So which is it folks? What’s the correct name for those little critters that Bayou Boils & Catering likes to toss in a giant boiling pot by the hundreds. Whether you call them crayfish, crawfish, crawdads, mudbugs, mountain lobsters, river lobsters, or yabbies—yes some people call them yabbies—the chances are that you have a friend that calls them one thing, and you think it sounds weird.
Here at Bayou Boils & Catering, we know that Cajun catering is more than just crawfish boils and fried catfish. We know there’s a deep question that’s been eating you up like hungry uncle Mike eating up a pile of boiled mudbugs at one of our catered events. Well, today we’re going to get a little bit linguistic and of course a little bit Cajun on you as we discuss the origins of the word crawfish and settle this debate once and for all.
If you’re a clever person, you might would guess that the name comes from something like this: crawl + fish = crawlfish, which over time just changed into crawfish. After all, the little guys crawl around don’t they? We’d give you one golden hush puppy for that educated guess, but you are not correct. Also, you get a golden hush puppy if you thought maybe it came from claw + fish = clawfish, but again, you ain't right.
To get to the bottom of this word we gotta dig deep into the mud of time and linguistic forces that change language over time like the ever-flowing waters of the mighty Mississip’. First, let’s take a look at the French word for crawfish, écrevisse (EH-kruh-vees). Now just make the sounds kruh and vees a few times together. Go ahead, we'll wait.
It’s really that simple. Basically, English speakers anglicized the word écrevisse by turning the kruh into craw and the vees into fish. Oh yeah, and they dropping the EH for some reason—probably the same reason that America has become Merica! in some circles.
Through a fancy linguistic process called folk etymology, English speakers heard that vees part and went and grabbed a word in English that made some sense and sounded at least a little bit like it. The word fish seemed to fit since those little critters do live in the water like fish. There you have it, delicious Kruhfish.
By the way, the kruh part is the same kruh that you find in the word crustacean. Boom! Your mind just cracked open like the crispy shell of a boiled crawdad, seasoned to perfection and served with spiced corn and red potatoes. But we're not done with this word yet!
Now get this, we’re not totally sure about this part, but our professional opinion as crawfish experts is that the kruh part became not only the craw in crawfish but also the cray in crayfish in different places. A dialect map published on revolutionanalytics.com shows this map of the places where people say crawfish (red), crayfish (blue), and crawdad (green).
Smack in the middle of the crawfish red zone is of course French-speaking Louisiana, and the crayfish blue zone is a region of the US that is not too far from French-speaking Canada!
It seems reasonable that écrevisse could have become crawfish around Cajun country and crayfish around Canada country simply because of pronunciation. The crawdad green zone, however, is so far from both French-speaking areas that those people felt fine throwing the dad part on there to make crawdad which doesn’t sound anything like écrevisse.
As for mudbug, mountain lobster, and river lobster, those names are pretty obvious, right? The one name that’s still a complete mystery to us is Yabbies.
Leave a comment and let us know what you call em’. And if you know anyone who calls them yabbies please let us know where they’re from. Also, if there’s a name for em’ that we didn’t mention, we want to know about it. And feel free to come talk to us about it at the Gainesville Depot Day Festival on October 8.
***Call us up and book us for some Cajun catering at your wedding, corporate event, party, festival, birthday, or if you're just really dang hungry, but when you call or email, try to use the word yabbies, just to be funny.