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17 "Bon" Figures of Speech from Louisiana French

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French has been spoken in North America since long before the pilgrims arrived. In Louisiana, where French colonists settled and ran things in French well into the 19th century, people still speak French, or Cajun, so named for the Acadians (Les cadiens -> Cajuns) who settled there in the 1700s after being expelled from French Canada by the British. Peppered with its own unique flavor of life on the bayou, it’s a long way from the French of France. Here are 17 figures of speech in Louisiana French from Tonnerre mes chiens!, by Cajun scholar Amanda LaFleur.

1. GOMBO DE BABINES

Babine is lower lip, and when you stick it out to pout and sulk and commiserate with others about some setback you’ve all endured, you are making “pout gumbo,” or a pity party.

2. FAIRE SON BOUDIN

The lower lip can also look like a blood sausage when you pout, or “make your boudin.”

3. COMMENT ÇA PLUME?

How’s it plucking? A good way to ask “how’s it going” in a rural culture where easy chicken-plucking makes for easy living.

4. FAIRE CHAUDIÈRE ENSEMBLE

“To make chaudière together.” To get married. A chaudière is a traditional heavy cast iron pot for Louisiana cooking and a symbol of home life.

5. PASSER QUELQU’UN À LA BASTRINGUE

To beat someone up. Literally, “to pass someone through the ‘triangle.’” In Louisiana French, the bastringue is a metal percussion instrument, beaten vigorously with the rhythm.

6. VIN À VINGT BATAILLES AU GALLON

Strong wine, “20 fights to the gallon.”

7. TONNERRE MES CHIENS!

A minced version of tonnerre m’ecrase, “may thunder strike me down!” Calling on the heavens to do their worst goes a bit too far in this heavily Catholic culture, so a lighter, nonsense version (a la “gosh darn it!”) takes its place: “Thunder my dogs!”

8. VA PÉTER À LACASSINE!

Get out of here! Literally “go fart in Lacassine,” a remote town in Jefferson Davis Parish.

9. TOURNER EN EAU DE BOUDIN

“Turn into boudin water,” meaning “become insignificant.” When you boil a boudin sausage, you eat the sausage and throw the water out.

10. IL Y A UN CABRI DANS LE MAÏS

“There’s a goat in the corn”—in other words, you’ve got a wedgie.

11. DÉPENDEUR D’ANDOUILLES

“Person who unhangs the Andouilles.” Someone who does easy work, i.e., taking the sausages down from where they hang (as opposed to making them).

12. LE JEU EN VAUT PAS LA CHANDELLE

“The game isn’t worth the candle,” meaning it’s not worth it. This expression was originally said of a card game where stakes don’t even merit the cost of lighting.

13. BAILLE A COURU SA COURSE

“The bay has run its race.” This is “French Louisiana’s most common expression of resignation to a situation.”

14. LAID COMME UN BOUKI

“Ugly as a hyena.” The Wolof word bouki came to Louisiana from Africa along with folk tales of bouki and lapin, who became known as brer fox and brer rabbit.

15. BALAI DU CIEL

“Broom of the sky,” or a northwesterly wind that returns everything to calm.

16. LE SIROP ET BISCUITS CASSENT PAS ÉGAL

“The syrup and the biscuits don’t break even.” If you have a little more syrup than biscuit, you’ll take a little more biscuit to make things even, but then you’re bound to end up with more biscuit than syrup, and then you’ll have to take a little more syrup, and it will go on and on like this. This situation is a metaphor for what happens when you try to take vengeance, especially in the context of a family feud. It never makes things even.

17. DORMER COMME UN CAÏMAN

“Sleep like an alligator.” Sleep like a log? How boring. This is gator country.

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A New App Interprets Sign Language for the Amazon Echo
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The convenience of the Amazon Echo smart speaker only goes so far. Without any sort of visual interface, the voice-activated home assistant isn't very useful for deaf people—Alexa only understands three languages, none of which are American Sign Language. But Fast Company reports that one programmer has invented an ingenious system that allows the Echo to communicate visually.

Abhishek Singh's new artificial intelligence app acts as an interpreter between deaf people and Alexa. For it to work, users must sign at a web cam that's connected to a computer. The app translates the ASL signs from the webcam into text and reads it aloud for Alexa to hear. When Alexa talks back, the app generates a text version of the response for the user to read.

Singh had to teach his system ASL himself by signing various words at his web cam repeatedly. Working within the machine-learning platform Tensorflow, the AI program eventually collected enough data to recognize the meaning of certain gestures automatically.

While Amazon does have two smart home devices with screens—the Echo Show and Echo Spot—for now, Singh's app is one of the best options out there for signers using voice assistants that don't have visual components. He plans to make the code open-source and share his full methodology in order to make it accessible to as many people as possible.

Watch his demo in the video below.

[h/t Fast Company]

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How to Craft the Perfect Comeback, According to Experts
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In a 1997 episode of Seinfeld called “The Comeback,” George Costanza is merrily stuffing himself with free shrimp at a meeting. His coworker mocks him: “Hey, George, the ocean called. They’re running out of shrimp.” George stands humiliated as laughter fills the room, his mind searching frantically for the perfect riposte.

It’s only later, on the drive home, that he thinks of the comeback. But the moment has passed.

