Jim Rader jrader at M-W.COM
Fri Aug 6 11:46:37 UTC 1999

I did a little research on _Dixie_ in 1993 in response to a query
from a correspondent.

My feeling then was that the supposed fiscal origin of _Dixie_ was
totally unsupported because no one, to my knowledge, has ever found
_dixie_ in print referring to a monetary unit of any kind.  The
Citizens' Bank of Louisiana did issue ten-dollar notes inscribed with
both <ten> and <dix> between 1845 and 1862, but were they ever called
"dixies"?  No evidence.  Ten dollars was a rather high denomination
in the mid-19th century, and I wonder to what extent the bills
actually circulated.  This etymology was promulgated in a pamphlet
issued about 1912 or 1913 by the Citizens' Bank & Trust Company of
Louisiana, the successor of the Citizens' Bank.  It looks like a nice
public relations story.

The most extensive discussion of the etymology of _Dixie_ that I
found was in the musicologist Hans Nathan's book _Dan Emmett and the
Rise of Early Negro Minstrelsy (1962).  Nathan quotes Dan Emmett's
recollection (published in the April 6, 1872, number of the _New York
Clipper_) that _Dixie's Land_ "is an old phrase applied to the Southern
States, at least to that part of it lying south of the Mason and
Dixon's line.  In my traveling days amongst showmen, when we would
start for a winter's season south, while speaking of the change, they
would invariably ejactulate [sic] the stereotyped saying:--'I Wish I
was in Dixie's Land,' meaning the southern country....."  Although Emmett
seems to hint at some relation between _Dixie's Land_ and the
Mason-Dixon line, this looks rather after-the-fact, though the
etymology was proposed as early as 1861 (Nathan's comment is "the
implied derivation is based on legend rather than fact.")

Hans Nathan's theory, which others have repeated, was that Dixie was
a stock character name for a minstrel-show black, perhaps formed
analogically to such widely known names as Pompey and Cuffee.  If
this was the case, then "Dixie's Land" would make sense as a showman's
stock name for the South, the "home" of most African-Americans in
slave days.  Nathan's sole support for his theory was the occurrence of
_Dixie_ in a playbill, dated 1850, that Nathan himself apparently discovered at
the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, MA.  The title of the
skit was _United States Mail, or Dixie in Difficulties_; Dixie is a
black postboy in the skit.  Unfortunately, Nathan doesn't illustrate
the playbill, which he says is "mutilated."

J.L. Dillard had the idea (expostulated in _Black English_, 1972:
221-22) that "...it is pretty clear that the word [comes] from a
Plantation Creole pronunciation of the second surname in the
_Mason-Dixon Line_, which was laid out in 1763-7, well within the
Plantation Creole and even the Negro Pidgin period...Besides being a
natural development from _Dixon_ according to the phonological
structure of pidgin/creole (which utilizes a consonsant-vowel canonic
syllable pattern), _Dixie_ is found as a pronunciation of the surname
among the Negro Seminole Scouts--with the spelling _Dixey_ [Dillard
gives a footnote to the source here]."  Of course, the objection to
this etymology is that Dan Emmett, who was born in Ohio, was unlikely
to have had much exposure to actual African-American speech of his
day, and his songs, in point of fact, appear to have all been written in a
stereotyped minstrel-show parody of what was taken to be black

A book published in 1996, _Way Up North in Dixie:  A Black Family's
Claim to the Confederate Anthem_, by Howard and Judith Sacks, claims
that Emmett did have exposure to African-American music:  Emmett may
have known the Snowden's, a black family who played and performed in
rural Ohio from the 1850's to the 1920's.  I glanced at this book
when it first appeared and saw nothing about _Dixie_ in it.  (Barry
Popik mentioned the book in a post of July, 16, 1998, and he came to
the same conclusion I did.)  But I never had the time to look into
the matter more thoroughly, to see if Dillard's theory actually has
any merit.

Jim Rader

> So, my office mate, being from Louisiana, brought up the monetary etymology of
> Dixie.  I really had thought much about the origin of Dixie (probably assuming
> it was the Mason-Dixon line) until yesterday.
> I searched the ADS-L archive and didn't see any relevant postings.  So I
> searched the Web and came up with this:
> http://www.urbanlegends.com/language/etymology/dixie.html
> which presents several theories, nothing conclusive.  I was just wondering if
> any of the etymological wizards on this list have something more conclusive.
> Thanks,
> Andrea
> --
> Andrea Vine

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