Most cities have their own quirks; things that non-locals or visitors do not understand or expect upon arriving in that respective city. This could be anything from etiquette at bars, local cuisine, or vernacular. All of those things, along with countless other social habits, help form the identity of a city.
New Orleans is no different, except for the fact all of the above mentioned traits in our city are exaggerated. Our drinks, food, etiquette, and especially our vernacular stick out from anyplace else in America. That is why New Orleans is considered the most western European city and the farthest north Caribbean island. There could be a glossary of slang New Orleanians use for every season of the year or just the name of the streets but this list is going to try to cover the basics.
Where Y’at,” meaning “Where are you?” or “what’s up?”***
Yat: This is the name for a common dialect in New Orleans. This is not Dennis Quaid’s accent in The Big Easy (1986), but sounds like a mix of a Jersey City and Gulf South vernacular. A lot of other words on the list will be a product of this dialect, and is a result of the New Orleans Port being a hub for European, African and Caribbean immigration.
***The phrase “y’at” can be heard in our eponomous phrase “Where Y’at,” meaning “Where are you?” or “what’s up?”***
Shotgun: A single story house, usually divided into two separate living spaces where there is a long, single hallway running through the entire house. If you hear someone bringing up a “shotgun”, it is most likely regarding a house, not a weapon.
Fixin to: About to do something.
___ n’em: This can be used like, “my mom n’em” or “my boy n’em”, and the “n’em” just means them. So, “my mom and them” would be the proper translation, and etc. Its simple slang, but when spoken fast it can be hard to understand.
Awrite: This is normally a more friendly and energized way of saying “good” or “it’s all good”, or “okay”.
Pass by: “I’ll pass by on my way to work” is how I usually use this slang. It just means stop by or roll through to visit someone or someplace.
Dressed: Lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, mayonnaise. The only way to eat a po’boy.
Ax: Ask. I do not really know why this is so popular in New Orleans, but I hear people say “ax” more than “ask” on a regular basis.
Be sure to remember that North, South, East and West are not as commonly used in New Orleans as in other places. People use Uptown, Downtown, Riverside and Lakeside. New Orleans is not that big of a city, so once you get your bearings, these terms make more sense.
Bacakatown: The area of New Orleans from the River to North Claiborne. You have to go to the Bywater, 6th or 7th wards to hear this most of the time.
Best Bank: If you here someone say this, they are from the West Bank and either just met someone else from the West Bank, so naturally they have to talk about being from the West Bank or are trying to convince someone from Orleans or Jefferson Parish that the West Bank is better.
Metairie: Metairie (pronounced Met-tree or Met-a-ree) is a suburb of New Orleans, and is where most of the Greater New Orleans’ population lives.
Neutral Ground: To anyone not from New Orleans, it is basically a median. Especially the grassy strips running down the middle of St. Charles Avenue or the streetcar lines running through Mid-City. Do not call these areas anything else besides the neutral ground.
Parish: Every other state has counties; in Louisiana we call them parishes. Pretty easy.
Commonly Misused Terms
Cajun: Not everyone in New Orleans is Cajun. In fact, New Orleans is relatively far away from the hardcore Cajun country in Louisiana. The French Acadians who settled in Louisiana brought a lot of unique culture to all of South Louisiana, such as zydeco, cuisine and French culture unique from the French-Europeans but do not describe everything in New Orleans as Cajun. Many “Cajun” things in New Orleans are set up that way for tourists.
Creole: Creole and Cajun are not interchangeable terms. Both have unique heritages and complex backgrounds. The term “Creole” in New Orleans started out as a way to distinguish where slaves were born, but as Spanish, French, African and Caribbean influences intermingled, the term became symbolic of a city that embraced the many different cultures existing in the city. Although French language and cuisine is often the most closely related to something that is labeled “Creole”, it is important to remember this term embodies many cultures or racial and ethnic heritages.
N’awlins: Nobody says this and you will never hear a local say this…don’t say this.
The first sign that you are a tourist is if you pronounce New Orleans as N’awlins. Locals actually pronounce the city name as New Awlins. People from other cities hear N’awlins because of the way locals drag out and connect their words. Most locals actually hate hearing people say N’awlins or New Or-Leans.
Im going to N’awlins for Mardi Gras!