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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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Why Does Japan Have Blue Traffic Lights Instead of Green?
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In Japan, a game of Red Light, Green Light might be more like Red Light, Blue Light. Because of a linguistic quirk of Japanese, some of the country’s street lights feature "go" signals that are distinctly more blue than green, as Atlas Obscura alerts us, making the country an outlier in international road design.

Different languages refer to colors very differently. For instance, some languages, like Russian and Japanese, have different words for light blue and dark blue, treating them as two distinct colors. And some languages lump colors English speakers see as distinct together under the same umbrella, using the same word for green and blue, for instance. Again, Japanese is one of those languages. While there are now separate terms for blue and green, in Old Japanese, the word ao was used for both colors—what English-speaking scholars label grue.

In modern Japanese, ao refers to blue, while the word midori means green, but you can see the overlap culturally, including at traffic intersections. Officially, the “go” color in traffic lights is called ao, even though traffic lights used to be a regular green, Reader’s Digest says. This posed a linguistic conundrum: How can bureaucrats call the lights ao in official literature if they're really midori?

Since it was written in 1968, dozens of countries around the world have signed the Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals, an international treaty aimed at standardizing traffic signals. Japan hasn’t signed (neither has the U.S.), but the country has nevertheless moved toward more internationalized signals.

They ended up splitting the difference between international law and linguists' outcry. Since 1973, the Japanese government has decreed that traffic lights should be green—but that they be the bluest shade of green. They can still qualify as ao, but they're also green enough to mean go to foreigners. But, as Atlas Obscura points out, when drivers take their licensing test, they have to go through a vision test that includes the ability to distinguish between red, yellow, and blue—not green.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Using Words Like 'Really' A Lot Could Mean You're Really Stressed
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Are you feeling really exhausted? Or have you noticed that it's incredibly hot out today?

If you recognize the adverbs above as appearing frequently in your own speech, it could be a sign that you're stressed. At least, those are the findings in a recent study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. As Nature reports, researchers found that peppering our speech with "function words" is a pretty accurate indicator of our anxiety levels.

Function words differ from verbs and nouns in that they don't mean much on their own and mostly serve to clarify the words around them. Included in this group are pronouns, adverbs, and adjectives. A team of American researchers suspected that people use these words more frequently when they're stressed, so to test their hypothesis, they hooked up recording devices to 143 volunteers.

After transcribing and analyzing audio clips recorded periodically over the course of two days, the researchers compared subjects' speech patterns to the gene expressions of certain white blood cells in their bodies that are susceptible to stress. They found that people exhibiting the biological symptoms of stress talked less overall, but when they did speak up they were more likely to use words like really and incredibly.

They also preferred the pronouns me and mine over them and their, possibly indicating their self-absorbed world view when under pressure. The appearance of these trends predicted stress in the volunteers' genes more accurately than their own self-assessments. As study co-author Matthias Mehl told Nature, this could be a reason for doctors to "listen beyond the content" of the symptoms their patients report and pay greater attention "to the way it is expressed" in the future.

One reason function words are such a great indicator of stress is that we often insert them into our sentences unconsciously, while our choice of words like nouns and verbs is more deliberate. Anxiety isn't the only thing that influences our speech without us realizing it. Hearing ideas we agree with also has a way of shaping our syntax.

[h/t Nature]

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