The language of New Orleans

It's not just what you say but how you say it, and whether you understand the lingua france of the city

Jeffrey Bouley
Register for free to listen to this article
Listen with Speechify
Bayou babble

A quick guide to some common 'N'awlins' terms

NEW ORLEANS—As with many great cities in the United States, the natives often speak a language that outsiders don't always understand. Sometimes it may manifest primarily at eating establishments, where "loaded" in one city means something entirely different in another. In a place like New Orleans, where accents make the city's name N'awlins in many cases and the city is a cultural stew of French, Spanish, Creole and other influences, you might get what sometimes seems like a language entirely different from English.

So, in the spirit of utility and levity, since we don't know who you'll run into in New Orleans or what parts you might visit, here is a glossary highlighting what we think are some of the more useful words and phrases to know. And no, we're not going to take the easy route and make fun of colorful pronunciations—we figure the Cajuns, Creoles and other residents of the area have been stereotyped enough over the decades.

Alligator pear—An avocado

Banquette—You won't likely hear this one as much these days, but it is the traditional way of referring to a sidewalk.

Big Easy—One of the city's most well-known nicknames, which reportedly dates back to the turn of the 20th century and a famous dance hall by that name. Eventually, the nickname transferred to the city itself to reflect the relaxed pace of life for which New Orleans was known.

Crescent City—Another one of New Orleans' nicknames, so bestowed because of the nature of its location on a curve of the Mississippi River and the resulting crescent shape the city took on as the city expanded in the 19th Century.

Directions—North, south, east and west are rarely used when people give directions in New Orleans, so expect to hear the terms "uptown side," "downtown side," "lakeside" and "riverside" instead.

Doubloon—Sadly, if you find one of these, it won't be the pure gold ones from a sunken ship. This coin, approximately the size of a silver dollar, is minted on a yearly basis by the various Mardi Gras krewes in various colors and styles. They are usually made of aluminum and thrown from Mardi Gras floats by the parade riders for onlookers to grab up. (Much more family friendly than the infamous way of getting strings of colorful beads from some women during Mardi Gras.)

—When you order a sandwich this way, particularly when ordering a po-boy, it means the sandwich will come with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and mayonnaise on it.
Flyin' horses—Used by some to refer to a merry-go-round or carousel.

Go cup—If you wish to leave a bar with your alcoholic beverage, you will be given what is called a "go cup," which is simply a paper or plastic cup—because while alcohol may be consumed on the street, it is illegal to do so from an open glass or metal container.

Gris-gris—A spell, usually one associated with voodoo, regardless of whether it has beneficial or sinister intent. Pronounced "gree-gree."

Hickey—Apparently, in New Orleans, what most of the nation calls a hickey, or love bite, is something they call a passion mark. In New Orleans, if someone says they have a hickey, there's a good chance they mean the bump you get on your head when you injure it in an accidental impact.

Mardi Gras—The famous grand pre-Lent citywide party for which New Orleans is famous—and which you'll have to attend some other time, since asm2011 is being held weeks after its celebration.

Neutral ground—A term used to refer to the grass-covered or cement strip in the middle of the road that is referred to as "median" or "island" in much of the nation.

New Orleans—Locals have many ways of pronouncing the name of their beloved city, but none of them are "New or-LEENS." Aside from the very accented "N'awlins," which might sound strange from a visitor's mouth, you're probably best sticking with "New or-LUHNS" or "New OR-lee-uhns."

—A Louisiana state administrative district, analogous to the term "county."

Pecan—Please try to avoid pronouncing it "PEE-can" in Louisiana or, really, almost anywhere in the Southern United States. The populace there much prefers to say "peh-KAHN."

—Likewise, if you order one of these sweet confections, it is a "PRAH-leen" not a "PRAY-leen."

Regular coffee—In New Orleans, this means plenty of cream and sugar. Drinking coffee black, unless perhaps you're drinking something of common commercial drip style, is often frowned upon. The local strong coffee/chicory blends such as those found at the famous CafÈ du Monde are truly meant to be consumed with cream and sugar.

