From: email@example.com (Stuart P. Derby)
Subject: Re: "Dixie" folk etymology
Date: 16 Sep 1993 09:13:55 GMT
firstname.lastname@example.org (Brian Leibowitz) writes:
>In article <email@example.com> I inquired:
>> This weekend some friends claimed that "dixie" was coined in the days
>>when banks issued their own banknotes, and some of the Lousiana banks
>>put "dix" on their $10 bills.
>> I had always heard that it evolved from "Mason-Dixon line".
>William & Mary Morris (Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins) say that
>"According to the best authiorities a _Dixie_ was originally a _dixie_ note
>- a ten-dollar banknote issued by a Louisiana bank and bearing the French
>Mason-Dixon line came from the names of the surveyors, Charles Mason and
It STILL smells like a folk etymology to me. (So does the "Mason-Dixon"
theory). And, believing that, I trudged over to dear old Rice and did some
research of my own, to discover that there are 4 (four) competing etymologies.
The best synopsis of this mess is the
Dixie: Origin obscure: see Mathews _Dict. Amer._
Looking in _A Dictionary of Americanisms on Historical Principles_, Mitford
M. Mathews, Ed. (U. of Chicago Press,1951) we find:
Dixie: Many theories have been advanced in vain efforts to account
satisfactorily for this term. Those that occur most frequently are:
1. The word preserves the name of a kind slave owner on Manhattan
Island, a Mr. Dixy. His rule was so kindly that "Dixy's Land" became
famed far and wide as an Elysium abounding in material comforts.
2. Ten dollar notes issued by the Citizens Bank of Lousiana before the
Civil War bore the French 'dix', ten, on the reverse side and were
consequently known as 'dixes' or 'dixies'. Hence Lousiana and
eventually the South in general came to be known as the land of
'dixies' or 'dixies land'
3. Dixie is derived somehow from Dixon of Mason and Dixon's line.
(For non-USens, the Mason-Dixon line is a survey line fixing the boundary
between the states of Pennsylvania and Maryland.)
(By the by, there are 2 other meanings for dixie, or dixy: a british usage
meaning an iron kettle or pot, used to make tea or stew, and a Utah mormon
usage for "All that part of Mormondom south of the rim of the Great Basin...")
For the fourth etymology, looking in _Websters New World Dictionary of
American English_, Victoria Neufeldt, Ed. (Websters New World, 1988) we find:
Dixie: from 'Dixie' (earlier, Dixie's Land), title of song (1859)
by Daniel D. Emmett (1815-1904), U.S. songwriter, after 'Dixie',
originally name of a Negro character in a minstrel play (1850)
Excepting the above, the song 'Dixie' is the earliest print usage of the
term cited in any of the references I looked at. The song was immensely
popular and the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1984) says it was the unofficial
anthem of the Confederacy during the Civil War. I suspect that the song
spread and popularised the term.
The Enc. Britannica says D.D. Emmett was born and died in Mount Vernon, Ohio,
and organized one of first minstrel show troupes in 1843. "['Dixie']... was
originally a 'walk-around', or concluding number for a minstrel show."
The _Dictionary of Word & Phrase Origins_, William and Mary Morris (Harper&Row,
1962) says the song was first performed in New York. (This later edition also
seems to have modified its entries on Dixie and Dixieland from the edition
Brian Leibowitz cites above: The Dixie entry says "See Mason-Dixon Line.",
then says there's no connection between Dixon and dixie and repeats the
Louisiana banknote theory, as above. However, under the entry for Dixieland,
"There are many stories about this word. Perhaps the most credible is
[Lousiana banknote theory]. Another fanciful story [Manhattan slave owner
theory]. That sounds pretty farfetched to me.")
Considering that 'Dixie' was composed by a "Buckeye" (an Ohio-an, for you
non-Americans) for New Yorkers, in black dialect ("In Dixie Lann whar I was
bawn in, Arly on one frosty mawnin"), I truly wonder if D.D.Emmett was
talking about "the South", even though the original song also said "Away!
away! away! down South in Dixie".
I'm continuing to research the matter, right now waiting for some
books to come through inter-library loan. At the moment I'm leaning toward
the Manhattan theory, becuase of the New York origin of the song. I'll
post again when the data has all trickled in...
Stu "New York City! Get a rope!" Derby