Tag Archives: Cajun

Accent

Standard

It was late in the afternoon when the family came into the mercantile.

Mom was maybe out of her 20s. She wore her dark hair straightened and had on obvious makeup. She looked more like she was on a date at the mall than out having a nature experience.

Dad had the look of a jock whose mid-30s metabolism was slowing down. He wasn’t fat, but his middle was getting soft. He talked loud and fast and seemed accustomed to being the center of his family’s world.

The oldest kid, a son about seven or eight years old, had dark hair like his mother. He spent his entire time in the store trying to convince his parents to buy him a walking stick.

The second child was an adorable little girl, a toddler who was probably not yet three. Her hair was long and straight and blond like her father’s. She had plump, rosy cheeks and was obviously the apple of her father’s eye.

While the woman had a lot of questions about the nearby national park (How far away was it? How did they get there? How late was it open? How much did it cost to get in?), she and the man let the kids roam freely through the store. The little girl was drawn to the breakable bear figurines. Her parents never once discouraged her while she moved them around on the shelves where they were displayed. They allowed her to pick them up one after another and bring them up to the cash register. She could hardly reach to set them on the counter in front of me, but no one in her family tried to help her or take them out of her hands. For one glorious moment, I actually thought the dad was going to buy every bear the child set before me, but I quickly realized he was only letting her play with the merchandise.

All the while the mom was talking—to me, to her son, to her man, to the girl child. Something about her accent was familiar, but I wasn’t sure my guess was correct…

Where are y’all from? I asked.

Texas! the dad boomed. Near Houston.

I supposed it was a Texas accent I recognized. However, the more the woman talked, the more I was convinced it wasn’t Texas I was hearing.

She was standing near the counter when I looked at her and asked, Did you grow up in Texas?

No, she said. I grew up in Louisiana.

I knew it!

You’re Cajun! I exclaimed.

The woman seemed surprised, but confirmed her Cajunness.

Me too! I said. I told her my last name and the town where I grew up.

Cajuns: From Acadia to Louisiana
She told me her last name and the town where she grew up. Although I didn’t recognize her family name as one of the pillars of Cajun culture, I remember a book I once read that said there’s three ways to become Cajun: birth, marriage, or through the back door. Maybe she’d had a non-Cajun male ancestor who’d married a Cajun gal and assimilated. No matter what this customer’s family name was or how many years she’d lived in Texas, her accent gave her away to anyone in the know.

To his credit, the man of the family returned to their shelves all the bears his daughter had set on the checkout counter. Of course, he plunked them down any old way, and I had to arrange them artfully after the family left.

When they were gone, The Man asked me how in the world I’d known the woman was Cajun. I shrugged and told him it was all in her accent.

That’s Ms. Coonie to You, Sir

Standard

It was late afternoon and I was at the Bridge with the Jewelry Lady. I’d spent the day at her house, then we’d gone out to the Bridge in the relative coolness of the evening. There weren’t many customers out there, but the Jewelry Lady and I set up anyway.

Three cute little girls under the age of 10 stopped at my table. They were sunburned and windblown, and I could tell the littlest one was extra spunky. I asked if they were sisters, and they said they were cousins.

The girls asked about my bracelets. I said they were $4 each or three for $10.The littlest girl couldn’t afford that price and asked if I had anything for $2. I told the girls they could all pick out a bracelet for $2 each.

As I talked to the girls, their answers were yes ma’am and no ma’am. I said, Y’all are so polite. Y’all must be from Texas. They said they were from Texas.

The girls’ grandpa had been hanging around, and I’d figured out he was one of those old guys who thinks he is funny when he is really obnoxious. When I told the girls I was from Louisiana, he said to them, You hear that? She’s a coonie!

Coonie is a shortened (and more polite) version of coonass, a somewhat derogatory name for the Cajun people of Southwest Louisiana. I am Cajun, so that does make me a coonass, but not everyone from Louisiana is Cajun, so not everyone from Louisiana is a coonass. This man was making a mightly assumption about me and my place of birth. (Since I don’t have a Cajun accent, he was not basing his assumption on the way I talk.)

More importantly, coonass is one of those words people within the group can call each other, but outsiders should not use casually. And for a Texan to call a Cajun a coonass or even a coonie, well, them’s fightin’ words. But I played it cool and didn’t say, I’d rather be a coonass than a fucking Texan! After all, he had three sweet little girls with him.

I finished my transaction with the girls, and as soon as the family walked away, I said to the Jewelry Lady, did you hear what he called me! Of course, she’d never heard of coonies or coonasses, and I had to explain the whole thing to her.

According to http://www.acadian.org/coonass.html

Coonass is a controversial term in the Cajun lexicon: to some Cajuns it is regarded as the supreme ethnic slur, meaning “ignorant, backwards Cajun”; to others the term is a badge of pride, much like the word Chicano is for Mexican Americans. In South Louisiana, for example, one can often see bumper stickers reading “Warning — Coonass on Board!” or “Registered Coonass” (both of which generally depict a raccoon’s backside). The word’s origin is unclear: folk etymology claims that coonass dates from World War II, when Cajun GIs serving in France were derided by native French speakers as conasse, meaning “dirty whore” or “idiot.” Non-French-speaking American GIs allegedly overheard the expression, converted it to the English “coonass,” and introduced the term back in the United States. There it supposedly soon caught on as a derisive term among non-Cajuns, who encountered many Cajuns in Gulf Coast oilfields. It is now known, however, that coonass predated the arrival of Cajun GIs in France during World War II, which undermines the conasse theory. Indeed, folklorist Barry Jean Ancelet has long rejected this theory, calling it “shaky linguistics at best.” He has suggested that the word originated in South Louisiana, and that it derived from the belief that Cajuns frequently ate raccoons. He has also proposed that the term contains a negative racial connotation: namely, that Cajuns were “beneath” or “under” blacks (or coons, as blacks were often called by racists). Despite efforts by Cajun activists like James Domengeaux and Warren A. Perrin to stamp out the term’s use, coonass continues to circulate in South Louisiana and beyond. Its acceptability among the general public, however, tends to vary according to circumstances, and often depends on who says it and with what intention. Cajuns who dislike the term have been known to correct well-meaning outsiders who use the epithet.