A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from November 05, 2007
Coonass (Coon-ass)

"Coonass” (or “coon-ass") is a term used to describe Cajuns. The term is used especially in Lousiana and in the parts of Texas with a strong Louisiana influence (such as Port Arthur). Port Arthur’s French Market served a “coonass sandwich” ins the 1960s and 1970s.

Some Cajuns used “coon"and “coonass” as terms of endearment, but it can be a strong insult when used by a non-Cajun. Some etymologists derive the term “coonass” from French slang; “coon” has long been in slang use for black Americans. “Coonass” is first recorded in print in the 1940s.

The Louisiana legislature has ruled that “coonass” is derogatory.


Wikipedia: Coonass
Coonass, or Coon-ass, is an epithet used in reference to a person of Cajun ethnicity.

Although some Cajuns use the word in regard to themselves, other Cajuns view the term as an ethnic slur against the Cajun people, especially when used by non-Cajuns. Socioeconomic factors appear to influence how Cajuns are likely to view the term: working-class Cajuns tend to regard the word “coonass” as a badge of ethnic pride; whereas middle- and upper-class Cajuns are more likely to regard the term as insulting or degrading, even when used by fellow Cajuns in reference to themselves.

Despite an effort by Cajun activists to stamp out the term, it can be found on T-shirts, hats, and bumperstickers throughout Acadiana, the 22-parish Cajun homeland in south Louisiana.

Etymology
The origins of “coonass” are obscure, and Cajuns have put forth several folk etymologies in an effort to explain the word’s origin. Some believe that the word refers to the Cajuns’ occasional habit of eating raccoons, or from the use of coonskin caps by the Cajuns’ ancestors while fighting in the Battle of New Orleans or in the Revolutionary War under Spanish colonial Governor Bernardo de Gálvez. Others attribute the term to the racial slur “coon,” used in reference to African-Americans — thus implying that Cajuns are lower than African-Americans in social standing. Yet others hold that the term derives from the shape of Cajun women after having children (like a raccoon viewed from above). To most people, “coonass” is more or less synonymous with “redneck cajun”.

The most popular folk etymology, however, stems from late Louisiana congressman and cultural activist James “Jimmy” Domengeaux, who maintained that “coonass” derived from the continental French word “connasse,” which he contended meant “stupid person” or “a prostitute without health papers” (dirty prostitute). He asserted that Frenchmen used the term in reference to Cajun soldiers serving in France during World War II, and that Anglo-American soldiers overheard the term, transformed it into “coonass,” and brought it back to the U.S. as a disparaging term for Cajuns. Citing Domengeaux’s etymology, Louisiana legislators passed a concurrent resolution in the 1980s condemning the word. (Contrary to popular belief, the lawmakers did not ban the term.)

Research has since disproved Domengeaux’s “conasse” etymology. Indeed, photographic evidence shows that Cajuns themselves used the term prior to the time in which “conasse” allegedly morphed into “coonass.” As a result, the origin of “coonass” remains uncertain.

Miscellanea
. Cajun governor of Louisiana Edwin Edwards often used the word “coonass” in reference to himself and other Cajuns.
In the early 1980s, a Cajun worker sued his former employer over repeated use of the word “coonass” in the workplace. The lawsuit led directly to the federal government’s recognition of the Cajuns as a national ethnic group as protected by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
. While campaigning for President in Louisiana, Ronald Reagan once suggested his own appointment as an “honorary Cajun coonass.”
. Although the Louisiana state legislature condemned the word’s use in 1981, the Louisiana Air National Guard’s acclaimed 159th Tactical Fighter Group referred to itself as the “Coonass Militia” until 1992.
. University of Alabama head football coach Nick Saban came under fire in early 2007 for using the term while speaking “off the record” to a reporter. Audio of the conversation was leaked onto the Internet before garnering mainstream media attention. 

Encyclopedia of Cajun Culture
“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

Google Books
Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang
by Jonathon Green
Sterling Publishing Company, Inc.
2006
Pg. 344:
coon-ass n. (also coonie)[1940s+] a Cajun person of French descent in Louisiana. [Fr. conasse, the female genitals; thus conassiere, si. for Fr. femelots, the gudgeon. The Cajuns known as coon-asses were fishers of gudgeon]

(Dictionary of American Regional English)
coonass n, also attrib Also coon, coonie [Folk-etym of Fr conasse female genitals (used insultingly); see Littre Dictionnaire conassiere used vulgarly for femelots gudgeon] chiefly LA, seTX orig. derog; now sometimes neutral or accepted
A person of Acadian French heritage; also transf: see quot 1980.
1962 Atwood Vocab. TX 73 seTX, For a person of Acadian French origin...In keeping with their tendency to avoid “bad words,” only five Texas informants gave Coonass, a term that I have personally heard many more times than that.
(...)
1970 Tarpley Blinky 257 ne TX, Familiarity with nicknames for the Acadian French of Louisiana depends upon the proximity of the informant’s home to Louisiana...Coonie and coon ass are common nicknames for Cajuns in Louisiana which are heard occassionally in Northeast Texas in the southeastern counties near the Louisiana line.
(...)
1980 DARE File eKY, Coonass: I first heard this term used by a corporal in my outfit from Lafayette, LA. This was in 1949. Coonass is still a pejorative for any low-life individual, especially negroes. In my stay in the army if a white soldier called another trooper a coonass, we made ready for a real fistfight.

