The Murderess of Bayou Rosa: A Glossary

When my mother started school, she knew one sentence of English: “My name is Vivian.” The language she grew up speaking–Louisiana or Cajun French–was not allowed at school. To get ahead in the world, you had to speak English, so the native language was suppressed. If children who’d never heard or spoken a word of English spoke French at school, their knuckles or palms could be rapped with a ruler.

murderess coverBoth of my parents grew up speaking the local Louisiana French, but at home, they spoke English, with the occasional drop of a French word or phrase. My mother often dreamed in French, but they didn’t teach it to their children. As a result, my generation did not learn our native language–one of my great regrets.

When I started writing about Louisiana, I chose to slip in Louisiana French words whenever I could. It was my small contribution in keeping the language alive. I speak English, write and read in English, but when I wrote The Murderess of Bayou Rosa, I emulated my parents–English with the occasional drop of a French word or phrase.

For readers of Murderess, here’s a glossary to help you along:

Glossary to Murderess of Bayou Rosa

Arrête  – stop

Bastid – bastard

Bien, tres bien – good, very good

Bien merci – thank you very much

Bébé – baby

Bête – stupid

Bon ami – good friend

Bon chance – good luck!

Bon de rein – good for nothing; a wastrel.

Bon soir/Bon nuit – good morning/god evening

Bonjour – Good morning or hello

Boille – a boiled custard

Café au lait – coffee with cream

Capon – coward

C’est dommage – It is sad. It’s a shame.

C’est vrais – It’s true; it’s the truth.

Cher – dear

Cherie – dear or darling

Cochon – pig

Comment ça va – How are you doing?

Comme si, comme ça – so-so “Like this, like that.”

Couillion – a stupid person

Defin, morte – dead, death

Doyo – a bumbling or silly person, a fool.

Etouffee – type of stew

Fou – crazy

Fonchok – a jerk, a dick. Chok is slang for penis.

Grandmere/grandpere – grandmother/grandfather

Gros – big

Haint – a ghost or spirit

Haunt – embarrassed

Le Bon Dieu – The Good Lord

Ma belle – an endearment, my pretty girl.

Ma vieille – an endearment, my dear. Translates to “my old lady.”

Maintenant – now

Mais – but

Mais la – “So there.” An expression of exasperation.

Mais non, mais oui – But no/but yes

Macareau – a ladies man; a flirt

Malhereux – unfortunate; sometimes exasperation

Mamere – mother

Marais – swamp or marshy area

Merci – thank you

Merde – shit

Mêre Marie – Mother Mary

Mon Dieu – My God

Moudee – damn

Pain perdu – “Lost Bread,” a Cajun dish like a bread pudding

Pardon – Excuse me

Pauvre – poor but as an expression of sympathy: Poor George, his dog died

Pere Noel – Father Christmas

Petite – endearment meaning “little one”

Poudee – rotten, smelly

Pour l’amour de Dieu – For the love of God

Putain – a fallen woman; prostitute

Salop – a messy person; slob

Traiteure – local healer

Travester – travesty. “That’s a shame.”

Je suis tres desole – “I am very sorry.”

S’il vous plait – If you please; please

Buy my book, cher

“After three weeks in jail, Mama asked me to talk to Judge Rousseau about getting her some decent food to eat.”

This is the opening line to “Light of the Moon,” my short story contribution to Into the Woods, an anthology of short fiction, essays, original music, and one walking meditation. The collection comes from writers who attend the Mindful Writers Retreats in Ligonier, Pennsylvania. After years of bonding and enjoying guided meditations, walking in the woods, and silent writing in the lodge’s great room, the twenty-six writers decided to share our work in an anthology for charity. All proceeds from Into the Woods benefit the work and research of the Children’s Heart Foundation.

Into the woods front cover

The print version of the book will make its debut at the Pennwriters Conference later this week. The eBook will release on May 21. We love orders and pre-orders!

I contributed a prose poem as well as “Light of the Moon,” which is set in the fictional Louisiana town of Bayou Rosa. The story includes love and death, war and myth, and the woods, of course.

My grandmother, Grom.

The print version of Into the Woods was released on Mother’s Day, so of course I thought of my grandmother. Grom taught me storytelling and oral history, and made me appreciate the travails of my Acadian ancestors. She believed in hard work and le Bon Dieu; she appreciated good food and good-looking men; and she spoke a mixture of Cajun French and English that peppers this story, and many of my others. Every story I write, in a small way or a big one, is a tribute to her.

Grom called people she loved cher, which is the French word for “my dear.” Grom had a big heart. So, my dears and chers, I hope you’ll open your own hearts and buy this book to support children who need your help–and to enjoy the work of writers who found inspiration in the woods.

Crash Course in Cajun French

Official flag of the Acadians

On the first day of first grade, my mother could speak exactly one sentence in English: “My name is Vivian.”

My mother’s family was Louisiana French and her household communicated via the patois called Cajun French. In schools in the 1930s, however, it was believed that speaking English was necessary to get ahead. Speaking your ancestral language would hold you back in modern society. At my mother’s school, children who spoke Cajun French got their knuckles rapped with a ruler by the teacher. Louisiana French children learned to answer their teachers in English or not speak at all. The language wars are nothing new. Continue reading “Crash Course in Cajun French”