Jul 25, 201109:09 AM
The Editor's Room
Weekly Commentary with New Orleans Magazine’s Errol Laborde
New Orleans: Speaking the Language
Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia
Last week this blog commented on the most common phrase for those drinks that in other places are referred to as "pop" or "soda" but, in New Orleans, are commonly called "soft drinks" (or, in parts of the black community, "cold drinks"). The response was good, even fascinating, including one comment that, if accurate, totally baffles me. "Katelyn-Mae" wrote to say, "We refer to them as 'soft drinks' here in the Land Down Under--Australia! How is it that that phrase does not even survive throughout Louisiana but is spoken near the outback?"
Beats me, unless it is used to distinguish from beer the same way I suspect that "soft drink" evolved here to separate it from hard liquor.
This got me to thinking about other colloquialisms. I wish I could tell you that the list was long because that would suggest some of our indigenous character is being saved too. Truth is, few locals still say "alligator pear" instead of avocado or "stoop" instead of step.
There are a few local phrases that have survived, though. Here are my picks, in ascending order, of the top three.
3.) "Mirliton." Known in other places as the chayote, christophene or vegetable pear the traditional name has endured here. I especially like the word with the adjective "stuffed" in front of it.
2.) "Dressed." Anywhere else you have to tell the sandwich maker to put lettuce and tomato between the slices. Here we simply say "dressed," all the better to get the poor boy quicker.
1.) "Neutral Ground." Though it was originally meant to apply to the strip that runs down the business portion of Canal Street, to New Orleanians all medians anywhere are "neutral grounds." The term has a nice pacifist ring to it suggesting a good place to party, which is what happens on the Canal Street and St. Charles Avenue neutral grounds each carnival season.
There are other phrases, such as "where y'at" and "making groceries" that some New Orleanians still say but more so as a parody of local language than real speech. Nevertheless, over the last few years the question "Where y'at?" took on a rather poignant significance. Fortunately for many people, the answer has become, "back home."