July 22, 2004


According to the American Heritage Dictionary, this is lagniappe:

NOUN: Chiefly Southern Louisiana & Mississippi 1. A small gift presented by a storeowner to a customer with the customer's purchase. 2. An extra or unexpected gift or benefit. Also called Regional boot2. See Regional Note at beignet.
ETYMOLOGY: Louisiana French, from American Spanish la ñapa, the gift : la, the (from Latin illa, feminine of ille, that, the; see al-1 in Appendix I) + ñapa (variant of yapa, gift, from Quechua, from yapay, to give more).
REGIONAL NOTE: Lagniappe derives from New World Spanish la ñapa, “the gift, ” and ultimately from Quechua yapay, “to give more.” The word came into the rich Creole dialect mixture of New Orleans and there acquired a French spelling. It is still used in the Gulf states, especially southern Louisiana, to denote a little bonus that a friendly shopkeeper might add to a purchase. By extension, it may mean “an extra or unexpected gift or benefit.”

According to Mark Twain (Life on the Mississippi, ch. 44), this is lagniappe:

We picked up one excellent word--a word worth traveling to New Orleans to get; a nice limber, expressive, handy word--'lagniappe.' They pronounce it lanny-yap. It is Spanish--so they said. We discovered it at the head of a column of odds and ends in the Picayune, the first day; heard twenty people use it the second; inquired what it meant the third; adopted it and got facility in swinging it the fourth. It has a restricted meaning, but I think the people spread it out a little when they choose. It is the equivalent of the thirteenth roll in a 'baker's dozen.' It is something thrown in, gratis, for good measure. The custom originated in the Spanish quarter of the city. When a child or a servant buys something in a shop--or even the mayor or the governor, for aught I know--he finishes the operation by saying--

'Give me something for lagniappe.'

The shopman always responds; gives the child a bit of licorice-root, gives the servant a cheap cigar or a spool of thread, gives the governor--I don't know what he gives the governor; support, likely.

When you are invited to drink, and this does occur now and then in New Orleans--and you say, 'What, again?--no, I've had enough;' the other party says, 'But just this one time more--this is for lagniappe.' When the beau perceives that he is stacking his compliments a trifle too high, and sees by the young lady's countenance that the edifice would have been better with the top compliment left off, he puts his 'I beg pardon--no harm intended,' into the briefer form of 'Oh, that's for lagniappe.' If the waiter in the restaurant stumbles and spills a gill of coffee down the back of your neck, he says 'For lagniappe, sah,' and gets you another cup without extra charge.

The Mark Twain reference was sent in by reader Jerry Kreuscher, to defend the plausibility of John Ciardi's etymology for "big apple" against Barry Popik's objection that "New Orleans is a French town, not a Spanish one". The AHD citation might be enough for a scholar, but Jerry threw in the Mark Twain quote for lagniappe.


Posted by Mark Liberman at July 22, 2004 07:56 AM