GUILBEAU: Further examination of "Coonass"

I'm a Coonass and you can call me that. So is my dad, who is from Sunset, and he doesn't mind that term, either.

Now, at a serious occasion like a funeral or a formal dinner, I would prefer the word Cajun. At the Spanish Town Mardi Gras ball in Baton Rouge, Coonass is fine.

 

Cajun is the more tasteful term. In fact, it has become a brand name for a spicy type of cooking and music.

 

One can get a bad Cajun chicken sandwich at a chain restaurant in Chicago that the folks there will think is wonderful, but you're not going to get any Illinois dishes at even the worst restaurants in Louisiana ... like a Red Lobster.

 

Funny thing is, Cajun used to be a four-letter word, much like some think Coonass is now. It has to do with the origins of both words. But in truth, the origin of any word means little as far as its usage now. There are some bad words now that actually have more acceptable origins, but that doesn't mean one should use it.

 

The word "Bitch," for example, used to just mean a female dog.  And in fact, in ancient Christian Europe, "Bitch" was one of the most sacred titles of the Goddess Artemis-Diana, leader of hunting dogs. Cajun women are known as loyal, but call one the "B-word" and see what happens.

 

The bad thing about Coonass was, is, and always will be the last syllable, and no history lesson on the word can change that. That's why it's not acceptable in certain situations.

Former Saints quarterback Bobby "Cajun Cannon" Hebert of Cutoff may have said it best.

 

"A Coonass can call a Coonass a Coonass, but it might not always be a good idea to call a Coonass a Coonass if you're not a Coonass yourself," he said.

 

Which brings us to the term "Hillbilly."

 

Alabama coach Nick Saban, who while LSU's coach often referred to himself as a "Hillbilly from West Virginia," recently used the word "Coonass" in telling a harmless story to a few reporters from South Florida on the day he was hired at Alabama back on Jan. 3.

 

Saban didn't actually say "off the record," but if you hear the tape, it's obvious something is about to be said that shouldn't be (in good taste) used. One of the reporters was from the Miami Herald, which made several mistakes in covering Saban's exit from LSU and his exit from the Dolphins, and he gave the tape to a radio station. And all hell broke loose.

 

All Saban did was re-tell a story he was told by LSU Board of Supervisors member Charlie Weems, who is a mentally balanced person and has thus remained good friends with Saban regardless of where Saban works and regardless of the fact that Saban is recruiting Louisiana and prior commitments as coaches everywhere do. Remember, Les Miles recruits prior commitments and players from Alabama.

 

Weems was walking around New Orleans on the morning of the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 3 wearing an LSU shirt. A construction worker noticed Weems shirt, and with a Cajun accent told Weems that Saban going to Alabama is like your best friend sleeping with your wife.

 

Weems later shared that story with Saban, and Saban shared it with the reporters from South Florida. When stories are re-told they change a little bit, and Saban used ditch digger for construction worker. But if you listen to the tape, he's just telling a story he didn't think would be pirated to radio stations. He doesn't mean anything by it.

 

And Saban is more of a Coonass himself than you might think.

 

Saban brought food for the media to his press luncheon once. It was from West Virginia so it wasn't great, but Cajuns often bring food for others.

 

After his first prolonged recruiting trek around the state as LSU's coach, he mentioned that some of the rural settings and homes reminded him of his small-town life growing up in West Virginia. He also reportedly pigged out at Devery Henderson's home in Opelousas.

 

Saban is also a very good story teller, which is Cajun patent. His story of how he landed Andre Rison at Michigan State is a classic. His Coonass story is also humorously told, and there have been worse attempts at a Cajun accent. See the movie "The Big Easy."

 

Saban also owns a dog, which is very Cajun or Coonass. Lizzie is a Boxer who, during the SEC Media Days in Birmingham, Ala., in 2004, escaped the Saban family's hotel room when the maid entered, followed her master's scent to the elevator, descended the elevator and walked right into the auditorium where Saban had just spoke.

 

Asked if Boxers were one of the smarter breeds, Saban delivered one of the best quotes of his career as quickly as a Coonass: "If you call eating her own (expletive deleted) smart, then yeah."

 

As I wrote it down laughing, Saban said, "Don't use that." I'm sure a Miami reporter would have run with it or sold it to a radio station.

 

During a recent interview with Louisiana reporters before the LSU-Alabama basketball game in Tuscaloosa, Saban was told that the Louisiana reporter who helped set up the interview session could not make it because he had to take his dog to the vet for an emergency visit.

 

"How's Guilbeau's dog?" Saban asked after the interview. You see, he is human, and he pronounced that Coonass name correctly.

 

Isabelle's fine, Coach. Thanks. But she's upset about all this business about Coonass and Saban.

 

Whoever at Alabama decided to release a statement by Saban about the Coonass Caper made the real mistake.

 

Reader David Maxwell said it best in a recent e-mail:

 

"I travel throughout the state on my job," he wrote. "The many Cajuns I know are snickering about the latest attack on Saban.  They proudly refer to themselves as 'Coonasses.' Everywhere throughout the Acadiana and bayou region you see Coonass T-shirts and bumper stickers proclaiming their pride.  They have taken a word intended to be an insult and turned it into one of pride and accomplishment.

 

"Attack Saban for the many things he deserves attacking for.  We need to show the class that he has not and let this one drop."

 

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Glenn Guilbeau covers LSU and the Southeastern Conference for Gannett News Service. Read him at www.LSUbeat.com  or in the Shreveport Times, Monroe News-Star, Alexandria Daily Town Talk, Lafayette Advertiser, Opelousas Daily World and occasionally USA Today. You can contact him at gguilbeau@gannett.com.


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