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ETHNONYM: Belgians


Identification. In the broad sense of the word "Walloon" is the name given to the autochthons of Wallonia inhabiting the Belgian provinces of Hainaut, Namur, Luxembourg, Liège (except for the German cantons in the east), and the district of Nivelles in Brabant. A small percent of the population (centered on people over age 65) still speak Walloon regularly. French is the native language of the vast majority, though there is a particular accent that distinguishes it from the standard French of France. The term "Walha" was used by the ancient Germans to designate romanized Celtic tribes. From this word, "Walloon" was derived (walon in Walloon and waal in Flemish). "Belgian" refers to a citizen of Belgium, which includes both the Walloons and the Flemish.

Location. Belgium lies to the north of France, the west of Germany and the south of Holland. The provinces that comprise Wallonia (approximately 17,000 square kilometers) are roughly located in the southern half of Belgium. The Walloon landscape ranges from low plateaus to wooded hills in the southeast. To the north live the Flemish, who are separated by a linguistic, rather than a geographic border. Two major rivers cross Wallonia, the Escaut and the Meuse. The weather is cool and rainy year round. The higher elevations of the Ardennes (694 meters is the highest point) receive up to 50 days of snow in a year, as opposed to around five days of snow for the rest of the country.

Demography. The total population of Wallonia is 3,200,000, with 191 persons per square kilometer. Four hundred sixteen thousand, or 13 percent of this population, are foreigners. Most of these foreigners come from southern Europe, with increasing numbers from North Africa. The number of births per thousand stood at 15.5 in 1963, dropping to less than 11.7 by 1983. The death rate is 12.9 per thousand (1983). Age stratification in 1981 is: 0-14, 20 percent; 15-24, 16 percent; 24-64, 50 percent; 65+, 14 percent.

Linguistic Affiliation. Walloon is a Gallo-Romance dialect of the Indo-European Language Family. Being so close to the dialect border, Walloon shares certain sounds and Structures with Germanic dialects, but the base of the language is Romance. Walloon can be divided into Eastern Walloon (with Liège as its capital), Central Walloon (Namur), and Western Walloon (Charleroi, La Louvière, Nivelles). Other dialect areas in southern Wallonia, which still form part of the same general dialect region though they are not called "Walloon," are: Picard or Rouchi (Mons, Ath, Tournai, Mouscron), Gaumais (or Lorraine of Belgium), and Champenois.

History and Cultural Relations

Belgium has been aptly called "the crossroads of Europe." Its tribes, which were probably Celtic, were colonized by the Romans for the first three centuries of the first millennium. In the fourth and fifth centuries the Franks invaded from the north. Their settlement was sparse in Wallonia, which ensured the continuation of Romance dialects. The city of Liège, the largest city and cultural capital of Wallonia, was designated as a Catholic see in the seventh century. Under Carolingian suzerainty (a.d. 752-918), it became an international center of learning. It then became the seat of a large independent principality and evolved into an important city during the late Middle Ages and early modern period. Burgundian dukes annexed Wallonia and Flanders at the end of the fourteenth century, except for the principality of Liège. The Burgundian territories were passed on to Spain and then Austria. In 1789 the people of Liège drove out their leader, the Prince Bishop, and together with the rest of Belgium joined the Republic of France in 1795. In 1815 Belgium fell under the leadership of William I of Holland. This only lasted until 1830, when Belgium revolted and won her Independence. Since this time there has been conflict over linguistic rights within the state.


There are two major types of traditional farms in the countryside. In the central region structures are built in a quadrilateral. In the Ardennes and Gaumais, they are built along a single axis. Chateau-farms are scattered throughout the Region. The majority of the population is urbanized, and the predominant type of house is a brick row house of several stories. Whether in the village or the city, a Catholic church is never far away.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities . Sugar beets are a common cash crop in the countryside. What is not turned into sugar is used as animal fodder. Wheat and potatoes are other common crops. Belgium's holdings in central Africa led to the importation of cocoa, which was developed into the world-renowned Belgian chocolate. In 1982, Belgians consumed over 7 kilos of chocolate per capita. Many artisanal chocolate operations exist throughout Wallonia. Local breweries also used to be a common sight. Nowadays there is still an extremely wide choice of beers, but production is not so localized. Walloons drink a lot of Flemish beer, too, but they always know which ones are made in Wallonia. Straight gin, called pèkèt, is also a popular alcoholic drink. The milk has an especially high fat content, which translates into extremely rich butter, cream, and cheese. A simple local cheese, makèye, is eaten most often on slices of bread as tartines, a common breakfast and supper. The heavy meal of the day is eaten at noon, often including a pork dish, potatoes, and salad with mayonnaise. Soups are a common first course at the midday meal and supper. A four o'clock goûter often consists of a piece of pie and coffee.

