Tag Archives: cajun phrases

Cajun Phrase: Directions

You might think that directions are easy to follow. I mean, you can’t really mess up North, South, East, and West, can you? Well, leave it to Cajuns to change things.

You see, for the longest time I had no idea what was north, south, east, or west. Not because I wasn’t taught, but because we don’t use those words when we’re giving directions. No, here, things are either “up the bayou” (north) or “down the bayou” (south). There are variations, of course, like “You’re gonna come to Roland’s, turn right on the bridge and go down the bayou aways until you see the Lion’s Club.”

You see, the towns around here were built around the bayous. Communities sprouted up next to the waterways which were the easiest means of getting around the area. Bayous are everywhere. There’s the bigger bayous, then the smaller canals. In the old days, roads were apparently for wimps. My mom talks about how at one time barges used to come down the main bayou in town. Now though, the bayous are mostly unused except for fishing or dredging. Which is a shame really, they’re lovely.

Now for the real lesson. It isn’t just a matter of saying down the bayou or up the bayou. You have to say it correctly. It isn’t “down the bayou” it’s “down da baya”. If you’re in Terrebonne Parish, it’s down Bayou Terrebonne and if you’re going down the bayou, you’re heading into towns like Chauvin, Montegut, and eventually, you’ll read Cocodrie. If you’re in Lafourche Parish, you’re driving along Bayou Lafourche and going down the bayou brings you to towns like Larose, Cut Off (birth place of the Cajun Cannon, Bobby Hebert), Golden Meadow and eventually Grand Isle.

If you’re from Terrebonne Parish talking with someone from Lafourche Parish and say you’re going down the bayou, they might think you’re going down Bayou Lafourche. Funny, huh?

So what kind of strange directions do you have in your area? Is there a landmark everyone uses as a compass, like our bayous?

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Cajun Phrase: Get Down

I realized this morning that I haven’t done a Cajun French phrase in a while, so I hope to entertain you all with one of our little “jewels”.

Get down.

When most people in the rest of the country say this, people immediately think they mean “dance”, “get down with your bad self!” that kind of thing. Of course, here in south Louisiana, this means something completely different.

Now, let me stress when I say south Louisiana, I don’t mean New Orleans. When it comes to regional dialect, New Orleans is an island. South Louisiana means the bayou country, Cajun country. The communities west of New Orleans.

From Fourchon (the end of the world!) to Lafayette, the bayous are peppered with different version of Cajun French and bad English. What you say in one parish isn’t the same in another. Pronunciations aren’t the same either. It’s weird, yes, but that’s how we tell who’s from Lafourche Parish, who’s from Terrebonne Parish, who’s from St. Mary Parish, and who’s from Vermillion Parish. It’s tiny things, but we can usually tell if you’re from our parish or not depending on how you say things.

Anyway, I was thinking about the phrase “get down” this morning as I worked out. Yes, Shaun T makes me think of strange Cajun French phrases! In our area (our being Cajun country), “get down” is something you say to a person visiting.

Let me explain. Say you’re visiting someone, just passing through and you’re still in your car. I don’t know if other people spend a lot of time in each others’ drive ways, but here, someone might stop to drop something off without getting out of their car. If you did this at my home, I would ask you, “Do you want to get down?”

Get down means do you want to get out of your car for a visit. I’m not sure where the phrase originated, but I suspect it could be anything from the days when people rode horses, to some obscure French phrase. I have no clue.

I’ll never forget one of my co-workers years ago. She was from Kenner which is sort of part of New Orleans. She moved to my hometown for work purposes. The neighborhood she lived in was very upscale, so it isn’t like she moved down the bayou or anything (and that’s a phrase for another day). She said the first time her neighbor asked if she wanted to “get down”, she was like “You want me to dance?” She was baffled and amused.

I thought she would’ve known what it meant since she was from down here…sort of, but apparently they don’t use this phrase in the Big Easy. Interesting.

So if any of you are planning a visit in the fair south of I-10 Louisiana and someone asks you if you want to “get down”, they’re not asking you if you want to dance. They’re asking if you want to get out of your car and visit with them.

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