The common human experience of thinking of the perfect response too late—l’esprit de l’escalier, or "the wit of the staircase"—was identified by French philosopher Denis Diderot when he was so overwhelmed by an argument at a party that he could only think clearly again once he’d gotten to the bottom of the stairs.

We've all been there. Freestyle rappers, improv comedians, and others who rely on witty rejoinders for a living say their jobs make them better equipped to seize the opportunity for clever retorts in everyday life. They use a combination of timing, listening, and gagging their inner critics. Here are their insights for crafting the perfect comeback.

LISTEN TO YOUR OPPONENT’S ARGUMENT.

The next time you’re in a heated conversation, be less focused on what you're about to say and more attentive to what you're actually responding to. When you spend more time considering what your sparring partner is saying, “you’re deferring your response until you’ve fully heard the other person," Jim Tosone, a technology executive-turned-improv coach who developed the Improv Means Business program, tells Mental Floss. Your retorts may be more accurate, and therefore more successful, when you’re fully engaged with the other person’s thoughts.

DON’T THINK TOO MUCH.

According to Belina Raffy, the CEO of the Berlin-based company Maffick—which also uses improv skills in business—not overthinking the situation is key. “You’re taking yourself out of unfolding reality if you think too much,” she tells Mental Floss. It’s important to be in the moment, and to deliver your response to reflect that moment.

TRAIN THAT SPONTANEOUS MENTAL MUSCLE.

History’s most skilled comeback artists stored witticisms away for later use, and were able to pull them out of their memory at the critical time.

Winston Churchill was known for his comebacks, but Tim Riley, director and chief curator at the National Churchill Museum in Fulton, Missouri, tells Mental Floss that many of his burns were borrowed. One of his most famous lines was in response to politician Bessie Braddock’s jab, “Sir, you are drunk.” The prime minister replied, “And you, Bessie, are ugly. But I shall be sober in the morning, and you will still be ugly.”

Riley says this line was copied from comic W.C. Fields. Nevertheless, it took quick thinking to remember and reshape the quote in the moment, which is why Churchill was thought of as a master of timing. “It was an off-the-cuff recall of something he had synthesized, composed earlier, and that he was waiting to perform,” Riley says.

But in some situations, the retort must be created entirely in the moment. Training for spontaneity on stage also helps with being quicker-witted in social situations, New York City battle rap emcee iLLspokinn tells Mental Floss. It’s like working a spontaneous muscle that builds with each flex, so, you’re incrementally better each time at seizing that witty opportunity.

MUZZLE YOUR INNER CRITIC.

Anyone who has been in the audience for an improv show has seen how rapidly performers respond to every situation. Improv teaches you to release your inhibitions and say what drops into your mind: “It’s about letting go of the need to judge ourselves,” Raffy explains.

One way to break free of your internal editor might be to imagine yourself on stage. In improv theater, the funniest responses occur in the spur of the moment, says Douglas Widick, an improv performer who trained with Chicago’s Upright Citizens Brigade. By not letting one’s conscience be one’s guide, actors can give into their “deepest fantasies” and say the things they wouldn’t say in real life.

IF YOU HAVE AN EXTRA SECOND, HONE YOUR ZINGER.

The German version of Diderot’s term is Treppenwitz, also meaning the wit of the stairs. But the German phrase has evolved to mean the opposite: Something said that, in retrospect, was a bad joke. When squaring up to your rival, the high you get from spearing your opponent with a deadly verbal thrust can be shadowed by its opposite, the low that comes from blurting out a lame response that lands like a lead balloon.

That's a feeling that freestyle rapper Lex Rush hopes to avoid. “In the heat of the battle, you just go for it,” she tells Mental Floss. She likens the fight to a “stream of consciousness” that unfolds into the mic, which leaves her with little control over what she’s projecting into the crowd.

It may help to mull over your retort if you have a few extra seconds—especially if you’re the extroverted type. “Introverts may walk out of a meeting thinking, ‘Why didn’t I say that?’ while extroverts think, ‘Why did I say that?’” Tosone, the improv coach, says. Thinking before you speak, even just briefly, will help you deploy a successful comeback.

And if it doesn’t go your way, iLLspokinn advises brushing off your missed opportunity rather than dwelling on your error: “It can be toxic to hold onto it."

THROW DIGITAL SHADE ACCORDING TO THE SAME RULES—BUT BE QUICK ABOUT IT.

Texting and social media, as opposed to face-to-face contact, give you a few extra minutes to think through your responses. That could improve the quality of your zinger. “We’re still human beings, even on screens. And we prefer something that is well-stated and has a fun energy and wit about it," Scott Talan, a social media expert at American University, tells Mental Floss.

But don't wait too long: Replies lose their punch after a day or so. “Speed is integral to wit, whether in real life or screen life,” Talan says. “If you’re trying to be witty and have that reputation, then speed will help you."

Some companies have excelled in deploying savage social media burns as marketing strategies, winning viral retweets and recognition. The Wendy’s Twitter account has become so well known for its sassy replies that users often provoke it. “Bet you won’t follow me @Wendys,” a user challenged. “You won that bet,” Wendy’s immediately shot back.

George Costanza learns that lesson when he uses his rehearsed comeback at the next meeting. After his colleague repeats his shrimp insult, George stands and proudly announces, “Oh yeah? Well, the jerk store called, and they’re running out of you!”

There’s silence—until his nemesis comes back with a lethal move: “What’s the difference? You’re their all-time best-seller.”

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