Category Archives: Folktales

“Neutral Ground”

Neutral Ground

Verbal Lore: Folk speach, slang- associated: legend


United States

Context:  The median between two opposing lanes of traffic, sometimes made solely of concrete, sometimes has trees grass or a canal in the middle.

Infromant: Libby Flint, age 59, New Orleans resident of 36 years, originally from Upstate New York and Vermont. Collected May 22, 2016 and recorded on iphone.


“Your second line might extend down into the’ neutral ground’. Many of the street in new Orleans have median strips, grassy areas in between both lanes, these are called ‘neutral grounds’ rather than medians, this tem derives from the 1800’s during that time the French and Spanish creoles settled  down river in what area is now called the French quarter, Uptown from this area, the Anglos settled, there was a grassy strip in between which originally was a drainage area, but became Canal street. There was animosity between the Anglos and the creoles and this area between the two was called a ‘neutral area’ or ‘neutral ground.’ Since then Neutral ground has come to mean any median and neutral grounds are a popular area to park your car in during  heavy rainstorms   cause they tend to be a little bit higher than the street. So you don’t get your car flooded.”


Informant:Caitlin Flint, age 21, Metairie, LA, collected on May 22, 2016 and recorded on an iphone.


“The First Slang Word is the term ‘Neutral Ground.’ Neutral ground is a phrase for the area in between the two- in the middle of the street, very similar to a median. The difference between a regular median and a neutral ground is where a median is usually concrete, a neutral ground usually has, in a lot of cases, grass or trees or a canal or a streetcar running through it. So it tends to be larger. I also only tend to associate neutral grounds with New Orleans.  Don’t use the phrase in any other city. Originally the phrase comes from historically from the rather large space- spaces in between the two direction streets  of Canal street. Which separates the French Quarter of the city where the creoles and the French and Spanish descendants lived and where the American, white Anglo-Saxon Americans lived. And so since canal street was this dividing line between the two neighborhood it was considered a ‘neutral ground’ hence the phrase is used to describe all similar geographical features.”


Infromant: Brian Flint, age 23, Metairie, LA, Collected on May 22, 2016 and recorded on an iphone.


“ The next is ‘neutral ground’. That can be thought of as the grassy area between two lanes of traffic going opposite ways on your roads. This comes from Canal Street, which was a major division in New Orleans, which actually had a Canal in it until they filled it in, but it separated the Spanish creoles, French creoles population in New Orleans from the Americans, and they Had a Neutral ground in the middle.”


Informant info: (Left to Right) Sadhana Puri, age 20, Jessica Link, age 20, Alex Ledoux, age 21 all from New Orleans, LA


“Jessica: a neutral ground is a median.

Alex: It’s a median, but it’s called neutral ground because like once upon a time New Orleans was like half French half Spanish and they were like split down the middle of like the street. I think it was Canal Street.

Jessica: Well yeah it was Canal Street, but t wasn’t for the Spanish, it wasn’t the French and Spanish, it was the Creoles and Americans. So the Americans were moving into the cb.  I’m pretty sure this is what it is.  So the Americans were moving into cbd uptown which was on the other side of canal, so like the French lived in the French quarter and also the Spanish I guess too maybe.  But mostly the French and like so that street was the neutral ground like in between them.

Alex: They called it the neutral ground because no one group had control over it.

Jessica: Yeah, I think.

Alex: I think that’s what it was.

Jessica: And Canal Street yeah

Katelyn: So you’re saying it was the Creoles-

Jessica: The French and the Americans

Katelyn: or the French and the

Jessica: When I say French I mean the Creoles

Alex: Ok so like the way it works the French and the creoles, actually I talked about this in my history class, well me history of music class because I was doing Jazz.  And it was like the French and the Creoles which was like Aristocratic, they were like the fancy New Orleans peoples, and then like recently freed African American slaves who lived on the other side.  And yeah they tended be like not affluent and the Creoles looked down on them.  But I guess like, I don’t know why I thought he Spanish, I might have made that up.

Jessica: Well it’s confusing because like

Katelyn: So no this is cool because like another thing is that some peoples’ stories will be different and that’s something that is interesting to explore

Alex: OK

Jessica: Yeah, explore that

Alex: there was definitely conflict between the French and Spanish peeps who lived there in New Orleans, but maybe that had nothing to do with that.

Jessica: The French really hated the Americans, that was like a problem at the time in the 1800s. Who were moving in, because they were bringing English and stuff.  Stupid language.”


Collectors Commentary: This particular term is mentions by multiple informants as being a traditional New Orleans word that is unique to the city specifically because of its connection to urband legend/ legend/ history. While, there may actually be a history that explains the origins of the word Neutral ground in detail, none of the informants actually had researched the topic, so all of their information for the bakground and context of the term was transmitted orally, this also goes on to explain both the similarities and the slight variations in the stories. Therefore, the back story can be considered legend or urban legend. It is a slang word because it is a word unique to New orleans and popularly used in every day conversation.

Key words: New Orleans, French, Spanish, Creoles, Americans, Canal Street, Median, Blacks, neutral ground