Belgium has one of the highest daily per capita caloric consumption rates in the world. Coffee is widely drunk. Some families keep a thermos filled all day long. Pork is the cheapest and most widely consumed meat, and hams from the Ardennes are a delicacy known throughout Europe. Mussels imported from Flanders and Holland are a favorite dish along with french-fried potatoes. Fried potatoes can be bought at almost any time of the day on most every street corner, with a variety of sauces available. Several types of waffles can also be readily purchased, often hot out of the oven.

Industrial Arts. Owing to the presence of coal and good river transportation, Wallonia has been an important center of iron and steel production since the Middle Ages. By the beginning of the eighteenth century, coal-burning machines used for the pumping and draining of mines were installed in Liège, greatly increasing production. Wallonia was the first region on the European continent to undergo the Industrial Revolution. Many of the early industrialists came from England. Verviers became an important textile center while the coal mines around Liège, Charleroi, and the Borinage gave birth to the steel industry. As early as the fifteenth century, Wallonia was supplying firearms to the king of Spain. Nowadays the arms industry is centered in the National Arms Factory in Herstal. The crystal factory, Val St. Lambert, had a world reputation at one time, but it is now closed. In the past, women made lace in the home, but very few continue to do so.

Trade. Wallonia has long carried on trade with neighboring European countries. The excellent canal, river, and railway systems of Belgium facilitated the transport of both imports and exports. However, the Walloon coal mines are now shut down and the steel industry is in a critical decline. The food industry has begun exporting more, but on the whole, trade has decreased dramatically in the last twenty years. In 1980 the unemployment rate in Wallonia was 14.5 percent.

Division of Labor. Walloon women have been working outside the home since the Industrial Revolution, though they still earn less than men since they are concentrated in low-paying industries such as textiles and clothing and are not proportionately represented in upper management. Factories began running day-care centers for the children of their female employees in the nineteenth century. Today the state operates numerous day-care centers around the country. Women are still primarily responsible for keeping the home.

Land Tenure. As in England, the introduction of the capitalist order during the eighteenth century, in combination with several disastrous agricultural years, led to the impoverishment of the countryside and the beginning of the exodus into the cities to compete for factory jobs. Today only about 4 percent of the population makes its living from agriculture.

Kinship, Marriage, and Family

Kinship. Walloon kinship is bilateral. The nuclear family predominates as a household group.

Marriage. Wallonia has a rising divorce rate and a falling marriage rate. Monogamy or consecutive monogamy are the two acceptable marriage types. People are free to choose their own marriage partners. Average age of marriage is mid-to late twenties. (It has decreased over the last century.) Usually people marry within their own socioeconomic class. Upon marriage, most young people set up their own household. They may take children to their parents' house so that grandmothers can babysit.

Domestic Unit. The nuclear family is the norm. An elderly parent often moves in with the family of one of her (sometimes his) children, but it is very common for old people to live alone.

Socialization. Children undergo a different socialization process depending on whether their families are working-class, middle-class, or upper-class. For instance, working-class families value getting a job early more than they do the pursuit of higher education. The opposite is the case among the middle and upper classes. There are 54 nationally certified day-care centers throughout Wallonia, which charge a minimal amount along a sliding scale. A great emphasis is placed on equality in these centers. They even supply clothes so that children are not differentiated on this basis. Upper-class families make more use of hired private nannies. Ninety percent of the Belgians aged 2½ to 5 are in preschool. Education is compulsory for children between ages 6 and 14.

Sociopolitical Organization

Belgium is a parliamentary democracy under a constitutional monarchy. The king is the titular head of the state and the prime minister, who is chosen from among leaders of major political parties represented in parliament, is the head of Government. Elections are held at four-year intervals.

Social Organization. Belgium is a Western, industrial, class-based society. Clubs and associations, based on shared personal interests or backgrounds, proliferate. What political party one belongs to is almost always an important criterion when choosing an organization.

Political Organization. The Socialist party claims the most adherents in Wallonia (36.3 percent of the vote in 1981). Other political parties are the Christian Socialists, the Liberals, the Walloon Assembly, the Communists, and the Ecologiste. Trade unions are very important. The first three parties named run their own trade unions.

Social Control. The Belgian armed forces and police force (including national gendarmerie and municipal, rural, and criminal police) exercise control over the region.

