In the study of the Creole "Patois" or "gombo French" of Louisiana, the names of three writers come to mind; Alcee Fortier, Dr. Alfred Mercier, and Lafcadio Hearn.
This dialect had its origin among the negroes in the islands of the West Indies then under French domination, and was introduced into Louisiana shortly after the slave insurrections of Haiti and Martinique.

Allée: A double row of trees leading from the road or river to a plantation house. (Fr. allée, an alley.)

Armoire: A cabinet closing with one or two doors, having rows of shelves, and used for keeping clothes. (Lat. armarium, from arma, arms.)

Arpent: A former land measure, of 100 perches, which were 22 feet square. (Lat. arapennis or arepennis.)

Bagasse: The residue of sugarcane after the juice has been pressed out. (Span. bagazo.)

Baire: A mosquito net or bar. (Fr., barre, cross-bar.)

Balcon: A balcony. (Fr. balcon, a Latin Case.)

Bamboula: A dance executed to the accompaniment of a bamboula drum. (Fr. bamboula, a primitive African drum.)

Banquette: A sidewalk, so called because the early wooden sidewalks were elevated above the muddy streets. (Fr. banquette, a low bench.)

Batture: The land built up by the silting action of a river. (Fr. battre, to beat.)

Bayou: A natural canal, having its rise in the overflow of a river, or draining of a marsh. (Choctaw bayuk, river or creek.)

Blanchisseuse: A washerwoman. (Fr. blanchir, to whiten, to clean.)

Blouse-volante: A mother-hubbard; a loose wrapper. (Fr. voler, to fly.)

Bouillabaisse: A stew of red snapper and redfish, with various kinds of vegetables, all highly seasoned with pepper and spices. (Prov. bouia-baisso to boiled down.)

Briqueté entre poteaux: A method of construction in vogue in the eighteenth century in which bricks were filled in between the spaces of a framework of cypress timbers. (Fr. bricked between posts.)

Cagou: Disgusted, disillusioned. (Fr. cagot, leprous, beggarly, indigent, pariah.)

Cajun: A French-speaking man or woman of the Bayou Country. (Corruption of Acadian, emigrants from Acadia, Nova Scotia.)

Carencro: The black vulture, Coragyps urubu urubu. (An Acadian corruption of 'carrion crow.')

Chacalata: The Creoles who remained among themselves, stubbornly refusing to accept new customs or ideas. A local term.

Chambre à brin: A screened enclosure on a corner of a 'gallery.' (Fr. brin, linen cloth. In Louisiana, brin is screen wire.)

Charivari: A serenade of 'rough music,' with kettles, pans, trays, and the like, given in derision of incongruous or unpopular marriages. (Picard caribari of Med. Lat. carivarium.)

Chenière: A mound, rising from a swamp, and covered with a grove of live oaks. (Fr. chêne, an oak.)

Cochon-dilaite: Negro-French for pill-bug. (Fr. cochon de lait, suckling pig.)

Compère: A term of affection or friendship. The Creole animal fables use it as a title of address for characters: Compère Lapin is equivalent to our Br'er Rabbit. (Fr. prefix com, with, and père, father.)

Congo: A very black Negro. Formerly it meant a Negro actually from the Congo nation.

Congo: The cotton-mouth moccasin, Agkistrodon pisciwrus.

Congo Eel: A blue-black amphibian, Amphiuma tridactylum.

Courtbouillon: Redfish cooked with highly seasoned gravy. (Fr. court-bouillon, a sort of gravy consisting of white wine, salt, pepper, parsley, carrots, and onions, and in which fish or game may be cooked.)

Crayfish bisque: A rich soup made with crayfish, the heads being stuffed and served in the soup. (Fr. bisque, thick soup, cullis.)

Creole: A white descendant of the French and Spanish settlers in Louisiana during the Colonial period (1699-1803). (Span, criollo, native to the locality. Believed to be a Colonial corruption of criadillo, dim. of criado, bred, brought up, reared, domestic; p. pple. of criar, to breed.)

Cyprière: Cypress forest or swamp. (Fr. cyprès, cypress.)

Fais-dodo: A country dance; from the fais dodo, 'go to sleep,' of children's speech. (Fr., dormir, to sleep.)

Free-Mulatto: A mulatto born free; that is, a person of color who was never a slave. (See Mulatto, below.)

F.W.C. or F.M.C.: These initials found in the old documents stand for 'Free Woman of Color' and 'Free Man of Color.'

Gabrielle: A loose wrapper worn in the house. Local term.

Gallery: A porch, balcony. (Fr. galerie, Lat. galeria, gallery.)