(Historical Dictionary of American Slang)
coon-ass n. [perh. folk ety. of of F. conasse “vulva or vagina”, used as an insult] La & Tex. a Cajun.—usu. used derisively.—usu. considered vulgar.
1943 in M. Curtiss Letters Home 234: I have lots of laughs at the expense of and with a coon ass by the name of Clark.
1959 “D. Stagg” Glory Jumpers 26 [ref. to WWII]: Why that mean ol’ coon-ass is the barehand pisshouse champion of lower Mississip’.
1962 Atwood Vocab. 73: For a person Of Acadian French origin...In keeping with their tendency to avoid “bad wrods,” only five Texas informants gave Coonass, a term that I have personally heard many more times than that.
1972 Hannah Geronimo Rex 318: “Is she coon-ass?” This means Cajun in downhome Louisiana idiom.
1972 Jenkins Semi-Tough 125: I don’t see how you can be any kind of coon ass legend when you ain’t got no x‘s or u‘s in your name.
1976 Bumper sticker at Knoxville, Tn.: Coonasses Have More Fun Because They’ll Eat Anything.
1977 Bascom Frontiers of Folklore 127: The Texan called the Cajun a coonass, a common derogatory epithet for Cajuns.
1979 in Raban Old Glory 299: We had it figured for some kinds crazy coon-ass voice.
1979-82 Gwin Overboard 36: The coast-correct, if vulgar, term for the Acadian-French immigrants to Louisiana is coonass. Ibid. 37: Wait fo’ I teachin’ you coonass talk. Den you see I ain’ so dumb like I soun’, no. Ibid. 164: Not for nothing do they call rice “coonass ice cream.”
1983 Dormon Cajuns 87: The term “coonass,” originally a term of ethnic derision introduced by “outsiders” to apply to Cajuns...may have been a racial allusion suggesting a Cajun-black generic mixture.

Live Search Books
Gumbo Ya-Ya
by Louisiana Writers’ Project
Houghton Mifflin Company
1945
Pg. 188:
It is said every Cajun family has a member known as “Coon.”

18 April 1964, Appleton (WI) Post-Crescent, pg. B10, col. 7:
At least the Southern “coonass” has some integrity. 

26 April 1964, Appleton (WI) Post-Crescent, pg. B8, col. 3:
For these two men to call their fellow citizen of the south a “coonass” (and at the same time infer that 260,000 Wisconsinites are something even less) clearly reveals their intellectual “might.”

Time magazine
Fenstemaker for President
Friday, Aug. 21, 1964
William Brammer’s The Gay Place first appeared in 1961, and Lyndon Johnson was not amused by the politickin’, manipulatin’, connivin’ chief character who was all too plainly modeled after himself. He told Bill Brammer, 35—a sometime speechwriter for Johnson when he was a Senator—that the book was not worth reading. Now that the novel is out in paperback, the President might take another look at it. It is a lampoon on Texas politics, but the book’s L.B.J. character, Governor Arthur Fenstemaker, is warmly portrayed. Fenstemaker is a little cruder than the real-life Lyndon, maybe kindlier; and he stands head, shoulders and ten-gallon hat above all the other heroes of the current political fiction.

It takes an uncommonly big man to run a state like Texas, or “Coonass country,” as the Governor calls its rural hinterland.

20 December 1964, Dallas (TX) Morning News, “Large Louisiana Cajun Colony Gives Port Arthur French Atmosphere” by Frank X. Tolbert, section 1, pg. 29:
So I munched on an excellent hamburger, and asked the red-haired, lithsome young waitress why all the Louisiana style talk? She replied: “Don’t you know—Port Arthur is the Louisiana capital of Texas.” (She didn’t really say “Louisiana.” She said a slang phrase, indicating that Port Arthur is the coon’s posterior capital of this province.)

Google Books
From Blinky to Blue-John: A Word Atlas of Northeast Texas
by Fred A. Tarpley
University Press
1970
Pg. 257:
Coonie and coon ass are common nicknames for Cajuns in Louisiana which are heard occasionally in Northeast Texas in the southeastern counties near the ...

8 March 1970, Galveston (TX) Daily News, pg. 15B, col. 2:
Of Lousiana French extraction ... “You couldn’t say I’m a coonass because I don’t use that kind of language. I’m Cajun.”