Conflict. Belgium, throughout its history, has been used as a frequent battlefield in wars that originated outside its borders. Even though Belgium claimed neutrality in both world wars, its countryside was decimated. The two major conflicts in Wallonia today are between the leftist and conservative Political parties and between the Flemish and the Walloons.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Wallonia is an area of dying Catholicism. Many parish churches have had to close owing to a lack of attendance. Communion, confession, baptism, and Religious marriages are all on the decline. Many older people may attend church only occasionally, but keep statues of the Virgin Mary in their windows. Lourdes in southwestern France is a popular place of pilgrimage. Beauraing and Banneaux are the two most popular places of pilgrimage in Wallonia. Several saints' processions have been revived in recent times, though often because of an interest in folkloric practices rather than renewed religious faith. Some of these even include religious reversals, such as a fake priest handing out slices of cucumber instead of hosts. The immigrants from southern Europe are usually more observant of Catholic Rituals than the Walloons. The immigrants from North Africa and Turkey are beginning to call for more support of the Islamic religion. Wallonia is also the home of small numbers of Protestants, Jews, Russian Orthodox, and Greek Orthodox.

Religious Practitioners. Wallonia used to have several monasteries that produced an important number of clergymen. Today, very few boys choose a religious career.

Ceremonies. Baptisms, first communions, and marriages are rites of passage marked by celebrations. Many nonreligious Walloons have begun celebrating laic communions for their children. Carnival has numerous faces around Wallonia. Generally, an entire village dons identical costumes. Most famous among these is the Carnival of Binche.

Arts. Belgium has been known for her painters since the late Middle Ages. While many of the most famous painters were Flemish, Walloons were represented as well. Wallonia is perhaps better known for its contributions to modern art by the surrealists René Magritte and Alfred Delvaux. There have been several internationally known Walloon writers. Probably the best-known in the United States is Georges Simenon, the mystery writer and creator of Maigret. Folk arts are alive and well in Wallonia, with numerous processions of giants, mock military marches, and a thriving rod-puppet theater.

Medicine. There are 2.1 doctors per thousand Wallonians, and 4.77 hospital beds. Medical care is subsidized by the state.

Death and Afterlife. The devil is a popular figure in Walloon folklore, and belief in an afterlife is probably still fairly strong. Funerals vary from open casket to cremation. Friends of the deceased usually give speeches honoring him or her at the funeral. All Saints' Day, at which time spirits are thought to return to the earth, occurs on 4 November. On this day, many families go to the cemetery and clean the tombs of their ancestors.


CRISP (1982). Dossier pour Wallonie 2000. Brussels: CRISP dossier no. 15.

Hasquin, Hervé (1982). Historiographie et politique: Essai sur l'histoire de Belgique et la Wallonie. Mont-sur-Marchienne: Édition Institut Jules Destrée.

Lejeune, Rita, and Jacques Stinnon (1978). Wallonie: Le pays et les hommes. Liège: Marche Romane.

Turney-High, Harry Holbert (1953). Chateau Gérard: The Life and Times of a Walloon Village. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press.

Wickman, Stephen B., ed. (1985). Belgium: A Country Study. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office; Brussels: La Renaissance du Livre.


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LOCATION: Belgium (southern region, called Wallonia)

POPULATION: 3.2 million


RELIGION: Roman Catholicism; Islam; Protestantism; Judaism; Russian Orthodox; Greek Orthodox


The Walloons, who live in Belgium's southern provinces, are the country's French-speaking inhabitants. Their culture contrasts with that of the Flemings, who inhabit the northern part of the country and speak Flemish, a language similar to Dutch. The Walloons' closest cultural ties are to France and other countries in which Romance languages are spoken.

In the fifth century ad the Franks, a Germanic people, invaded the region that includes modern Belgium. They gained the most power in the northern area, where early forms of the Dutch language took hold. In the south, the Roman culture and Latin-based dialects continued to flourish. During the feudal period between the ninth and twelfth centuries ad, the Flemish and Walloon cultures continued developing along separate lines.

Beginning in the sixteenth century, both the Flemings and the Walloons came under the rule of a succession of foreign powers. These included Spain, the Austrian Hapsburg monarchy, the French under Napoleon Bonaparte (17691821), and, finally, The Netherlands. Both groups then joined together in a revolt against Dutch rule. The new Kingdom of Belgium was created in 1830 as a constitutional monarchy.

Throughout the nineteenth century, the Walloons held most of the political and economic power in Belgium. The rich natural resources of their region (known as Wallonia) brought the mines, mills, and factories of the Industrial Revolution to the region early. Their language, French, was the language of government, law, the Roman Catholic Church, and education. By comparison, the Dutch-based Flemish language was associated with rural poverty and lack of education. This language division was dramatized when French-speaking Belgian officers in World War I (191418) couldn't communicate with their Flemish-speaking troops.

