New Orleanians have a distinctive dialect, but beyond that there are certain terms and phrases which are unique to the city and our culture. If you have ever felt confused or ignorant in conversation with a local, this post is for you!

New Orleans Vocabulary (the essentials):

  • Bywater (BAI-waw-t@) – An area just due east of the French Quarter.

  • The Causeway (KAWZ-wey) – refers in particular to the bridge running from Metairie to Mandeville across Lake Pontchartrain. This was actually the longest bridge in the world up until a few years ago, at 24 miles.

  • Coffee and Doughnuts – refers to begneits and cafe-au-lait in this sense, like 'Let's get coffee and doughnuts'

  • Go cup – a plastic cup thrown at Mardi Gras Parades that fits easily into drink-holders in cars. The name comes from the fact that they are used to serve drinks in bars so that people can drink on the street. Drinking on the street in most places is fine, but glass bottles or beer cans are prohibited. (the exception is Mardi Gras parades)Lagniappe (LAEN-yap) – it means 'something extra', like when you get a free coke with a meal, or you buy a pound of ham and get an extra two ounces. The point is to bring return business, as well as friendship and good will.

  • Neutral Ground (NOO-tr@l GRAEWND) –  It's widely used even nowadays by all generations in the city, it has a cool historical background, and it in itself is more important in New Orleans than in many other cities. Oh yeah, it means 'median'. The term 'median' is never used, ever. In fact, many New Orleanians will not understand you if you call it a 'median'. In New Orleans, they can be very very wide between streets (kids play football on them). Uptown, they're essential to parade routes (You're either on the curb side or the neutral ground side of a float) and streetcar lines. The name comes from the fact that in the really old days of the city, Canal Street divided two distinct neighborhoods: The French creoles on the east side, and the newly-arrived Americans on the west. There was not much amity between these two groups, but on Sundays they met in the middle of Canal Street to exchange goods and conduct other business. In this way, the piece of ground in between two streets became known as the 'neutral ground'.

  • Po-boy (PAW-boi) – a wonderful New Orleans sandwich on french bread, packed with lettuce and tomatoes and all kinds of meats, like hot roast beef, ham and cheese, fried shrimp, fried oysters, and much, much, more. a roast beef po-boy is by far the best sandwich in the universe. the sandwich was traditionally a cheap lunch for blue-collar workers in the city, stuffed with all kinds of stuff, but today, they're still pretty affordable but not dirt cheap, as they once were.

  • Streetcar (STREET-kaw) – a type of trolley that runs the length of St. Charles Avenue and parts of Carrolton Avenue uptown and Canal Street downtown.

  • Throw me something, Mister! (THRO mee S@M'n MIS-t@) – This is what you say to a guy up on a Mardi Gras float when you want him to throw you beads, cups, doubloons, trinkets, etc.

  • Uptown, Downtown, Lakeside, Riverside – the four cardinal points, West, East, North, South respectively.

  • The Westbank (WES-beynk) – the area across the River from the city proper, it includes AlgiersHarveyMarreroBridge CityWestwego and other towns. The funny thing is, the Westbank is actually south of New Orleans.

  • Where Y'at? (WHAE YAT) – supposedly means 'how's it going?'

  • Zatarain's (ZAT-t@-RAENZ) – a local spice company, this is often used as a generic term for 'crawfish boil' or 'crab boil'.

Learn more New Orleans vocabulary here.