29 May 1971, Dallas (TX) Morning News “Notes on Port Arthur’s Crawfish Festivities” by Frank X. Tolbert, section A, pg. 23:
A. J. JUDICE JR. and his sons operate The French Market at 3005 7th Street in Port Arthur,...
(...)
The No. 1 chef at The French Market is A.J.’s mother, Mrs. Lazeri Judice, known as “Larry” because some Texans have trouble putting the right accent on her Christian name. Mrs. Judice is the inventor of something called the “coon’s posterior hot dog” (to slightly edit the real title of the sandwich). This is a spicy mixture of crawfish tails, crabmeat, and shrimp cooked in boon companionship and then
stuffed into a loaf of French bread.

It’s a poem of a sandwich, I was told. 

22 May 1974, Ruston (LA) Daily Leader, “Cajun Is In But Coonass Is a No-No,”, pg. 12, col. 2:
BATON ROUGE, LA. (UPI)—It is permissible to call a Louisiana resident of French-Acadian descent a “Cajun” or an “Acadian,” but the designation “Coonass” is out, the Louisiana Legislature has decided.

The Senate voted 33-2 Tuesday to give final legislative approval to a resolution by Sen. Jesse Knowles of Lake Charles and Rep. M. J. LaBorde of Sulphur to make cajun or acadian the “only acceptable name” for Louisiana residents of French-Acadian descent. The resolution was approved unanimously by the House last week.

“I am not of Acadian extraction, but I can see why people would rather be called an Acadian rather than a coonass,” Knowles told the Senate.

“I think it is degrading. I remember some time ago you didn’t call a man a coonass without dodging. Now very high officials use it rather frequently.

Gov. Edwin Edwards, who is a cajun, frequently refers to himself as a “coonass.”

28 December 1975, Dallas (TX) Morning News, “Strange Creature from Sabine Lake” by Frank X. Tolbert, section A, pg. 41:
THE FRENCH MARKET, a seafood bazaar in Port Arthur, serves take-out Louisiana Cajun style food including a noble sandwich with crayfish, shrimp and crab meat between a whole loaf of French bread. This is called a “coon’s posterior hamburger.” That’s not exactly the title of the sandwich but it is as close as I can safely recite it in a family newspaper.
(...)
And the French Market cooks could compose a “coon’s posterior hamburger” by just adding crab meat to that of the hybrid. 

Google Books
You All Spoken Here
by Roy Wilder
New York, NY: Viking
1984
Pg. 160:
Coon-ass: A good ol’ boy in Cajun country. James Domengeaux, Chairman, Council for the Development of French in Louisiana, or Conseil pour le Development du Francaise en Louisiane, in a letter to the editor, Baton Rouge , July 1981, noted that the Louisiana legislature had recently condemned use of the term “coon-ass” in application to Acadians or Cajuns. He wrote further:

The Legislature concluded that this word came into use after World War II by the accidental commingling of sound with the French noun conasse. The word conasse is used in French to deisgnate an ignorant or stupid person, a prostitute without a health card, a man who does stupid things or a grossly stupid person...

The Acadians have suffered great indignities throughout history. We have virtually lost our language, our heritage and our culture. This tragedy, in part, has been self-inflicted. Can it be that this inferiority complex is continuing? Can this complex perhaps be the reason why certain of our prominent people, including Ron Guidry, a former governor and two Acadian Congressmen (who identified themselves as “Coon-ass Congressmen” while visiting the president) continue to use this offensive, degrading, linguistically illegitimate term?

If we are to save our language, culture and heritage, we must regain our pride and confidence in ourselves. The derriere du chaoui description cannot accomplish this.

5 December 1990, Pacific Stars and Stripes, pg. 12, col. 4:
Like that time 30 yeas ago when he asked the Cajun waitress if she was truly a Coon Ass, which, as you know, is a term of endearment as expressed by Texans for our bayou neighbors just across the border. “Yes, I am,” she said. “And do you know the difference between a Coon Ass and a jackass?” Bubba said he didn’t. “The Sabine River,” she said.

Posted by Barry Popik
Texas (Lone Star State Dictionary) • (1) Comments • Monday, November 05, 2007 • Permalink


I’m from Southeast Texas, the culture of which is a blend of Texan, Cajun, and we grew up calling anyone from Louisiana “coonasses,” which IS NOT derogatory except to the thin-skinned white Democrats holding office in Louisiana.  Real Cajun (which we pronounce Kay-Joon) folks don’t mind it at all, and if they ARE offended, we just kick their coonasses right back across the river where they belong.

Incidentally, the joke goes like this: “What separates a coonass from a horse’s ass?  The Sabine River.”

Another good Louisiana joke is this: “How do they separate the men from the boys in Louisiana?  With a crowbar.” LOL

Posted by Charles Miller  on  02/12  at  02:05 PM

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