Faux amis cadiens

(or "How to speak French in Louisiana without getting in trouble")

by Amanda LaFleur

Don't let anyone con you into believing that Cajun French is "another language."  The vast majority of the words a Cajun will use are perfectly understandable to anyone who speaks fluent French.  Nevertheless, some words have evolved meanings which differ slightly from those used in other parts of the world.  The tricky part is being familiar with those differences which can lead to minor, or sometimes major, misunderstandings....

Essence is perfume in Louisiana.  We put de la gasoline in our chars (m.).  Les voitures  are what horses used to pull in  le bon vieux temps.


Here we have le déjeuner in the morning.   (Traditionally in rural families, there was nothing petit about it. Folks needed sustenance after doing their early morning chores. The big meal of the day, le dîner, was taken at noon.  This was because it was too hot to cook in the afternoon, and also because most farm families provided a noon meal for their hired hands.)  In the evening, we still eat our souper.  French Canadians use the same terms we do.


In Cajun and Creole French, ladies put on a new blouse (f.) before they go to bed, not when they go out.  It's also known as a camisole (f.). A lady's blouse is called a corsage (m.) in Louisiana French.


It's not funny being called drole in Louisiana.   It's a word used to describe wierd or marginal characters, and down here it's pronounced more or less as if it rhymes with "trawl" instead of "troll."  A Cajun or Creole who tells good jokes is usually referred to as farce.


Faire l'amour in the minds of the old folks in Louisiana still has the very genteel meaning of "to court," though most people today also use it in the contemporary sense most French speakers are familiar with.


Though the the term is very pejorative in France, une catin is simply and literally a doll in Louisiana.  The word poupée is also used here, and both words are often used as terms of endearment.


While galette and cocotte belong to culinary vocabulary in France, they are both words to be avoided in many parts of Louisiana, where they refer to female genitalia.


In France, les bébés babillent, but in Louisiana it's the adults who do this to children who have been misbehaving: babiller means "to scold" down here.


You may be wondering whether to aborder a Cajun in French or in English, but he wouldn't want you to aborder (literally "to bump into") him at all. It might hurt!


In Louisiana when we jouer à la pelote, it is typically a game of baseball, football or soccer that we are referring to.  Careful, though, because for our French-speaking Canadian neighbors, la pelote refers to female genitalia.


When encouraging someone to be patient in Cajun French, you might say "Espère!" instead of "Attends!," which usually means "to hear" in Louisiana.  But of course, s'il attend dur (if he's hard of hearing), it won't help.  To express the notion of "hoping" to do something, you can say in Cajun French "j'ai espoir de...."


Cajuns try not to be shocked if newly arrived Canadians remark upon all the grosses bibittes in South Louisiana.  They mean the roaches and other insects.  They're not being lewd; they simply haven't yet learned that bibitte in Louisiana French refers to male genitalia.


For more on Louisiana French check out: 
LSU French: Cajun French Glossary 
Tonnerre mes chiens!:  A glossary of Louisiana French figures of speech 
A Beginners' Guide:  What is Cajun French?

©2000 Amanda LaFleur 
All rights reserved