Contact with the French in Louisiana and along the Canadian border, and with the Spanish in Texas and further West, brought many more new words. Borrowed from the Canadian French during the colonial days are words such as prairie, batteau, portage and rapids. Added to these French contributions are words like bayou, picayune, levee, chute, butte, crevasse and lagniappe. Lagniappe means a little something extra as in a small gift, especially to a customer. The word came into the rich Creole dialect mixture of New Orleans and there received its 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. This has been extended to mean in a broader sense "an extra or unexpected gift or benefit." It's when a customer might receive thirteen doughnuts, a baker's dozen or a restaurant proprietor brings an extra dessert and doesn't charge for it. It creates goodwill, friendship and most importantly, return business.

Mark Twain writes in Life on the Mississippi (1883) "We picked up a word worth traveling to New Orleans to get; a nice, limber, expressive, handy word -- lagniappe."

Pronounced lahn-'yahp this word entered American English directly from the language of the Acadians or Cajuns of Louisiana. It has its origins in Creole from American Spanish là napa, "the gift, tip" from la "the," derived from Latin illa, feminine of ille "that," originally "yonder." The same pronoun is also the origin of French "le" and "la" which also mean "the." This word traces its root to *al- where is discovered in the word alter "other" at the base of English "altercation," "alter ego," and "alternate." In English it emerged as "else." The noun ñapa is even more interesting. It comes from yapa, which means "gift" in the South American Indian language, Quechua, from the verb yapay "to give more."


The American Heritage® Dictionary:

How ta tawk rite :

La*gniappe (?), La*gnappe" (?) , n. [Etym. uncertain.]

In Louisiana, a trifling present given to customers by tradesmen; a gratuity.

Lagniappe . . .is something thrown in, gratis, for good measure.
Mark Twain.


© Webster 1913

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