Since World War II (193945), Wallonia's traditional heavy industries (especially steelmaking) have declined, and its coal mines have closed.

In the 1960s, the Flemings and Walloons were given increased control over their respective regions. In 1993 Belgium's constitution was amended, making Flanders and Wallonia autonomous (self-governing) regions within the Belgian Kingdom.


With an area of 6,600 square miles (17,094 square kilometers), Wallonia covers 55 percent of Belgium's territory and includes the provinces of southern Brabant, Hainautl, Namur, Liège, and Luxembourg. Wallonia is a densely populated area with 3.2 million inhabitants.


The language of Wallonia is French. There are also a number of regional dialects. These dialects, which are referred to collectively as "Walloon," are grouped into Eastern (Liège), Central (Namur), and Western (Charleroi, La Louvière, Nivelles).


Traditionally, the spirits of the departed were thought to return to earth on All Saints' Day (November 1). Families still visit cemeteries to clean the tombs of their deceased relatives on that date. Some rural villagers still believe in the powers of folk healers. Walloon folklore includes many tales involving the devil.


Catholicism is the traditional religion of Wallonia. The Walloons are generally less religious than the Flemings to their north. Even the elderly who keep statues of the Virgin Mary in their windows often are not regular churchgoers. Wallonia is the site of two popular pilgrimage shrines, at Beauraing and Banneaux. Lourdes in southwestern France has traditionally drawn many pilgrims from Walloon.


The Walloons observe Belgium's ten public holidays as well as many folk holidays. The town of Binche is famous for its carnival festivities in the weeks before Lent. The best-known part of the annual celebration is the Dance (or March) of the Gilles. Over 1,000 people dressed in brightly colored, padded costumes throw oranges at the spectators.


Most Walloon young people undergo religious rituals such as baptism and first communion. In addition, a student's progress through the educational system is marked with graduation parties in many families.


Walloon manners are generally formal and polite. Conversations are marked by frequent exchanges of compliments and repeated handshaking. Relatives greet each other by shaking hands, hugging, or kissing each other on the cheek. A hug is a common greeting among friends. Men and women or two female friends may exchange kisses on the cheek.


The majority of Walloons are city dwellers. Most live in multistory brick row houses with large kitchens and gardens. Walloon houses, like those of other Belgians, often include an area used for a family business.


The modern nuclear family (parents and children only) is the norm in Wallonia. However, it is not unusual for an elderly grandparent to join the household. Couples generally marry in their mid-to late twenties. Wallonia's divorce rate is rising, and divorce and remarriage are considered socially acceptable.


The Walloons, like all Belgians, wear modern Western-style clothing.


Walloon cuisine is derived from that of France. However, it tends to be spicier and higher in calories than modern-day French food. The main meal of the day, which is eaten at noon, might consist of a pork dish, potatoes, and salad with mayonnaise. Both breakfast and supper are light meals that may include the popular regional cheese, makèye, served on slices of bread. Soup is a staple of the Walloon diet, often served as a first course for the midday and evening meals. Walloons drink a lot of coffee. It is common to take a 4 pm coffee break called a goûter, often consisting of coffee and a piece of pie. Walloons also like to drink and brew beer.


Education for all Belgians is required from age six through age fifteen. At the secondary level, students choose between trade-oriented, business, or college-preparatory training.


The Walloons are best known for their contributions to modern art, notably the work of painters René Magritte (18981967) and Paul Delvaux (18981994). The best-known Walloon author is mystery writer Georges Simenon (190389), creator of the character of the police commissioner Maigret. Wallonia's most famous music composer was César Franck (182290). The concert violinist Eugène Ysaye (1858-1931) founded the Queen Elisabeth of Belgium Music Competition. The saxophone was invented by a Belgian, Adolphe Sax (181494), who was born in Wallonia.


With its steel, glass, and textiles industries, Wallonia was a leading manufacturing center in the nineteenth century. Since World War II (193945), however, its coal mines have closed and its traditional heavy industries have fallen into decline. The Walloons were hit harder by Belgium's high unemployment of the late 1980s and early 1990s than were their neighbors to the north.


Walloons share Belgium's national passion for soccer. Another favorite national pastime that the Walloons share is bicycling. Pigeon racing, practiced throughout Belgium, is especially popular in Wallonia.


The Walloons enjoy typical leisure activities such as watching television and reading. Like other Belgians, they are avid gardeners and maintain well-tended gardens. Other typical hobbies include stamp collecting and model trains. Many Walloons enjoy gathering with friends in neighborhood cafes after work.


