Last Modified: Monday, February 11, 2013 10:40 AM
Southern Louisiana newspapers and media outlets have been put on notice to shun the words “Fat Tuesday” and use only “Mardi Gras” when referring to the Tuesday prior to Lent.
The reminder has been duly noted and will be respected here, especially as we approach Mardi Gras itself, which will be celebrated here in Southwest Louisiana and across the state tomorrow.
Word of this distinction came to us and others in the form of a letter from Warren A. Perrin and Dr. Barry Ancelet, the former a lawyer, author and Cajun museum enthusiast and the latter not only head of the Department of Modern Languages at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, but Louisiana’s leading authority on Cajun culture, music and language. Who better to set the rule on reference to Mardi Gras?
The two wrote as members of the Council on Development of French in Louisiana — Perrin is president; Ancelet, an integral part of CODOFIL for decades — the state agency that promotes French in our schools, within our state’s culture and for purposes of tourism. We should note, too, that our office shares proud family ties within CODOFIL.
Perrin and Ancelet note in their letter that “Mardi Gras is an inherently French tradition: it has no counterpart in the English-speaking world. The proper translation would be: ‘to eat fat foods on Tuesday (before Ash Wednesday).’ To improperly translate the name is to disparage the cultural event.” Well, OK. If it is important to them, it is important to us.
In making their case for Mardi Gras over Fat Tuesday, the gentlemen cite the 1996 Louisiana Almanac, which says Louisiana is known internationally for Mardi Gras Day. “The proper name of unique French tradition should be respected,” they write.
Ah, but the 2008-09 edition of the Almanac, in listing Mardi Gras celebrations, notes a list of Louisiana cities that feature “Fat Tuesday parades.” It may be hard to scrub the Fat Tuesday from this day.
And while Perrin and Ancelet don’t in their letter link the day’s origins to the Catholic faith, other sources do. About.com Catholicism defines “Fat Tuesday as the traditional name for the day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. It is commonly known as Mardi Gras, which is simply Fat Tuesday in French.” Can we immediately take the Fat Tuesday out of Mardi Gras? Fat chance.
Still, if Mardi Gras is not only preferred to Fat Tuesday but in fact proper, we as Louisiana people should take the French, and not the improper translation, to heart.
Mardi Gras it is, this week and forevermore. Got it?
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This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Ken Stickney, Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.