Coonass, or Coon-ass is used in reference to a person of Cajun ethnicity. Many consider the term an insult, but others consider it a compliment or badge of honor. Although many Cajuns use the word in regard to themselves, other Cajuns view the term as an ethnic slur against the Cajun people, especially when used by non-Cajuns.
People living in the territory now forming St. Martin, St. Landry, Iberia, Lafayette, Acadia, Vermilion, and St. Mary parishes. The area is bounded on the north by the Avoyelles District, on the east by the Atchafalaya River and Grand Lake, on the south by the Gulf of Mexico, and on the west by the Mermentau River and the chain of lakes through which it flows.
Socioeconomic factors appear to influence how Cajuns are likely to view the term: working-class Cajuns tend to regard the word "coonass" as a badge of ethnic pride, whereas middle- and upper-class Cajuns are more likely to regard the term as insulting or degrading, even when used by fellow Cajuns in reference to themselves.:138 (In sociolinguistics, this type of behavior is termed covert prestige.) Despite an effort by Cajun activists to stamp out the term, it can be found on T-shirts, hats, and bumper stickers throughout Acadiana, the 22-parish Cajun homeland in south Louisiana.:138 The term is also used by some of Cajun descent in nearby East Texas and Mississippi.
The origins of "coonass" are obscure, and Cajuns have put forth several folk etymologies in an effort to explain the word's origin. Some amateur linguists believe that the word refers to the Cajuns' occasional habit of eating raccoons, or from the use of coonskin caps by the Cajuns' ancestors while fighting in the Battle of New Orleans or in the Revolutionary War under Spanish colonial Governor Bernardo de Gálvez. Other amateur linguists attribute the term to the racial slur "coon," used in reference to African-Americans — thus implying that Cajuns are lower than African-Americans in social standing. Another holds that the term derives from the shape of a woman after having children (like a raccoon viewed from above). And yet another folk etymology maintains that "coonass" is a corruption of the French and Latin word cunnus, a vulgar term for "vulva".
The most popular folk etymology, however, stems from late Louisiana congressman and cultural activist James "Jimmy" Domengeaux, who maintained that "coonass" derived from the continental French word connasse. According to the French Wiktionary, the French Larousse dictionnary, and the French Wikipedia, connasse entered the French language at the beginning of the 19th century and the term translates loosely to "dirty prostitute". Domengeaux asserted that Frenchmen used the term in reference to Cajun soldiers serving in France during World War II, and that Anglo-American soldiers overheard the term, transformed it into "coonass" and brought it back to the US as a disparaging term for Cajuns. Citing Domengeaux's etymology, Louisiana legislators passed a concurrent resolution in the 1980s condemning the word. Contrary to popular belief, the lawmakers did not ban the term.:96-97 Research has since disproved Domengeaux's connasse etymology. Indeed, photographic evidence shows that Cajuns themselves used the term prior to the time in which connasse allegedly morphed into "coonass".:97
- In the early 1980s, a Cajun worker sued his former employer over repeated use of the word "coonass" in the workplace. The lawsuit led directly to the federal government's recognition of the Cajuns as a national ethnic group as protected by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.:136–137
- Although the Louisiana State Legislature condemned the word's use in 1981, the Louisiana Air National Guard's acclaimed 159th Tactical Fighter Group referred to itself as the "Coonass Militia" until 1992.:96–97, 109, 136–37, 138
- University of Alabama head football coach Nick Saban came under fire in early 2007 for using the term while speaking "off the record" to a reporter. Audio of the conversation was leaked onto the Internet before garnering mainstream media attention.
- In July 2014, Texas House of Representatives member Dennis Bonnen made a remark on the House floor referring to the language spoken by children displaced from Hurricane Katrina as "coonass". Media reports characterized his use of the term as "derogatory", "offensive", and a "vulgar slang term".
- Bernard, Shane K. (2003). The Cajuns: Americanization of a people. Jackson, Mississippi, US: University Press of Mississippi. ISBN 978-1-57806-523-3.
- Saban under fire for derogatory remark - College football - MSNBC.com
- "TX Republican Calls Language of Displaced Katrina Kids ‘Coonass’ (Watch)". Eur Web. 31 Jul 2014. Retrieved 2 October 2014.
- Yvette (31 Jul 2014). "TEXAS LAWMAKER CALLS KATRINA CHILD VICTIMS “COΟNΑSS”". Black Like Moi. Retrieved 2 October 2014.
- Flatow, Nicole (30 Jul 2014). "Texas Lawmaker Uses Ethnic Slur To Describe Child Victims Of Hurricane Katrina". Think Progress. Retrieved 2 October 2014.