Editor’s Note: The following series “Language and Culture in New Orleans” is a week-long series curated by Lucien Mensah as part of the Digital Research Internship Program in partnership with ViaNolaVie. The DRI Program is a Newcomb Institute technology initiative for undergraduate students combining technology skillsets, feminist leadership, and the digital humanities.
This curation of articles was created to recognize the deep ties with AAVE and Black culture into the mainstream and point out the linguistic influence within New Orleans and bring recognition to it. AAVE, or African American Vernacular English, is a dialect of American English molded by Black people’s experiences during slavery, as various communities of Africans were forced to the Americas. As AAVE terms become popular online, many non-black people use and appropriate these terms with little knowledge about where they are from or what they mean to their native speech community. As each article this week is presented, readers are encouraged to think about their vocabulary and whether AAVE is actively used – and are you aware of the words you’re using that might be “slang”?
This article discusses the phrase “makin’ groceries” used among New Orleanians. Native New Orleanians understand this phrase, but foreigners do not. The influence and usage of this phrase are explored within this article, which was originally published on NolaVie on January 19th, 2021.
The phrase “makin’ groceries” is most common and known in New Orleans. Makin’ groceries simply means grocery shopping. The phrase is second nature for New Orleanians. You would really have to be familiar with New Orleans and its people to understand the unique language.
Take this scene: Ebony calls her friend Jazz to see what she was up to. Jazz responds back by saying she was makin’ groceries. Ebony realizes she is out of milk and asks Jazz to pick her up some.
In France, when people would go to get groceries, they would have to make a list and give it to the grocer. The grocer would then collect everything the person needed and hand it to them. This used to be in New Orleans also hundreds of years ago. People called this makin’ groceries as well. The phrase is still taught to children today. This saying has been around so long because it makes New Orleans different, and New Orleans loves to be different.
Out of towners have no idea what this means! Here’s a conversation between Alabamians and I.
Friend: Hey Shanira
Shanira: Hello, I have a question for you.
Friend: I’m all ears.
Shanira: What do you first think of when I say makin’ groceries.
Friend: Making?? Groceries??? What in the world? I’m guessing making food?
Friend: Ohhhhhh, they’re probably cooking the groceries.
This piece is part of the “Language Lab” series where Bard Early College (BECNO) students investigate the etymology of modern phrases to identify their roots. This series is part of the composition course taught by Dr. Jessie Morgan-Owens.