Say What? New Orleans Lingo - Know Before You Go

A man playing violin in the streets near La Galerie Hotel

Don’t worry though, with just a little prep you can learn the lingo that will help you speak like a local...or at least understand what everyone else is talking about! 

So, here are a few of the more popular words and phrases that you’re likely to come across during your visit and what they mean:

  • Beignet -- A popular French-style, square donut dusted with powdered sugar and often served with a cup of steamy café au lait. One of the most famous places to indulge in this classic sweet treat is the historic Café du Monde in NOLA’s French Market.

  • Beaucoup (Boo-Coo) -- A word with French and Haitian Creole origins, meaning “a lot.” For example, “I have beaucoup leftovers from that amazing restaurant; the portions were so huge!”

  • Boo -- This term is believed to have Cajun roots and is often used as a term of endearment. It might be used by a parent or grandparent who calls a small child “boo” or even used as an affectionate term for your sweetheart. 

  • Cher (Sha) -- Another often-used term of endearment that has Cajun roots. 

  • Do-Do (Make Do-Do) -- (Pronounced like dough-dough) This term is of French origin and means “go to sleep.” Parents will often tell their children it’s time to “go do-do” or “make do-do.” 

  • Fais Do-Do -- (Pronounced FAY-dough-dough) Interestingly enough, this term technically comes from the same French origin that means “go to sleep,” however, when used in this way it refers to a Cajun dance party. One theory is that parents would tell their children to “go to sleep” and then go dance the night away, or there is another idea that talks about a special room at a popular dance hall that was used for sleeping children. The kids could rest in this quiet space, sleeping in peace while lively jazz music filled the other room.

  • Faubourg -- Several neighborhoods in New Orleans feature this word in their name, including the Faubourg Marigny and the Faubourg Tremé. Basically, this word is the French word for suburb. 

  • Gris-Gris -- (Pronounced gree-gree) New Orleans is well-known for its Voodoo culture and that’s exactly where this term comes from - it’s a good luck charm, worn to protect the user from evil. 

  • Krewe -- Another popular part of New Orleans culture is carnival time and Mardi Gras. During the carnival season, various organizations  - referred to as Krewes -- host balls, parades, and other celebrations.

  • Lagniappe -- If you find a special treat in your hotel room, or perhaps an extra mint when you pay your bill at a restaurant, that’s what folks in New Orleans fondly call a little lagniappe - a little something extra. 

  • Laissez Le Bon Ton Rouler -- It’s the motto of the city, and it’s French for “Let the good times roll!” In other words, it’s time to have some fun!

  • Neutral Ground -- In most other parts of the country, you would know this as a median, or the strip of grass that runs along the middle of a road. In NOLA, it’s known as the neutral ground. 

  • Parish -- In Lousiana, instead of counties - there are parishes. When you stay in the French Quarter you are in Orleans Parish, if you travel out to Metairie, you would be in Jefferson Parish. The word comes from the French “paroisse.”

  • Po-Boy -- You can’t visit New Orleans without at least getting one of these delicious, loaded sandwiches served on French bread. In other areas of the country, you would call it a sub or a hoagie. Although a po-boy most often features some kind of meat, whether roast beef, fried shrimp, or even alligator, nowadays, you can find almost anything on a po-boy, even grilled cheese and vegetarian varieties.

  • Shotgun House -- These long, narrow houses are a popular architectural style found throughout the city, believed to come from the design of the African “longhouse.” Of course, another fun theory is that they got their name because you could fire a shotgun from the front door, and the bullet would travel through every room before exiting out the back.

  • Roux -- (Pronounced roo) This term is a popular one used in French cuisine and throughout New Orleans’s mouth-watering recipes. It is simply a thickening agent that is used to make many soups and sauces. Every good gumbo starts with the perfect roux!

  • Vieux Carré -- Another term for the oldest neighborhood in the city - the French Quarter.  The French Quarter originally developed around a central square and was given the French name Vieux Carré, which means “Old Square” in English. 

  • Where Y’at -- If someone asks you this while you’re visiting NOLA, they aren’t asking you where you are, they’re actually asking how you are. It’s a popular local greeting that basically means, “how are you.”

  • Who Dat -- If you’re familiar with the New Orleans Saints football team, then you probably already have heard this term a lot, but what does it mean?? It’s a shortened version of the team’s’ official cheer, “Who dat say they gonna beat dem Saints?!” It’s also used to refer to Saints fans.

  • Ya Mom’n’Em -- If someone asks you about “ya mom’n’em,” he’s asking about your immediate family. 

Of course, this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the colorful language that is such an integral part of New Orleans culture, but it’s a great start to help you navigate your way through the local-speak. Don’t worry if you don’t catch on right away, another part of NOLA that makes it so incredible is the warm hearts and welcoming nature of its people.