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Word Tasting Note: "Lagniappe"

A baker's dozen of reasons I like the word lagniappe:

1. Who doesn't like a little something extra, such as a tip or a bonus or that little extra baked good that used to sometimes be slipped into my bag at Pop's Bakery? That's what lagniappe means, after all.

2. It's borrowed from French, which borrowed it from Spanish, which borrowed it from Quechua, which is what the Incas spoke.

3. The Spanish version is la ñapa, which makes me think of Napa, which is a nice place in California where they make wine. (I do not care about NAPA Auto Parts.)

4. That tilde on the ñ looks like a toupée, or a spoiler on a car. Or a scowling or skeptical eyebrow.

5. The Quechua source word is yapa, meaning "that which is added", and I think it's a nice, happy-looking word, even if it does make me think of little dogs.

6. The /njap/ sound makes me think of the "nyup nyup" sound the Ewoks make in Return of the Jedi.

7. The sound of the word makes me think of "line ya up on the lawn, yup, for a long nap." And who doesn't want to be lined up on a lawn for a long nap? It sounds lovely to me. Provided the weather is warm.

8. Looking at it makes me think of apple lasagna.

9. For whatever reason, I associate it with Louisiana, and especially New Orleans. I have never been there. But it seems like a term that should be used in stores and restaurants there, and to refer to what you give the dealer at your baccarat table on the riverboat.

10. Lagniappe doesn't easily lend itself to a fake acronymic etymology, unlike tip, which has the inane and false supposed origin to improve performance being passed around like a doobie at a high-school beach party.

11. It has nine letters but only five phonemes — or six, depending on whether you say it as "lan yap" or as "la ñap" (a palatalized n is really a single sound just as a diphthong is). And you know how classy "silent letters" seem.

12. It can anagram to pagan pile or leaping pa or apple gain. Please write a 250-word story involving these three things, due on Friday. We will read them in class.

13. Constance Hale, @sinandsyntax, recently tweeted, "I don't know why I love the word lagniappe, but I do. Maybe I just like freebies?" And if it's good enough for Constance Hale, it should be good enough for anyone.


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James Harbeck is an editor by day, a designer by night, and a writer by Jove! His love of wine tasting crossed with his love of language to spawn word tasting notes, which appear daily at his blog, Sesquiotica. Buy his just-released book of salacious verse on English usage, Songs of Love and Grammar, on Lulu.com. Click here to read more articles by James Harbeck.

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Comments from our users:

Wednesday December 26th 2012, 4:30 AM
Comment by: Victor G. (Vancouver Canada)
Great column. It would be interesting to do another on the many words that have come into English from indigenous languages of the Americas.
Wednesday December 26th 2012, 4:43 PM
Comment by: Kathleen P.Top 10 Speller
Delightful article. I so love getting such mileage, history and fun out of a word. But, "line ya up on the lawn, yup, for a long nap." And who doesn't want to be lined up on a lawn for a long nap? It sounds lovely to me." Not so lovely to me -- being lined up on a lawn for a "long nap" makes me think of being planted in the cemetery. But maybe an apple (gain) a day will stave that off. When I do go, I'm okay with landing in a pagan pile - the likely more fun folks :-)
Wednesday December 26th 2012, 11:49 PM
Comment by: Steve V.
That was fun! Who knew?
Tuesday January 1st 2013, 5:54 PM
Comment by: SmEbbers (CA)
"For whatever reason, I associate it with Louisiana, and especially New Orleans. I have never been there. But it seems like a term that should be used in stores and restaurants there, and to refer to what you give the dealer at your baccarat table on the riverboat."

Yes, the first time I heard this word was in New Orleans. My hotel offered "appetizers on the house" at 5pm each day. I stayed all week, and one day they advertised that "lagniappe" would be served. Being far from home, I had no idea what that was. If memory serves, the chef said it was, "A little of this, a little of that, whatever extra goodies I have available" (we call it a smörgåsbord up north.

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