The talents of traditional artists can be seen in the elaborate costumes and giant figures used in festivals and processions. Folk art can also be seen in puppet and marionette theaters.


Wallonia has suffered from high rates of unemployment in the 1990s. Some of its inhabitants have been forced to commute to jobs in Brussels or Flanders. The cultural, linguistic, and political divisions between the Walloons and the Flemings are a continuing source of conflict.


Hargrove, Jim. Belgium, Enchantment of the World. Chicago: Children's Press, 1988.

Pateman, Robert. Belgium. New York: Marshall Cavendish, 1995.

Wickman, Stephen B. Belgium: A Country Study. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1984.


Belgian Tourist Office. [Online] Available, 1998.

Embassy of Belgium. Washington, D.C. [Online] Available, 1998.

World Travel Guide. Belgium. [Online] Available, 1998.

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Walloons (wŏlōōnz´), group of people living in S Belgium who traditionally spoke a dialect of French called Walloon, but who today for the most part speak standard French. The Walloons, numbering some 3.5 million, reside mostly in the provinces of Hainaut, Liège, Namur, Luxembourg, and Walloon Brabant, in contrast to the Dutch-speaking Flemings of the northern provinces. The movement for reviving Walloon literature centered in Liège in the 19th cent.; today the language is considered moribund. The periodical Wallonie had considerable influence. Since medieval times the economic and social background of the Walloons has differed radically from that of the Flemings, and the cleavage became even more pronounced with the Industrial Revolution. The Walloon part of Belgium contains major mining areas and heavy industries, while the Flemings engage mainly in agriculture, manufacturing (particularly textiles), and shipping. Tension between Walloons and Flemings has long been a critical political issue. In 1970 a plan was approved that recognized the cultural autonomy of Belgium's three national communities: the Dutch-speaking Flemings of the north, the French-speaking Walloons of the south, and bilingual Brussels. The name Walloons was also applied to Huguenot refugees in America by the Dutch, who made no distinction between French and Walloon Protestants.

See H. H. Turney-High, Château-Gerard; the Life and Times of a Walloon Village (1953).

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WALLOONS, French-speaking people of Celtic stock in northeastern France (present-day Belgium) who became Protestant in large numbers during the Reformation. Many, exiled to Holland, England, and Germany, emigrated to America beginning in the early 1620s. They were the first colonizing settlers in New Netherland (first called Nova Belgica): at Manhattan (called New Avesnes), at Fort Orange (Albany), at Wallabout (Brooklyn), and at Boompjes Hoek on the Delaware River (Gloucester, New Jersey). They later settled on Staten Island and in the Walkill Valley. They brought seed, fruits, and cattle. Immigration continued, and they often intermarried with Dutch and Huguenot settlers.


Griffis, W. E. The Story of the Walloons. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1923.

Augustus H.Shearer/f. b.

See alsoHuguenots ; New Netherland .

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Wal·loon / wäˈloōn/ • n. 1. a member of a people who speak a French dialect and live in southern and eastern Belgium and neighboring parts of France. Compare with Fleming3 . 2. the French dialect spoken by this people. • adj. of or concerning the Walloons or their language.

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Walloon one of a people of Gaulish origin speaking a dialect of French and inhabiting southeastern Belgium XVI; their language XVII. — F. wallon — medL. Wallō, -ōn-, f. Gmc. *walχaz foreign. Cf. WELSH, -OON.

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Walloons French-speaking people of s Belgium, as opposed to the Flemish-speaking people of the n. They inhabit chiefly the provinces of Hainaut, Liège, Namur, and s Brabant. Today, they number c.3 million.

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Walloonafternoon, attune, autoimmune, baboon, balloon, bassoon, bestrewn, boon, Boone, bridoon, buffoon, Cameroon, Cancún, cardoon, cartoon, Changchun, cocoon, commune, croon, doubloon, dragoon, dune, festoon, galloon, goon, harpoon, hoon, immune, importune, impugn, Irgun, jejune, June, Kowloon, lagoon, lampoon, loon, macaroon, maroon, monsoon, moon, Muldoon, noon, oppugn, picayune, platoon, poltroon, pontoon, poon, prune, puccoon, raccoon, Rangoon, ratoon, rigadoon, rune, saloon, Saskatoon, Sassoon, Scone, soon, spittoon, spoon, swoon, Troon, tune, tycoon, typhoon, Walloon •fortune, misfortune •vodun • veldskoen • honeymoon •forenoon • tablespoon • teaspoon •soupspoon • dessertspoon • Neptune •tribune • triune • opportune

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