May 232012

The special offered at an Uptown eatery, with creative spelling and use of quotations. (photo by Jean-Paul Villere for

Jean-Paul Villere

I have no problem with the language skills of the average New Orleanian.  If anything I fully embrace it, however I have to confess it often leaves me scratching my head if only because more often than not the word, syntax, and otherwise grammar choices made seem to be born out of sheer whim rather than deference to text.  Mostly I might chalk this up to New Orleanians’ frequent disregard for accuracy (and this might include driving habits, but another column for another day).  Generally, we all understand one another well enough, so what’s the difference, right?  For example, do quotation marks “really” have to be placed appropriately?  If it’s me, then “yes,” they do; but if it’s your favorite po-boy spot’s menu “board” detailing specials, “then” no, not so much.

Despite a pre-printed banner properly spelling the offering, the Popeyes on Magazine executes the specials board its own way. (photo by Jean-Paul Villere for

Years ago there was a very forgettable cinematic nugget called “Joe’s Apartment.”  It was about this guy Joe and his apartment full of roaches and the hoots and hijinks that ensued therein.  The title was easy enough, right?  Joe.  And his apartment.  Done.  But growing up listening to my local relatives recount the title I went nuts.  No, I didn’t grow up in New Orleans, and yes, I can be a little type A, but c’mon. It’s “Joe’s Apartment” – not “Joe’s Place.”  On and on, I kept hearing about how the roaches were so funny, and I had to go see “Joe’s Place.”  Joe’s.  Place.  Argle bargle already.  But this is exactly what I’m talking about.  Today, there stands a pet boarding and grooming spot on Freret and Cadiz called Zeus’ Place that wisely embraces this notion in full.  It could be called, Zeus’ Dog Boarding & Grooming but clearly every local would just end up calling it Zeus’ Place.  My only quibble is that the name is actually grammatically correct, and if it were penned by a local it would certainly read Zeus’s Place or Zeuses, maybe even Zeus’s “Place.”  Hard to say for sure, though I think “all” may be acceptable.

Enter the iPhone.  And Siri.  I’m watching these ads on TV now with Sam Jackson asking about organic mushrooms for risotto and Zooey Deschanel wanting tomato soup delivered, and all I can think about is what if Dr. John was in one of these ads?  Or Frank Davis?  Or even better, my late maternal grandmother, Louise?  What I wouldn’t give to have Louise ask Siri “Where can I find some alligator pears?”  Or “Where’s the zink and terlet at?”  And ultimately in a fit of frustration ending each exchange with “Siri, you ain’t nuthin’ but a tutch-da-do.”  At which time I would hope a quick poof of light smoke wafting from the device might signal its demise.  I know this would never happen – or could never happen – but it ain’t too late to get Dr. John in on the action.  And I think I could settle for him just saying something like “Wwweeelllll, I wanna tell you about Ooh Poo Pah Doo.”

Think about it.  If the rest of the world spoke or wrote English the way English translates here, there would be way too many – or boo koo (read: beaucoup) – “Where y’at”s, “How’s yer mom n’ them”s, and “Y’heard me”s fired off, like a caucophomous St Joseph’s Day alter squared.  Don’t even get me going on “Who dat?”  And queue the good Doctor: “Siirrii, who dat say dey goin’ beat dem Saints?”

Jean-Paul Villere is the owner of Villere Realty and the Du Mois gallery on Freret Street and father of four girls. In addition to his Wednesday column at, he also writes an occasional real-estate blog at and shares his family’s adventures via pedicab on Facebook and Twitter.

  9 Responses to “Jean-Paul Villere: Navigating “Nola-ese””

  1. That my friend is why Siri is a beta. Apple knows that it is impossible to program in every single accent and colloquialism in existence so Siri is designed to learn. If enough people use zink and terlet Siri will learn they mean sink and toilet and respond accordingly. Apple broke from their norm by releasing an ‘unfinished’ product because they realized the value of millions of people using it in their own way.

  2. Great article, JP. I absolutely love the indiscriminate use of quotation marks in New Orleans signage. So much fun!

  3. Actually either Zeus’s Place or Zeus’ Place is correct. If you google the issue, there is no consensus on whether an apostrophe s should be placed after singular nouns that ends in s. I was taught in elementary school that it would be Zeus’s Place (but as I said there doesn’t seem to be agreement on this issue).

  4. As Steve Martin used to say, “WELL, ex-CUUUUUUUSE MEE!” (Of course that was in the day when he was still “funny”.) {As you can see, I like all kinds of little speciality parenthesis,] Oh, but about the “quotes” quotes: The most annoying practice, going on for some years, is the person one is talking to and he/she emphasizes some word with the “finger quotes” business. Or, when describing a telephone conversation, the same person will place his/her thumb and little finger to the face. (I can’t even DO that.) In “Die Hard-With a Vengence”, Samuel L. Jackson’s character, Zeus, presents a problem whenever someone calls his name, like “Hey, ZEUS!” “Dammit, I ain’t a Hispanic, man. My name is ZEUS, not JESUS!”
    Anyhow, thanks for the post. It really meant a “lot” to me.

  5. It’s just spreading. On some sportscase i saw playing at rumhouse last night, I saw a segment entitled “WHERE THEY BORN AT?” Wish I was kidding.

  6. The signs at Walgreens will make your head explode.

  7. If you need a shock concerning the lack of correct usage, read some of the posts on the WWLTV web. Appalling! “There” and “their” have no meaning.

  8. I remember Joe’s Apartment. Good stuff.

  9. I like the people who randomly Capitalize words for No earthly reason, but that’s not just a New Orleans thing.

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