New Orleans "Speak"

Crowds celebrating Mardi Gras on Bourbon Street
Ray Laskowitz/Lonely Planet Images/Getty Images

Are you headed to New Orleans on vacation? You'll have to learn some lingo before you step foot in The Big Easy. From "dressed" to "where y'at, how's ya momma and dem?", we've got you covered.


You just got to New Orleans and you're in the French Quarter. You're feeling good about everything and even considering trying some raw oysters. But, you decide to start with a fried oyster Po-Boy. You look up at the waitress and confidently order. She turns to you and asks "dressed?" She stands patiently with pencil poised above the order pad while you look around in a panic. "Excuse me?" you say. The waitress says, "Do you want your Po-Boy dressed?" She realizes this is your first visit to New Orleans and she explains, "That means with lettuce, tomatoes, and mayonnaise." That's typical of one of the quirks in New Orleans "speak." We always order any form of sandwich dressed or plain (but never "naked!").


You're walking through the French Market enjoying the hustle and bustle of the farmers and the shoppers. You decide to buy some fresh Creole tomatoes and ask the farmer for one pound. He tells you to pick the ones you want and you hand them to him to weigh. He turns to you and says, "I'm giving you lagniappe." (Lan-yap) Should you run, cover your mouth and nose with a surgical mask? No, "Lagniappe" means "a little something extra." So, your purchase may have weighed over one pound, but he gave you the extra for free.

Neutral Ground

You are asking directions to the streetcar stop from a friendly native, she tells you to cross the street and wait on the neutral ground at the corner. Are we at war? No, a "neutral ground" in New Orleans is a median where you're from. It's the strip of land between the two sides of a divided street.

Where Y'at, How's Ya Momma and Dem?

You're taking a self-guided tour of the Garden District. Two locals who are obviously old friends meet each other on the street nearby. One says to the other, "Where y'at?" and the other replies, "How's ya momma and dem?" This is the typical greeting of many New Orleanians. It simply means, "Hello, how are you and your family?" (Special note: often a "th" in the front of a word is replaced with a "d." Thus, it's not "how's ya momma and them," it's "how's ya momma and dem.")


You are getting driving directions from the concierge at your hotel to see some plantations. He tells you how to get onto I-10 heading west and tells you to cross the parish line. Is this a religious thing? Partly. Because New Orleans was settled by the French and the Spanish instead of the English, political subdivisions were set up along Catholic Parish lines. Those original lines have changed but the tradition of the use of the word parish has not. So, a parish in Louisiana is equivalent to a county in your state.

Makin' Groceries

You are invited to a local's home for dinner. She tells you to come at six and to dress casually. Then she says she has to leave to "make groceries." Don't panic -- you will still get to eat. She just means she is going to the grocery store to purchase provisions to cook the evening meal. Commonly, locals "make" groceries rather than buy them. This is a throwback from the original French-speaking Creoles who used the verb "faire," which means "to make" or "to do." In a related quirk of vocabulary, New Orleanians "pass" by your house when they come to see you. e.g. "I passed by my brother's house last night." Translation, "I went to visit my brother last night."


You've come to Mardi Gras for the first time and you are lucky enough to be invited to a local's home on the parade route. You're surprised that nobody is flashing for beads and there are children in attendance. It's a completely different atmosphere than what you've seen on TV. But you're starting to enjoy it and there's lots of food and drink, so all's well. Then somebody yells "PARADE IS ROLLING." Everyone grabs a plastic cup, writes their name on it with a marks-a-lot, pours a healthy helping of their drink of choice, and bolts toward St. Charles Avenue. This is a go-cup. You can drink on the streets if you're not operating a motorized vehicle and you have no glass containers. Enjoy!

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