Southwest of France Little Dictionary – Part I

Adishatz means hello or good bye in Gascon language. It is used in southwest of France, mainly in Gers and Lot-et-Garonne department.

Armagnac is considered the oldest “eau-de-vie” of France. It is the brandy of the southwest as Cognac is the brandy of Cognac region.

The “baïnes” are the marine currents on the Atlantic coast of Landes department and sand banks that surround them.

Marching band composed mostly of trumpets, clarinets, saxophones, trombones, bass drums and playing on the streets of the city and celebrating the accomplishments of the bullfighter or the local rugby team

Basa Jaun
Legendary figure of the Basque Country. Great, powerful, and with long hair that hides his face, Basa Juan, is the lord of forests. Feared by men, it is considered the guardian spirit of the sheep herds.

A new type of urban planning that appeared in the Middle Ages. A bastide is a town usually fortified and centered on a quadrangular square (though there are also round bastides)

Hat created initially by the shepherds of Bearn region in the 15th century. The berets were knitted, molded around the knee and then felted in water

Tiredness or laziness. “Avoir la cagne” means being very tired, feeling like doing nothing. This word is used in Bordeaux region and derives from Occitan language.

Cagot designates an outcast. In Middle Ages this people were forbidden to live in the village – they were supposed to live outside it -, had special doors for entering a church and even separated graveyards. Their origin is unknown but some say they are the descendents of the Goths that stayed here after the Franks offensive.


Little cakes specific to Bordeaux region, flavored with vanilla and rum, soft inside and covered with a thick caramelized crust. These cakes are intimately linked to the wine history of Bordeaux. Indeed, an important step in winemaking is called “collage”. It consists in filtering the wine vat with beaten egg white. This expensive process was used by many wine chateaux in olden times. The remaining yolks were then used to make the cannelets.

Widespread on the banks of the Garonne and Dordogne, the “carrelet” is a fishing net attached to a pole installed on a pontoon. The set is completed by a wooden hut. This is a friendly place and very popular in summer.

Cathars appeared in the twelfth century, in the southwest of France. They considered themselves Christian even though had a dualistic interpretation of the world. For them, the body and the matter are from the devil. Only the spirit is from God.

Confusingly enough a château designates in Bordeaux region a winery and not a castle! Another word that is frequently misinterpreted is “hotel” that designates ALSO big city residences – “hôtel particulier” – or administrative buildings – “Hôtel de la ville” etc.

A wicker basket attached to the hand of a Basque pelota player (pelota resembles baseball!) with a leather glove and used to throw and receive the ball.

The chipiron means, on the Basque Atlantic coast, a small squid caught off during reproduction time. It can be eaten cooked in a black sauce made from its ink.

“Cocagne” word is many times used to signify abundance, “plenty” – “Pays de Cocagne” is the region around the city of Albi. The real meaning of the word is the ball made from dried pastel (Isatis tinctoria or woad) leaves, from which is made a blue dye.

Coup de nez
Translated literally as “nose cutter”, this expression, very common in Bordeaux region, refers to a wine whose flavor pleasantly flatters the nostrils and hints that will delight the palate.

A delicious pastry from Gascogne region of France made with Armagnac brandy.

Cru bourgeois
A Bordeaux winery and its wine that is less appreciated than a “Grand Cru”. In Medoc there are “Crus bourdeois” and Superior “Crus bourgeois” – “Crus bourgeois superior”

Cyrano de Bergerac
Flamboyant character immortalized by Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac actually existed. Born in Paris in 1655 – and not in Bergerac – he was a strong character, independent, libertine, a swordsman, a poet, an inventor and an astrologer.

The famous musketeer, immortalized by Alexandre Dumas. His name was Charles de Batz de Castelmore, Count d’Artagnan. He was born in 1611, in Lupiac, in what is now the Gers department, and was captain of the Musketeers of king Louis XIV.

If you are passing in Dordogne, avoid complimenting young women by calling them “belles demoiselles”. Here, indeed, the demoiselle means a duck grilled over a wood fire.

Bordeaux townhouses with a little backyard where starting from the 15th century craftsmen and traders were living and working.

Traditional house in Landes region of southwest France.

Faire chabrot
Custom coming from Périgord region that consist in pouring a little wine in a soup bowl – when there is still some soup left – and drinking the mixture strait from the bowl.

A feria is bullfighting event in Spain and in the south of France, Portugal and Latin America. Besides the fighting it includes other activities like running with the bulls, street celebration, music, dances.

Festayre is a feria partygoer.

In Bordeaux a “frontignan” referes to a 75cl bottle of wine – the usual bottle!

A gabarre is a boat, with a flat bottom used in olden times for the transport of goods, especially in Dordogne and Landes departments. Nowadays gabarres are used as tourist boats for short river cruses.

A traditional soup in southwest based on cabbage, dried beans and salted meats.

Fish that lives and is caught in Gironde estuary

Is a type of soil that consists of river deposited gravel and no clay. It is especially appreciated for grape growing. In the southwest of France “Graves” is a wine region just south of Bordeaux on the left bank of the Garonne River.

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