Behind the Words: Lagniappe

A former colleague sent me a link to a “Word of the Day” recently because it reminded her of a writing tip I gave her many years ago.

lagniappe

\ LAN-yap \  , noun;

1.  A small gift given with a purchase to a customer, for good measure.

2.  A gratuity or tip.

3.  An unexpected or indirect benefit.

Here is one of the examples offered: The bakery gave Myrtle a free petit-four, either as a lagniappe or to shut her up.

I first heard the word on a trip to New Orleans. It originates in southern Louisiana and along the Texas coast, a variant of the Quechua (a Peruvian dialect) word yapa , meaning that which is added. At Mardi Gras, the beads thrown from the floats are a lagniappe for the people lining the  parade routes. My favorite example of a lagniappe is the prize inside a box of Cracker Jack (which has been downgraded in recent years to puzzles or riddles on paper, by the way).

Cracker Jack: A prize in each box.

When tutoring editorial interns at the weekly newspaper I edited, I defined it as “something extra.” Let the reporters from the daily paper and electronic media tell the main story, I told them before sending them off on their early assignments. The other guys are going to have the story first, regardless of what your. You need to find the lagniappe in the story–that something extra that the other reporters didn’t get.

Finding something extra in the story is always important, whether you’re writing a feature for a weekly newspaper or a business letter or news release: Tell your readers what they need to know, but give them something extra if you can. That’s the part they’re going to remember.

And if you’re having a hard time finding that lagniappe on your own, consider using an editor to find one for you.

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1 Comment

Filed under Behind the Words, Commentary, Writing Tips

One response to “Behind the Words: Lagniappe

  1. I first encountered the word in an H.L. Mencken autobiography, when he was talking about oysters and beer. Lovely combination. Lovely word.

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