New Orleans has a culture unlike anywhere else in the world. The historical influences of the natives, French and Spanish have shaped the city since its founding in the 18th century. Live music can be found on every corner, the food has an original flavor, the bars never close, the locals talk funny, and the residents ignore cardinal directions in favor of following the Mississippi. The city is best known for its Mardi Gras celebrations, but first-time visitors may be caught off guard by the language spoken here in the Big Easy. If you’re not from here, there’s a bit of a learning curve to pronounce Tchoupitoulas or understand a menu description of “lagniappe.” Luckily, we’re here to help!
Carnival: This Latin word literally means “farewell to meat.” The Carnival season embraces overindulgence before lent and spans from the Twelfth Night (January 6) to Mardi Gras day, Fat Tuesday (February 28).
Colors of Mardi Gras: During Carnival, it seems that everything in New Orleans is decked in purple, green and gold representing justice, faith and power, respectively. If you want to celebrate like a New Orleanian, make sure you’re donning plenty of these colors throughout the season.
Go-Cup: The Big Easy allows open containers, as long as the container is not breakable. If you’re going to sip and stroll, ask your server for a go-cup.
Gumbo: A stew that originated in the 1900’s in Southern Louisiana, and has become widely known due to Zatarain’s national distribution. Common ingredients for gumbo are stock, seafood, sausage, roux and Cajun flavor galore.
King Cake: This special doughnut shaped pastry is an essential during Carnival, and garnished with sugar toppings in the traditional Mardi Gras colors of purple, green and gold. As part of tradition, a tiny baby, often made of plastic, is inserted into the cake. The “lucky” person who finds the baby in their piece is asked to continue the celebrations by bringing the next one.
Krewe: A variation of “crew,” the word refers to a Carnival organization. There are many krewes that make up the Mardi Gras parades and balls, tossing their personalized throws to the crowds and celebrating at masquerades.
Lagniappe: A small gift, something extra, free of charge. Many restaurants also use this Creole word to describe dish dressings and additions to meals.
Laissez Les Bons Temps Rouler: A Cajun French saying that New Orleanians live by year-round and especially during Mardi Gras meaning, “let the good times roll.”
Lundi Gras: The Monday before Fat Tuesday which is just another way of naming the day before the main event. Many businesses are closed and the city is in full Carnival mode.
Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday: The Tuesday before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of lent. The day is filled with celebratory parades, costume, décor, and overindulgence. The entire city is shut down, all participating in the festivities.
Neutral Ground: In other cities, this would most likely be referred to as a median or boulevard. The name originated in the mid-19th century when the median of Canal Street was the neutral zone between the French Creoles and the Americans, who were less than friendly.
Second Line: An informal parade of varying sizes that features a brass band, jubilant dancing and bright wardrobes. Second line parades were born of the city’s famous jazz funerals, and are most comparable to a cultural block party that moves a block at a time.
Sidewalk Side: This is the side of the street opposite of the neutral ground. During parades, it also refers to the side of the float that travels next to the sidewalk.
Throws: The beads, plastic cups, doubloons and other memorabilia that is hurled by krewes in parades around the city to parade goers. The most energetic parade goers will receive the best throws (Zulu – a coconut, Muses – a shoe, Nyx – a purse) from krewes in the different parades.
Uptown: A section of NOLA on the east river-bank of the Mississippi from the French Quarter to the Jefferson Parish line. St. Charles Avenue is the main drag of the Uptown parades and runs down the center of this section of the city.
Wild Tchoupitoulas: Pronounced “CHOP-ah-too-lus,” this wild version refers to a group of Mardi Gras Indians formed by George Landry in the early 1970’s. The group is most known for their album recorded with their “call-and-response” style chants typical of Mardi Gras Indians.
What’s your favorite Mardi Gras word? Tweet @DEVENEYnola using the #DEVchat hashtag.