The Cajun French heritage lives in its native as well as its adopted languages.

The Cajun French heritage lives in its native as well as its adopted languages.

Occasionally, this blog takes on linguistic topics. (That should be expected, given the blogger’s training and orientation to this fascinating discipline.) This post recalls one of countless rich Cajun Vernacular English (CVE) usages that fascinated me so much when I started regularly hearing these curious expressions from the Cajun friends and family I fell in with by marriage.

Today’s lesson: to be lonesome for someone or something.

Like many CVE expressions, the idiom comes from a literal translation of the French equivalent, ironically meaning that the same expression in French bears literal meaning rather than idiomatic. In French, if you miss someone, you would say reflexively, “Je m’ennui de toi.” (I lonesome myself for you.) Translated into Englsih, variations of the expression come out like this:

A loved one might greet you after a period of absence, “Mais, chere, I’ve been lonesome for you.”
Or invite you to come over for a visit: “Mais,chere, come see us. We’re lonesome!”
Or express sadness over someone’s passing: “Daddy died last year. Mais, we’re lonesome for him, yeah.”

In English, of course, we use the verb miss to express the same meaning.

I miss you. Do you miss me?

This verb miss is the same verb as we use to say “Swing and miss” as at a baseball or “miss the bus” as arriving too late at the bus stop. Miss is clear enough, but how much richer is “I’m lonesome for you. Are you lonesome for me?” This is one of the rare instances where I prefer the passive voice to active voice.

Why? Because the Cajun idiom employs an evocative word. Lonesome is, after all, an emotion or a state of mind. It’s a word that evokes pathos. Miss is a nondescript, mundane verb that evokes nothing. To make it emotional, we have to add luggage to the sentence, like “I miss you so much that my heart aches” or “I miss you more than I could ever describe.” Ugh. Wordy, but still not very evocative.

The conclusion after the comparison of the Cajun to the English: If fewer words well-chosen are more effective than more words not-so-well chosen, we should unquestionably prefer the Cajun!

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