Shoot-da-chute—A playground slide.

Vieux Carré—Pronounced "VOO ka-RAY," this literally means "old square" and refers to the French Quarter, which is the site of the original New Orleans settlement.

Yat—Really, I'm not breaking my rule about making fun of the accents in New Orleans. Yat is really "y'at" which is short for "you at." It is commonly heard in the greeting, "Where Yat?" which is short for "Where ya at?" and means, basically, "How are you doing?"

Getting around
Some of the paths and places in the city are hardto pronounce right if you haven't spent a lot of time there, so here's a handyguide
NEW ORLEANS—Several street names and areas in NewOrleans take a little getting used to, given that the locals have enforced their own ways of saying them over the generations, but we'll give you a head start.
Burthe St.—Located in uptown New Orleans, thissounds like the word "youth" with a "b" in front of it.
Cadiz St.—Proving that Spanish-based names in thecity can be twisted into new and unique pronunciations just like the Frenchones, this is pronounced "KAY-diz."
Calliope St.—No, you can't pronounce this like thename of the Greek muse or the steam organ (though, oddly, the musicalinstrument is pronounced in New Orleans like most people would elsewhere).Instead, when speaking of the street, it is "CAL-lee-ope."
Carondelet St.—We know you want to say it like aFrench person might, with an "ay" sound on the end, but no, it's "kuh-ron-duh-LET."
CBD—Well, this isn't hard to pronounce, but youmight not know what it is. It stands for "Central Business District," one ofthe distinct areas/neighborhoods of the city
Chartres St.—No "r" sounds in this one. It's "CHAW-tuhs"
Dauphine St.—Wait, one that is actually pronouncedmore or less like a French name? Yes, this is "daw-FEEN" 
Decatur St.—Go with "deh-KAY-ter" on this one.
Derbigny St.—"DER-beh-nee"
Dufossat St.—Think plumbing with this one: "DOO-faucet"
Faubourg—Used to refer to a suburb or outlyingneighborhood, as in Faubourg Marigny, you say it like "FOH-berg."
GNO—Again, like CBD, easy to pronounce, but justso you know, it refers to the "Greater New Orleans" area.
Iberville St.—The "eyes" don't have it here; it's "IB-er-vil"
Loyola—Expect to hear this as "lye-OH-luh" aroundthe city, though you can probably get away with "loy" rather than "lye" as atourist with being laughed at.
Marigny—The name of both a street and an area inGreater New Orleans. Think of the word "marinate" and then replace the "nate" partwith the word "knee." 
Mazant St.—Probably a 50/50 chance you would havegotten this right on your own: "MAY-zant"
Metairie—Most folks want to say "muh-TARE-ee" butthis might get you snickered at, so try the local version of "MET-uh-ree"instead.
Picayune—A small town north of New Orelans inMississippi, this is also in the name of the local paper (Times Pacayune), andit's said "Pick-ee-yoon"
Pontchartrain—While you may simply be better offsaying "the lake," it's pronounced "PONCH-a-train" locally.
Poydras St.—Locals will probably expect and tolerateyou going with "POY-druhs" but they prefer "PER-druhs"
Royal St.—Local manner of referring to this is togo with "Rerl" so that is rhymes with "pearl" but that's mostly an accentthing. Stick with saying it the way you normally would.
Socrates St.—No, not like the philosopher. Likeputting together the word "so" and "crates" together, or like "SO-crats," depending on whom you ask.
Tchoupitoulas St.—Actually easy to remember onceyou know (though you may never spell it right unless you live in the city), it'spronounced "chop-uh-TOO-luhs."
Twinspan—Easy to say, but if someone uses this,you need to know it refers to the twin bridges that connect the Northshore atSlidell with New Orleans across Lake Pontchartrain.

Jeffrey Bouley

Subscribe to Newsletter
Subscribe to our eNewsletters

Stay connected with all of the latest from Drug Discovery News.

January 2024 DDN Magazine Issue

Latest Issue  

• Volume 20 • Issue 1 • January 2024

January 2024

January 2024 Issue