Garçonnière: Bachelor quarters, usually separate from the principal part of the house. (Fr. garçon, a boy, a bachelor.)

Gard-soleil: A sunbonnet. A local term coined from Fr. garder, to guard, and soleil, the sun.

Garde-de-frise: The spikes projecting from rails separating two adjoining balconies. (Probably a hybrid formation from Fr. garde, guard, and cheval-de-frise, spiked guard rail.)

Gaspergou: Local corruption of Casse-burgau, the fresh-water drum, Aplodinotus grunniens. It is so called because it feeds on large bivalves of the genus turbo (Fr. burgau), which it breaks (Fr. casser) with its teeth.

Gombo: See Gumbo.

Grasset: The kingbird, or bee-martin, Tyrannus tyrannus, or the vireo, Vireo olivaceus. (Fr. grasset, fatty.)

Griffe: The child of a Mulatto and a Negro; a person having three-fourths Negro blood. (Fr. griffe, origin uncertain.)

Gris-gris: Amulet, talisman, or charm, worn for luck or used to conjure evil on enemies by the Voodoo devotees. Presumably a word of African origin.

Grosbec: The night heron, Nyctanassa violacea. (Fr. gros, big, bec, beak.)

Gumbo: The okra plant, Hibiscus esculentus, or its pods. A soup thickened with the mucilaginous pods of this plant, and containing shrimp, crabs, and often chicken, oysters, or one of the better cuts of veal. (Negro-French gumbo, from Angolan kingombo.)

Gumbo-Filé: A condiment made by powdering leaves of the Red Bay, Persea borbonia, powdered sassafras root often being added. It is used in place of okra for thickening gumbo.

Gumbo-Zhèbes: Gumbo made of herbs instead of okra. (Negro-French Zhèbe, from Fr. herbe, herb.)

Îlet: A city square. (Fr. îlet, little island. So called because the ditches which drained the streets were always full of water.)

Jalousie: In Louisiana, the common two-battened outdoor blind. (Fr. jalousie, Venetian Wind.)

Jambalaya: A Spanish-Creole dish made with rice and some other important ingredient, such as shrimp, crabs, cowpeas, oysters, sausage, chicken, or game. No plausible origin can be found.

Lagniappe: A trifling gift presented to a customer by a merchant. (Span, la, the, nãpa, from Kechuan yapa, 'a present made to a customer.')

Latanier: The fan-palm or palmetto.

Levee: An embankment on the Mississippi or smaller stream to prevent inundation. (Fr. lever, to raise.)

Make ménage: To clean house. A typical local translation of French faire le ménage, to clean house.

Mamaloi: The Voodoo priestess. (Probably from Fr. maman, mama, and roi, king.)

Mardi Gras: Shrove Tuesday, the last day of Carnival. (Fr., lit., Fat Tuesday.)

Maringouin: A mosquito. (S. American Tupi and Guarani.)

Marraine: A godmother. (Fr. marraine, from pop. Lat. matrana, from mater, mother.)

Minou: A cat. (Fr. minet, kitten.)

Moqueur: The mocking-bird, Mimus polyglottos polyglottos. The most famous songbird in Louisiana. (Fr. moquer, to mock.)

Mulatto: The offspring of a Negro and a Caucasian. (Span, mulato, young mule; hence one of mixed race.)

Nainaine: Creole diminutive of marraine, godmother. Négrillon: Negro child, pickaninny. (Fr. diminutive of nègre, Negro.)

Octoroon: The child of a quadroon and a Caucasian. (A non-etymological formation from Lat. octo, eight, after quadroon, in which the suffix is -oon.)

Pape: The painted bunting, Passerina ciris. (Fr. pape, pope.)

Papillotes: Curl-papers. (Fr. papillate, curl-paper, from papillon, butterfly.)

Papillotes: Buttered or oiled paper in which fish, especially pompano, is broiled, to retain the flavor.

Parish: In Louisiana, the equivalent of county. Parishes here were originally ecclesiastical, not civil divisions.

Parrain: Godfather. (Fr. parrain, from low Lat. patrinus, from pater, father.)

Perique: A unique kind of tobacco grown only in the Parish of St. James, said to have been the nickname of Pierre Chenet, an Acadian who first produced this variety of tobacco. Local term.

Perron: Porch. (Fr. perron from pierre, stone. A construction on a façade, before a door, consisting of a landing reached by several steps.)

Picaillon: Small, mean, paltry. (Provencal, picaioun, small copper coin of Piémont, worth about one centime.)

Picayune: Formerly the Spanish half-real, worth about 6¼ cents; now applied to the U.S. five-cent piece. (Provencal, picaioun.)

