The Root Of Toot-toot.

Here‘s a fun three-decade-old piece by Jack Hurst about the name of a long-forgotten minor hit:

Country music’s novelty hit of the year, “My Toot-Toot,” doubtless owes much of its popularity to the obvious question: What is a toot-toot? […]

In French-influenced Cajun Louisiana, where the 47-year-old Simien lives, toot is a corruption of the Gallic word tout, meaning ‘all.’

“From the old Cajun (language), a toot-toot is something special, maybe your best girlfriend, your all, your everything,” Simien says. “I got the idea from hearing my grandmother and the older folks use the word quite a bit. Especially when they saw a newborn baby. They`d pinch the baby on the cheek and say, ‘Isn’t she — or isn’t he — a sweet little toot-toot?’

“And I used to hear older guys call their girlfriends toot-toot. Plus there was an old song — I never really heard the record, but I used to hear different bands play at house parties when I was a kid, and they would sing . . . several songs, really, and put that word in there: ‘Mon chere toot-toot.'” […]

The song’s title and Simien’s widely varied labors in its creation aren`t all “My Toot-Toot” has going for it. It also rides an apparently growing ripple of national urban interest in an accordion-based Louisiana brand of music called “zydeco.” […] Expect, therefore, to hear more in the next few months about zydeco, a term currently about as well known in the mainstream as “toot-toot.” The word zydeco is derived from the French words les haricots, which means green beans.

“Which doesn’t make any sense,” Simien says with a chuckle.

“But we call a dance or a party a zydeco. There was an old record a long time ago called ‘Zydeco Est Pas Sale’ that meant ‘no salt in the beans’ and became very popular. Some people didn’t know the whole title of it, so they just asked radio stations to ‘play that zydeco record,’ and they’d go to the dances and ask for the same thing. That`s how zydeco music got to be called that — or at least that’s my view of it.”

I could have sworn we’d covered zydeco before, but apparently not. Thanks, Eric!

Comments

  1. The zydeco discussion was in the comments here.

  2. I can see how zydeco gets a leading [z]. I can’t see how the rest of it comes from haricots. On a quick check, dictionaries seem dubious about the derivation. Is there interference from some other language?

    Come to that, I can see how tout gets pronounced ‘toot’. But that story about “your everything” sounds more of a folk etymology. Again is there something more going on linguistically?

  3. Hat, it’s because you use your local search instead of Google. BTW, Google Chrome (which is now the majority browser) is going to start switching http-only pages (which includes all of yours) as “INSECURE!!!”. You might want to ping Songdog about that.

    As for (z)ydeco for haricots, I think the /ar/ > /aɪd/ change is because French tapped /r/ sounds like American flapped /d/, and English /aɪ/ is pronounced [a] in those parts.

  4. marie-lucie says:

    JC: As for (z)ydeco for haricots, I think the /ar/ > /aɪd/ change is because French tapped /r/ sounds like American flapped /d/, and English /aɪ/ is pronounced [a] in those parts.

    Exactly. The French “tapped /r/” is no longer standard, but was so when French speakers moved to Louisiana.

  5. BTW, Google Chrome (which is now the majority browser) is going to start switching http-only pages (which includes all of yours) as “INSECURE!!!”. You might want to ping Songdog about that.

    Thanks, will do.

  6. I’ve also seen the spelling zodeco. I’ve no idea about its distribution, and I’ve no idea how the first o is pronounced.

  7. marie-lucie says:

    Y: Perhaps like aw (American English).

  8. No, I think it represents /a/ as in pop /pap/. Zydeco /zaidəkow/ would become /zad-/ with the usual Southern reduction of diphthongs.

  9. Probably /ˈzɑdɛko/, with the LOT=PALM merger.

    Update: Given the provenance of the word, I think the pronunciation with [a] came first, and was understood by non-Southerners as /aɪ/.

  10. How does the LOT=PALM merger fit in here?

  11. I mean, if “zodeco” isn’t from zydeco /zaidəkow/ as I hypothesized, it’s direct from French /(le)zariko/, with no PALM anywhere in sight.

  12. Every time I see the title of this post, I read “ROOT-TOOT.”

  13. Tutti Frutti, all rootie!

  14. J.W. Brewer says:

    Here’s a perhaps more harmonically complex musical rival to My Toot-Toot (entitled “Little Rootie Tootie”): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t1F_d-PrFiw

  15. People with the LOT-PALM merger (most Americans), when trying to write a hitherto unwritten word with /a/ or /ɑ/ in it such as haricots, often use the spelling “o” provided a consonant follows, since they pronounce LOT words with /ɑ/. If they also have the TAR-TIRE merger, they may use “y” or some other representation of /aɪ/ instead. The latter spelling, though representing a less widespread pronunciation, has prevailed.

  16. Ah, that makes sense.

  17. Wouldn’t an anglophone pronounce the o of zodeco as a tense [oʊ], as in rodeo or polio?

  18. One little detail: /(le)zariko/ is a non-standard realization of “Les haricots”: the standard realization being (le)ariko/. (“haricot” has an aspirate H: hence “le haricot”, not *”l’haricot”). This non-standard form is certainly not unique to Cajun French: I have heard this non-standard form used by many francophone Canadians.

    Incidentally, Marie-Lucie, tapped R is still widespread if not dominant as a realization of the rhotic phoneme in Cajun French)

  19. Y: Normally yes, but not always: Spotify is /spɑtɪfaɪ/, though admittedly there is a morpheme boundary there.

  20. marie-lucie says:

    Etienne: tapped R is still widespread if not dominant as a realization of the rhotic phoneme in Cajun French)

    That’s what I would expect!

    haricot(s)

    Even though the “standard” pronunciation considers the mute h an obstacle to liaison with the previous word, it seems that the earliest recorded pronunciations started with the vowel, thus alicot the name of a old dish including white beans.

  21. > Even though the “standard” pronunciation considers the mute h an obstacle to liaison with the previous word

    Do you mean the aspirated h? Although both aspirated and mute h’s are mute, of course :p

    At first I just thought Louisiana French had different liaison rules, but then I looked up haricot on Wiktionary:

    > (Louisiana) IPA(key): /za.ɾi.ko/

    Wow, can anybody confirm this? So it’s not just a play on words, intended or otherwise. It’s an actual napron/apron thing. I did read somewhere that some colonial French dialects had this kind of reanalysis, but didn’t realize that was the case here before it was spelled out to me. To my defense,

    > The word zydeco is derived from the French words les haricots

    is quite misleading if that is true.

  22. marie-lucie says:

    dainichi: mute h : I meant “aspirated”, but the word is misleading too. In current Standard French there is no “aspiration” (as there still is in some regional variants), but “h” still behaves as a consonant as it prevents liaison. “Unaspirated h” is just ignored.

    The word zydeco is derived from the French words les haricots

    It should say : The word zydeco is derived from the local pronunciation of the French words les haricots (ignoring the h) and the English interpretation of local French “tapped r” as “d”. Plus the Southern English interpretation of the Standard diphthong “ay” as “ah”, and the reverse interpretation of French “a” in this word as “ay”, written y.

  23. Zariko is Louisiana Creole French rather than the Louisiana variety of French.

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