@n-TOUR>. Most people just say “da Chef”. And although it’s U.S. 90, it’s not really much of a highway anymore … “Da Chef” is actually pretty depressing these days. When I-10 was completed through New Orleans in the 60s, da Chef ceased to become a main thoroughfare for travelers, and gradually died. (And if da Chef is dead now, one can only imagine how scary Old Gentilly Road must be by now …) Five miles outside of eastern New Orleans on da Chef is the site of the infamous Jayne Mansfield decapitation.
CLIO STREET – Pronounced <CLI-oh>. Also sometimes, by some folks in da neighbahood, as “CEE-ELL-TEN” … I kid you not.
CONTI STREET – Pronounced <CON-tye>.
DA QUARTER – The French Quarter, pronounced <da QUAW-tah>.
DAUPHINE STREET – Pronounced <daw-FEEN>. Oddly enough, it’s not unlike the actual French.
DECATUR SCREET – Pronounced <d@-KAY-ter>, not <‘deck-@-TURE>. French people have problems with this one.
DERBIGNY STREET – Pronounced <DER-b@-nee> or <DOY-b@-nee< if you’re a really hardcore Nint’ Wawduh.
DORGENOIS STREET – Pronounced <DER-zhen-wah’>, secondary accent on third syllable.
DRYADES STREET – Pronounced <DRY-@ds>.
DUFOSSAT STREET – Pronounced <DOO-faucet>. A contributor writes, “When I was a kid I always interpreted it as having to do with faucets.”
EUTERPE STREET – Pronounced <YOU-terp>.
FONTAINEBLEAU – Pronounced as if spelled “fountain blue”.
IBERVILLE STREET – Pronounced <IB-ber-‘vil>, not <EYE-ber-‘vil>.
LOYOLA – The hardcore local pronunciation of this is <lye-OH-l@>.
MARIGNY STREET, FAUBOURG MARIGNY – Pronounced <MA-r@-nee>, with the “a” sounding like the “a” in “hat”.
MAZANT STREET – Pronounced <MAY-zant>. Runs through the heart of Bywater in da Lowuh Nint’ Ward. It’s my family’s old neighborhood; my grandparents ran a little neighborhood grocery store called Niedermeier’s, which was on the corner of Mazant and Royal … MAY-zant ‘n RERL!
MELPOMENE STREET – Pronounced <MEL-p@-meen>.
METAIRIE – Standard New Orleanian pronunciation: <MET-@-ree>.
Hardcore local pronunciation: <MET-tree>, as if it was spelled (and sometimes is spelled), “Metry”. Announcers on those mail-order product commercials that are made for local products, but who are not aware of the correct pronunciation, often pronounce it <m@-TAIR-ee>, much to to the amusement of the locals.
MILAN STREET – Pronounced <MY-lan>
NEW ORLEANS – This is a sticky subject. As Tim Lyman mentioned above, there are oodles of ways that the locals pronounce the name of their beloved City. Natives also seem to have an instinctive grasp of what a proper pronunciation is, and can spot it in native speakers outside the City.
First off, <new or-LEENS> is generally a no-no. It’s like putting a big, red neon sign on your head that says, “I’m not from around here.” As also mentioned above, the two main exceptions are when it’s pronounced like that in song lyrics (easier to rhyme, but contributes to the confusion of non-natives) and when “Orleans” stands alone without the “New”, as in Orleans Parish.
So of course, there are some exceptions to this rule. I have on occasion heard some African-American native New Orleanians use the above pronunciation. I didn’t say this was going to be consistent or that it wasn’t going to be confusing, did I?
Here are the major standard local pronunciations of the City’s name: <new OR-l@ns>, <new AW-l@ns>, <new OR-lee-‘@ns> <new AH-lee-@ns>, <nyoo AH-lee-‘@ns>. The fabled “N’Awlins”, pronounced <NAW-l@ns>, is used by some natives for amusement, and by some non-natives who think they’re being hip, but actually I’ve come across very few locals who actually pronounce the name of the City in this way.
Ben Fortson, an Uptown boy, adds, “There are also versions without the final -s, as in Fats Domino’s “walkin’ to Noo Awlin”. The s-lessness is presumably from the French. Also, “Noo Awyuns”, with a -y- instead of an -l-, is pretty common in my experience, and kind of interesting from a linguistic point of view. By the way, the shorter versions like Nawlins and Nawlns that you say aren’t used much by locals have in fact been used at least by me all my life, for what that’s worth. Maybe Uptown is diff’rint.” (Yeah, it is, bra … it’s where dey got all dem shoits wid da lil’ gators on ’em, and everyone has 59 rows o’ teeth!)
PLAQUEMINES PARISH – Pronounced <PLACK-@-m@ns>.
PONTCHARTRAIN – Pronounced <PONCH-a-train> locally. Or you can just say, “Da Lake”.
POYDRAS STREET – Pronounced <PER-dr@s> by truly hardcore locals, <POY-dr@s> by everyone else.
PRYTANIA STREET – Pronounced <pr@-TAN-y@>.
THE RIGOLETS – Pronounced <da RIG-@-lees>.
ROYAL STREET – Pronounced <RERL>, to rhyme with “pearl”. A strong localese pronunciation.
SOCRATES STREET – In Algiers, across da river. Pronounced <SO crates>, like the word “so” and the word “crates”. I kid you not.
TCHOUPITOULAS STREET – Pronounced <‘chop-@-TOO-l@s>. It’s easier to pronounce than to spell. Spelling “Tchoupitoulas” is the true test of a native; if New Orleans was a country at war, you’d ask a guy to spell this to make sure he was on your side, just like in all the old WWII movies.
TERPSICHORE STREET – Pronounced <TERP-s@-core>.
THIBODEAUX – Pronounced <TIB-@-doe>.
TONTI STREET – Pronounced <TON-tee>, with the “o” sound as in “box”.
TOULOUSE STREET – Pronounced <TOO-loose>.
TUJAGUE’S – A venerable French Quarter restaurant, highly recommended. However, some tourists have expressed reticence to go to a restaurant whose name they can’t pronounce. All such folks will do well to pronounce it <TOO-jacks>.
TULANE – Pronounced <TOO-lane>. Never, ever pronounce this <tu-LANE>, or you’ll immediately be mistaken for a college student from New Jersey. Also, you’re liable to have someone get in your face about it, like my brother-in-law Jeff Willmon does when he hears this …
“No. If you’re gonna come to my city, and go to my school, you’re gonna pronounce it my way.”
You tell ’em, bra.
UGLESICH’S – The best restaurant in the city? Some might say so. Certainly a must for any fan of New Orleans cooking. Anthony and Gail Uglesich operate this tiny, atmosphere-free (but rich in local color) restaurant that’s only open weekdays until 4 (you don’t wanna be on that part of Baronne Street after dark, no). Pronounced <YOU-g@l-sitch-is>, although I’ve heard some natives just call it “Ugly’s”.
VETERANS HIGHWAY – Hardcore locals pronounce this with only two syllables … <VET-tr@ns>.
VIEUX CARRÉ – Pronounced <VOO ka-RAY>. Literally means “old square”, and it means Da French Quarter, the site of Bienville’s original New Orleans settlement.
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