I'm sure I've mentioned it before, but in case you haven't been reading (and why not?!) I'm originally from New Orleans. I had the privilege of growing up in the place of spectacular food, drive-thru daiquiri shops, Mardi Gras parades, haunted plantations, and above ground graveyards. Don't let the Hurricane Katrina aftermath scare you, New Orleans is a great place to visit and is home to some of the friendliest people you'll ever meet. It's also home to one of the most unique dialects in the country. The mix of Cajun, French, and Spanish influences has created quite a language amongst the "natives", including myself.
So, what does this have to do with writing? Well, each region of the country has its quirky terms and turns of phrase. An everyday saying to someone in Texas may be completely lost in translation to a reader in Maine. This is okay if your story is taking place in a certain region and you're using the dialect to create authentic dialogue, but if this is not the case, then you're just going to confuse people. This is usually most noticeable when you read books written by a British author. Even though we speak the same language, many of the terms and phrases are unfamiliar to us.
At first, I didn't give this much thought. I mean, it's obvious what's regional and what's standard, right? Hmm. Not so much. There were things I've said all my life that I had no idea were specific to Louisiana. When I moved to Texas, I met a few furrowed brows on these things. So when writing, you need to make sure that you're regional influence isn't obvious, unless you want it to be.
For fun, here are a few Louisiana terms and their definitions. If you watch True Blood, insert Rene's (from season one) Cajun accent--that was authentic (a rarity for television/movies. We don't twang, people.)
I'm sure you can see how some of this could get me in trouble as a writer, lol.
Where y'at? = Where are you? We also are referred to as y'ats because of this.
Ax = ask - I never realized I said it this way until I moved to TX and my coworker was like, you're so cute, you reverse the letters aks instead of ask. I still have to make a conscious effort not to do this.
Been Having = have been having ex.) I been having that shirt forever
Bobo (not boo boo) = small injury
Boo = term of endearment
Cher (sha) = term of endearment, "my sweet"
Bra = a form of address between men, like bro or dude, (not an undergarment), podnuh serves this purpose too
Brake Tag = inspection sticker for your car. I still say this one.
By your house = at your house ex.) I slept by your house. We don't use at in this way.
Make dodo = sleep
Dressed = to order a sandwich with everything on it
For = often used in place of at or by ex.) the party's for seven
Gris-gris (gree-gree) = voodoo ex.) he put the gris gris on me
Inkpen = pen (okay, I'm using a website for reference because I still don't realize some of these are regional. Does everyone else not say inkpen? lol)
Coke = any soft drink ex.) what kind of coke you want, Dr. Pepper or Sprite?
Interstate = any major road. We don't say highway or (god forbid) freeway. That gives away a tourist every time.
Make groceries = to shop for groceries
Neutral ground = the grassy part in the middle of a road, the median
Parish = our counties
Parraine = godfather
Nanny = godmother (not hired help)
Pass by = to stop and visit (not to drive by) ex.) I'll pass by your house later.
Mosquito Hawk = dragonfly
Stoop = the front steps on your porch
Yeah you right = You've got that right
Pirogue = small boat, canoe
Parade = things must be thrown to the crowd--beads, cups, doubloons, coconuts, brussel sprouts (veggies for st. patricks day only). Parades with just waving people on floats don't count. We'll get angry. :) Yes Macy's, that includes you.
Crawfish = NOT crayfish or crawdads
Oh, how the spellchecker loved this post. Now you can understand why I'm so screwed up. :) P.S. in the picture above, that restaurant in the background, Court of Two Sisters, is FABulous. If you ever visit, don't miss their Sunday brunch.
So I'm curious, what terms or turns of phrase are unique to your area? Have you caught yourself using regional speak in your writing?
**Today's Theme Song**
"Iko Iko"--The Dixie Cups
(player in sidebar, come on,
everyone needs a little Mardi Gras music in their day)