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Coonass, or Coon-ass is used in reference to a person of Cajun ethnicity. Many consider it 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. 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. (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. 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 U.S. 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. 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."