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Cajun Culture
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"Coonass"

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.

Sources: Ancelet, "On Coonass" [unpublished essay]; Domengeaux, "Native-Born Acadians and the Equality Ideal"; Robertson, Robertson’s Oil Slang; Bernard, The Cajuns.

 

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This page last edited on 11/18/00 05:42 PM

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