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Multicultural Traditions

What You Say? The Colorful Words of NOLA

Every town has its own way of saying things, yet New Orleans boasts more than its fair share. Where y'at? Shotgun house. Parrain. Flying horses...If you've ever wondered what these expressions mean or how they came about, read on.

Back o' Town - This refers to a section of New Orleans that developed around the former New Basin Canal, roughly near the present-day Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The area was in "back of" the natural levees along which the city first developed.

Bobo - An ouchy. Comes from the French for a small scrape or wound.

Boo - A term of endearment a parent or grandparent would call a small child. Presumably Cajun in origin.

Boo-coo - A lot. Origin in Haitian Creole and French (beaucoup).

Brah - A shortened form of "brother," used between men to address one another.

By my/your house - Means "at my house." This is just like the French expression "chez moi."

Cold drink - Soda or fizzy drink.

Dressed - When you order a po-boy, "dressed" means you want lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, and mayo on it.

F'sho/F'true - An expression of agreement.

Faubourg - The French word for suburb, this refers to areas now in the city that would have been outside the original city limits, such as Faubourg Marigny or Faubourg Tremé.

Flying horses - Any merry-go-round or carousel, but specifically the antique carousel in City Park's Carousel Gardens.

Hey, baby - Endearing greeting. Can be traced to Haitian Creole bebe.

Jambalaya - A rice dish with meat or seafood, similar to Spanish paella. The word is said to come from the Provençal word "jambalaia," meaning mish-mash or pilaf.

Lagniappe - A little something extra (pronounced LAN-yap). This could be an extra few slices of meat at the deli, a free dessert at the restaurant, or a treat on the pillow at your hotel.

Make dodo - (Pronounced doe-doe.) Go to sleep. Comes from the French faire dodo, which is from faire dormir.

Marraine/Parrain - Godmother/godfather.

Neutral ground - The median or grassy strip in the middle of a road. The term may have originally referred to the wide median on Canal Street, which separated the residents of the Creole part of town from the more newly settled American sector.

Parish - Louisiana has parishes instead of counties, since it was originally ruled by the Roman Catholic nations of France and Spain. From the French paroisse.

Po-boy/Poor Boy - A French bread sandwich and signature dish of New Orleans. The exact origin of the name is not settled, but it may refer to the sandwich being a staple meal of poor workers or children. It has also been proposed that these sandwiches would have be purchased with a worker's tips (French: pourboire) or that they were made using the "tips" of a loaf of French bread.

Shotgun houses - One of New Orleans' most distinctive architectural symbols, these are the long, narrow houses you see with rooms all lined up in a row. The design is thought to be an evolution of the African "long house" style brought to Louisiana via Haiti. The name is thought to come from the West African word shogon, or "God's house."

Where y'at? - This standard New Orleans greeting means simply "How are you?" or "What's going on?" So don't tell the asker where you are! Just say "All right."

Who dat? - Cheer of New Orleans Saints fans everywhere, shortened from "Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints?"

Whodi - A word used to address a friend. Comes from the word "ward," which is the neighborhood unit in New Orleans, as in "the Ninth Ward."

Ya mom'n'em - Your immediate family. "How's ya mom'n'em?"

Yeah you right! - Expression of agreement or happiness.

Finally, if you're planning on visiting during Carnival, here's some lagniappe for you.

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