Mardi Gras glossary

In New Orleans, how you say something is often as important as what you say.

But when talking about Carnival and all the merriment, mayhem and magic that comes with it, it helps to know what you're talking about.

So here are a few key works and what they mean:

Carnival: The period of merrymaking and feasting celebrated before the deprivations of Lent begin. Carnival commences on Twelfth Night or Jan. 6 (the Feast of the Epiphany) and runs through Fat Tuesday (also known as Mardi Gras), the day before Ash Wednesday.

Krewe: A private social club that puts on parades and balls throughout Carnival season.

12th Night: The 12th night after Christmas; also called King's Day or Epiphany, which in the Christian faith marks the revelation of Jesus as the son of God.

King Cake: A sweet cake served starting on Epiphany to mark the nd of the Christmas season and throughout the pre-Lenten celebration of Mardi Gras or Carnival.

Mardi Gras: From the old French, meaning Fat Tuesday. The day derives its name from revelers indulging themselves in all manners of behavior before voluntarily giving up something for Lent. "Mardi Gras day" is redundant, so avoid it.

Den: The krewe's hub, which is often where floats are created and where the krewe parties pre- and post-parade.

Courir du Mardi Gras: Many rural Acadian communities of Louisiana celebrate Carnival by sending out masked revelers early in the morning to go from house to house to beg for ingredients and money to make a gumbo that will be later enjoyed by the community. One of the favorite ingredients is a live chicken, usually let free into an open field. Onlookers sit back to enjoy the often alcohol-fueled chase between the revelers and the chicken. The terminology is French.

Throws: The generic term for items tossed to spectators at a parade. This includes beads, doubloons, cups, spears, food and stuffed toys. Crowds yell, "Throw me somethin', mistah!" Some throws have reached coveted collector status such as Zulu's long-revered coconuts or the more recent Muses' hand-decorated shoes. Ladders - Sometimes homemade and elaborately decorated, ladders provide a vantage point for young children to see over the crowds. The ladders often have a special seat attached to the top that can hold two to three kids.

Flambeaux: Before electricity, night parades were lit by torch-bearing marchers who walked beside the floats, often entertaining parade-goers with dance or even conversation. Some current krewes have adopted the custom. Onlookers throw change as thanks for the flambeau carriers' labors.

Vieux Carre: French for "old quarter," it refers to the French Quarter, the oldest and most famous section of the city. It stretches along the Mississippi from Iberville Street to Esplanade Avenue (12 blocks) and back from the river to Rampart Street (seven blocks). Many call it "The Quarter."

Carnival Colors: The shades of Mardi Gras, seen on everything from king cakes to rugby shirts, are purple for justice, green for faith, and gold for power.

Rex: The Roman word for king. The Rex Organization formed in 1872 and selected one of their members, Lewis J. Solomon, to be the first Rex, King of Carnival.

Walking clubs: A major part of the Mardi Gras experience, these groups can be found on the streets early in the day. Look for such groups as Pete Fountain's Half-Fast Marching Club, the Jefferson City Buzzards, The Corner Carnival Club, the Lyons Carnival Club and the St. Ann Revelers. Most participants are glad to share a paper flower - for a kiss.