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.
Both 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