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Why Does the Word ‘Dixie’ Refer to the South?

Mason Dixon Line
Getty Images, photo by Joe Sohm

Funny how the mind works…I was whistling the song ‘Dixie’ the other day and my son started whistling along. It made me wonder how ‘Dixie’ became known as the Southern states. The short of it is, no one really knows. A line in the song says ‘I wish I were in Dixie, Hooray! Hooray’! Most people think the word refers to the South during the Civil War but the first reference to ‘Dixie’ was used by Northern circus people. As winter set in in the north, they would say ‘I wish I were down in Dixie,’ referring to the south where it was warmer.

The song was written by a northerner, Daniel Decatur Emmett for a New York minstrel show and may be the oldest recorded use of the word.

There are three theories about the word ‘Dixie.’ One is about a northern slave owner who moved his slaves south when slavery was abolished in the north and he was known as a kind owner, so slaves remembered Dixie’s land as a good place to work. The next theory is that $10 notes were issued during the Civil War from Louisiana that were known as ‘dixies,’ and the name spread throughout the south. The final theory is the Mason-Dixon Line, which separates the North and the South and was the boundary between free and slave states.

No matter where the word came from ‘Dixie,’ to this day, is still a popular song in the South.


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