Swapping Stories: Folktales from Louisiana - Glossary

Aetiological Tale: A story that explains the origins of current phenomena by seriously or fancifully answering the question, "Why?" Examples include religious accounts of the creation of the world and fictional explanations of how the leopard got its spots.

Animal Tale: A fantasy story populated principally or entirely by animals that play stereotyped roles representing certain human traits. In Louisiana, most European-American animal tales take the form of fables, while most African-American and Native American animal tales feature tricksters such as Brer Rabbit.

Bouki: Derived from the Wolof world for "Hyena." Character common in Louisiana French animal tales; he usually appears as the dupe of the trickster Lapin [Rabbit].

Cajun: Distinctive South Louisiana French culture which has developed from the blending of Acadian settlers from Nova Scotia in the late 1700s with other immigrants such as other French coming from France and Haiti, Spanish, British, and Germans in the late 1880s.

Creole: Term used differently in several contexts in Louisiana. In a broad sense, it can refer to the blending of French, Spanish, and sometimes African/Caribbean cultures in colonial Louisiana. Can specifically refer to the French-Spanish or the French-Spanish-African cultures of New Orleans. Black Creole refers to the African-French culture in rural southwest Louisiana. The Creole language is a blending of French and African-Caribbean influences and is spoken predominately by black Creoles.

Fable: A tale, often featuring animal characters, told to illustrate a specific moral point, and often ending with a proverb reinforcing that point.

Fairy tale: See Magic tale.

Folk Storyteller: Storyteller who tells stories learned from within his or her own folk traditions.

Folklife: Traditions passed down informally over time within a group. The tradition was not learned by formal education or from popular culture through magazines, books, or the media. Folklife includes folklore, folk art, beliefs and rituals, crafts, music, and occupations. The group may be a family, neighborhood, ethnic occupational, or religious group, or a region. See the Louisiana Folklife Program website for more information, as well as the virtual exhibit The Creole State: An Exhibition of Louisiana Folklife.

Folklore: Oral traditions passed down informally over time within a group.

Folklorist: Interdisciplinary professional researcher of folk traditions. Usually has a degree in folklore, anthropology, English with a concentration in folklore, or ethnomusicology. May teach in a university, work in a public agency or not-for-profit organization, or work as an independent contractor.

Folktale: Traditional stories.

Genre: Type.

Joke: Humorous tales that can be very short or very long. The older, longer humorous narratives, called Schwänke by folklorists, present stereotyped characters who act out common conflicts of neighborhood life. One type is the Numskull joke which concern the stupid person.

Joke cycle: Series of related jokes.

Koasati: Native American tribe located in Elton, Louisiana. Also known as Coushatta.

Lapin: French for "Rabbit," a stock character of Creole and Cajun animal tales, whose personality and adventures resemble those of the African American trickster figure, Brer Rabbit.

Legend: A story in which belief is an issue, often presented as part of a debate over "what really happened." The teller and audience may or may not believe a given legend, but the events in the tale are presented as if true. Many legends [often called belief legends] debate the existence of supernatural beings and forces: such legends may feature, for example, ghosts, werewolves, or angels. Many legends [often called historical legends] focus on and debate the deeds of famous (or infamous) figures such as Jean Lafitte and Bonnie and Clyde. Some tales, such as those concerning the ghosts said to guard treasure buried by Jean Lafitte, blend elements of both belief and historical legends.

Loup Garou: Supernatural creature in south Louisiana described as either an evil-doer or a vaguely-defined, shadowy creature. It literally means "werewolf," but differs from the Hollywood image.

Magic Tale: Tales centering on growing up experiences in which a girl or boy leaves home, enters the wilderness, and encounters such frightening figures as monsters, giants, and witches. Sometimes aided by magic, sometimes armed only with his or her wits or virtue, the child overcomes these formidable fores, growing up in the process.

Märchen: See Magic Tale.

Myth: Stories that explain the origins of current phenomena. They may be believed literally or figuratively, or as metaphorically moral truths about the workings of the world.

Narrative: Story.

Personal Experience Story: An autobiographical accounts of memorable events; frequently, an account of the "good old days." Most personal experience narratives become--intentionally or otherwise--at least slightly idealized or fictionalized to express more clearly a community's evolving notions of what is important about its past. Most "personal" experience narratives are thus also community stories, statements about the lifestyle of the teller's group.

Tall Tale: A fictional narrative, presented as a true account and told in the first person, that begins by describing a common situation, but gradually adds more and more unusual features until it pushes up to and beyond the limits of belief. The tellers of tall tales tend to be males; the most common tall tales center on a single individual's encounter with the wonders of nature, such as giant fish or talking dogs.

Trickster tale: A tale (most often, an animal tale) in which the main character (e.g., Brer Rabbit) constantly tries to outsmart or outwit other characters (e.g., Brer Bear, Brer Fox).

Swapping Stories - Online Resources