How to Sound Like a Local When You Move to New Orleans

New Orleans is a glorious city and melting pot, with and even more unique language.

In the Big Easy, some of the most common phrases and words actually come from the city’s French, Spanish and African roots. If you are new to the city, here are some of the most common phrases and expressions that you may hear and should totally use.

“Where Y’at?”

“Where y’at” is one of the most common greetings in New Orleans, and it doesn’t mean what you probably think it does. The phrase actually translates into “How are you?”

The typical answer to this greeting is “what it is”, meaning “I’m good, and you?”

You can also simply reply by saying how you are feeling, but please, don’t answer with your location.

“Ya Momma n Nem”

This is actually another greeting that is phrased by saying “How ya momma n nem?” This expresses a concern and inquiry into the general well being of all of someone’s family members, not just their mother. You are more likely to hear this expression used if the two parties involved haven’t seen each other in a while.

Can you hear me now?

You may also hear “ya heard me” thrown around quite often, but not in the way you think. This phrase, similarly to “where y’at”, should not be taken at face value. This phrase is more of an affirmation, used to emphasize a point or sentence that was said. An example of this would be “What’s up bruh, where y’at? I heard you doing really well ya heard me.”

The use of this phrase at the end of sentence would indicate that you are looking for confirmation or agreement on the statement made with the other person.

There is enough “Lagniappe” to go around

The word “lagniappe” (say it: lan-YAP) is often used around these parts to literally describe something that is extra. It originally was used to describe something extra given to customers by shopkeepers, but now typically is used to describe extra food given with a meal.

Who Dat, You Dat!

 There is a deep and genuine love and dedication to the New Orleans Saints, and you will often hear local chant “who dat” during football season. This chant is a part of a longer chant that goes like this, “Who Dat said they gonna beat them Saints, Who Dat, Who Dat!” If you hear this (and you are a fan, which you should be) Then join in! It won’t to spread a little cheer. 

Creole is not Cajun and Cajun is not Creole

Tourists and businesses that often target tourists often refer to the food and culture in New Orleans “cajun” when in reality it is actually “creole”. Cajuns also known as Acadians are rural people that live in swampy areas of Louisiana, whereas Creoles were people of mixed African and European race. Therefore, most of the food and architecture that you will taste and eat in New Orleans are of Creole origin, not Cajun.

Smothered, Stuffed and Fried

There are some crazy words used to describe different types of food and cooking styles in New Orleans. Being familiar with them can save you from accidentally ordering a alligator stuffed turtle, but hey, maybe that’s your thing.

  • ’Pane’: Food prepared with breadcrumbs, breaded and fried. The most common paneed foods are pork chops and chicken breasts, typically served with a red tomato sauce.
  • Dressed: No your food won’t have a fancy suit on, but when a po’boy sandwich is “dressed”, It includes lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise.
  • Étouffée: A french word that translates to “smothered”. This cooking style involves creating a “roux and then smothering or sautéing onions and other seasoning in it to create a gravy like base. Crawfish and shrimp étouffée are the two most common dishes in New Orleans associated with this term, and they are to die for.
  • Crawfish Terminology: When eating crawfish, sometimes known as “crayfish” get used to hear “pinch the tail and suck the head”. This describes the technique used to remove the shell from the crawfish and then literally suck the head of the crustacean which is filled with delicious flavors and spices.

Mardi Gras Lingo

Mardi Gras. You know it, you love it, and it’s probably a part of the reason that you decided to move to New Orleans.

To truly enjoy the experience, there are a few terms that you should know. A krewe is an organization or association that stages a parade or other event for a carnival celebration (i.e. the Krewe of Endymion and the Krewe of Zulu). Secondly, if you really want to catch any of the beads or “throws” at the parade, it’s best to yell the phrase “Throw me somethin’ mister!!!!”

Most importantly, have fun, be safe and laissez le bon temps rouler (let the good times roll)!

Jessica Johnson