Pigeonnier: A pigeon-house, a dove-cote. (Fr. pigeon, pigeon.)

Pirogue: A small canoe-like boat, made by hollowing a log, used on the bayous.(Span, piragua, borrowed from the Carib.)

Porte-cochère: The gateway allowing vehicles to drive into a courtyard. (Fr. porte, gate, coche, coach.)

Praline: A bonbon made of pecans browned in sugar. (From Maréchal du Plessis Praslin, whose cook is said to have invented it.)

Quadroon: The child of a Mulatto and a Caucasian. A person having one-fourth Negro blood. (Span, cuarteron, a quadroon.)

Quartee: Half of a five-cent piece. Local term.

Soirée: An evening party. (Fr. soir, from Lat. serum, late afternoon.)

Sugar-house: A sugar-mill or factory. Local term.

Tignasse: Tangled hair. (Fr. tignasse.)

Tignon: A sort of turban made of a bright-colored Madras handkerchief, formerly worn by women of color. (Fr. tignon, or chignon, the nape of the neck, from Lat. catena, chain.)

Tisane: A tea made of orange leaves or soothing herbs and used as a specific in certain illnesses. (Lat. ptisana, an infusion of maple.)

Veillée: An evening spent in pleasant conversation. Also a wake. (Fr. veiller, from Lat. vigilare, to watch.)

Vieux Carré: The original walled city of New Orleans, bounded by Canal Street, North Rampart Street, Esplanade Avenue, and the Mississippi River. (Fr. lit., Old Square.)

Voodoo: An African cult imported into America by Negro slaves. (Dahomey, vôdu, a deity.)

Wanga: A spell. Presumably of African origin.

Zombi: Spirit. (Congo, zambi, a deity.)


Like other primitive dialects, the Creole "patois" was handed down from generation to generation, with no thought of its orthography, etymology, or syntax.

There are certain Orthographic signs employed in French to denote modifications in the sounds of vowels. These signs, known by the name of accents, are as follows:

a. L'accent aigu (the acute accent), is placed exclusively over e; as, été

b. L'accent circonflex (the circumflexed accent), is placed over vowels, chiefly to denote abbreviation;
as in gâter for the old form gaster, to spoil
prêter for the old form prester, to lend
maître for the old form maistre, master
côte for the old form coste, coast
flûte for the old form fluste, flute
Besides its legitimate use in such French words, this accent is, in course of this Work, placed over o whenever this letter has the same sound as in the English hot, pod; and over any other vowel that may seem to require it, especially in abbreviated syllables.

c. L'accent grave (the grave accent), placed over e, as in père, mère. We use this accent also over the e of the converted final syllables en, er, to denote the peculiarity of the word-formation in which they occur.

d. Le trema (the diæresis) (Umlaut), placed over a vowel, denotes its separate pronunciation;as, waïcou, (wa-i-cou,) cloth wrapped round the waist: ä ë ï ö ü ÿ

In the course of the linguistic studies with which I occupied my leisure hours, when a Ward-school teacher, at a distant out-station, I turned my attention to our popular patois, for the purpose of ascertaining its exact relation to real French; and of tracing what analogies of modification, literal or otherwise, existed between it and other derived dialects. These investigations, though prosecuted under the disadvantage of a want of suitable books (which as regards Creole was absolute, and as regards French nearly so), were not altogether fruitless. For I managed to discover, at least in part, the true nature and status of the Creole, in its quality of a spoken idiom. Moreover finding that the Creole, considered in its relation to correct French, exhibits the whole derivative process in actual operation, (and not in fixed results, as is the case in older and more settled dialects,) I thought that a grammar embodying these facts would be useful, as a basis of induction and comparison, to Creole-speaking natives who may desire to study other languages etymologically. Still, it must be confessed that these opinions would not, of themselves alone, have induced me to publish this book — a result brought about by considerations having a wider and more urgent importance, and bearing upon two cardinal agencies in our social system; namely, Law and Religion. I might have added Education; but as I mean to treat separately of the nullifying effects of the patois on English instruction among us, I shall say no more on the matter here. J. J. THOMAS, Trinidad, April, 1869.

Storyville, New Orleans Red-Light District 1897-1917

[ The District | Storyville History | Pictorial Tour | Storyville Transition
| Sporting Houses | Madams | The Blue Book | The Sunday Sun | Maps
| Ernest Bellocq| Bellocq's Women | The Girls | Storyville portraits | Leon Bellocq
| Jazz | Canal Street | Early Mansions | Early New Orleans | French Opera House
| Engravings | Links | Comments |   © 1997-> storyvilledistrictnola
Host -> Network Solutions •  Protected by Copyscape ]