New Orleans Slang

New Orleans Slang

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New Orleans, La., is an eclectic melting pot of different cultures. The city's colorful history includes Native Americans, the French and the Spanish. New Orleans, consequently, has a mixed pedigree of influences when it comes to architecture, food, customs, and language. You will find hints of each of these cultures in the New Orleans slang that permeates the city.

While nearly everyone knows such New Orleans slang terms as Mardi Gras, the Crescent City, and cafe-au-lait, there are also some insider slang phrases unique to New Orleans you will want to know before visiting the city in order to blend in with the locals.

1. "Where Y'at?" and Yat

"Where y'at?" is the typical New Orleans greeting, meaning "How are you?"

The term "yat" comes from the expression "where y'at" and refers to people who speak in the typical New Orleans vernacular, or it can refer to the vernacular itself. You won't hear the southern country accent from movies and TV shows about New Orleans; instead, the true accent is a slow southern drawl combined with a mixture of Jersey and Brooklyn. The word yat is often seen as an insult by other yats, so to avoid trouble, stick with "Where y'at?" and you'll blend right in without causing a brawl.

2. Go-cups

I was thirty before I learned that go-cups are not universally acceptable. A go-cup is exactly what it sounds like, a cup in which you may take an alcoholic beverage to go from a bar or restaurant. This does not violate our open container law because the New Orleans municipal code only forbids liquor from being transported in open metal or glass containers. Feel free to enjoy your Sazerac or Cajun Bloody Mary in a plastic go-cup while you tour the city.

3. Lagniappe

This New Orleans local lingo, pronounced LAN-yap, means a little something extra. Its meaning is similar to a baker's dozen but is used in a much wider context. Anything received as an unexpected benefit counts as lagniappe, and it is an extremely popular tool among New Orleans politicians, as in, "You want that contract? How 'bout a little lagniappe for my trouble?"

4. Ya mom'n'em

Literally translated as "your mom and them," this New Orleans slang expression is used to refer to your entire family and circle of friends. It is most often used in greeting, "How's ya mom'n'em?" or as permission to reveal information, such as, "Be sure to tell ya mom'n'em."

5. "I know where you got them shoes at."

Con men come in every shape, size and age in Jackson Square. Often, one will appear as an elementary- aged, fresh-faced kid with shiny dark eyes and a toothy white grin who will point to your feet and say, "I know where you got them shoes at. Bet you five bucks I can tell you where you got them shoes at."

Do not fall for it. You cannot win. The answer he will give you is, "On your feet. You got them shoes on your feet." And he will point and laugh before he walks away with your five dollars. Common scam, and a sure sign you're not a local if you fall for it.

Jackson Square, Decatur Street between Jax Brewery Shopping Mall and the French Market, New Orleans, LA 70116

6. Can you say Tchoupitoulas?

The fact that tourists butcher the following street names can actually be blamed entirely on the locals-the names are Indian, Greek, and French, and locals prefer to make them yat. Use these pronunciations if you don't want your cabbie driving around for hours pretending he doesn't know what street you're talking about.

Tchoupitoulas - Chop-uh-TOO-lus
Pontchartrain- PONCH-a-train
Calliope- CAL-ee-ope
Terpsichore- TERP-sih-core
Iberville- EYE-ber-vil
Melpomene- MEl-puh-meen
Burgundy- Bur-GUN-dee
Clio- Cl-EYE-o, also called C-L-ten, because the 'io' looks like the number 10 on the street sign.

And for lagniappe, here's the correct pronunciation of
New Orleans- New AWR-linz.

7. Neutral Ground

Neutral ground is New Orleans local lingo for the median that divides the two sides of the street. The name dates back to the 19th century, when it was a dividing line between the Americans and the French, who had an acrimonious relationship. The neutral ground was either considered a no-man's land that could not be crossed or the only place the two groups could safely meet to conduct trade. If you call it a median, you might as well have the word tourist tattooed on your forehead.

8. Making Groceries

In New Orleans, we don't grocery shop-we make groceries. The term was coined by the Cajuns, who migrated from Canada and used a combination of literal translations of French words, a mixture of their native tongue, and English to create a dialect unique to the region. Other examples of this blending of languages includes such expressions as mais yeah, which translates from the French mais oui, meaning of course, and chere, pronounced SHA, taken from the French cherie, meaning darling.

9. Dressed, Po-Boy, Crawfish

Dressed in New Orleans means you want it with mayonnaise, lettuce and tomato.

A po-boy-and please never, ever, ever call it a "poor" boy-is a sandwich on crusty French bread, with either meat or fried seafood, dressed the way you like it.

If you choose seafood, you'll have to go further north to get crawdads or crayfish because in New Orleans, the only mudbugs we eat are called crawfish.

10. Who Dat

It means, of course, "Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints?"

Holli Herrle Castillo is a Louisiana appellate public defender and novelist. Set against the backdrop of pre-Katrina New Orleans, her thriller Gumbo Justice follows the tumultuous life of prosecutor Ryan Murphy. Read her blog on Red Room.
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