Date: Sun, 15 Sep 1996 16:18:15 -0600


Subject: Re: WHISTLIN' DIXIE: from Whistling Dick!

At 04:29 PM 9/15/96 -0400, you wrote:

Last Friday's New York Times, 13 September 1996, pg. 1, cols 4-5, in a

feature by Richard L. Berke called "The Race For President-The South"

["running" for President, perhaps?] that was titled:

"If Clinton Sees Votes in South, He's Not Just Whistling Dixie."

Absolutely no one knows diddly about "Whistling Dixie," and it will be

revealed here for the first time. [snip]

As usual--by accident--I came across "America's Song Composers, Part

VI-Septimus Winner" by George Birdseye in Potter's American Monthly, vol.

XII, no. 90, June 1879, pp. 434-435, which tell us about Whistlin' Dick:


There was then in Philadelphia an original character commonly called

"Whistling Dick," a colored individual, Richard Milburn by name, well known

through all the streets of the city. His visible, or rather audible, means

of support was whistling, an accomplishment in which he excelled, really

making some beautiful music, while he strummed an individual accompaniment on

a guitar. He was principally famous for his imitations of the mocking-bird,

and this fact first suggested to Mr. Winner the happy thought of perfecting a

ballad of that nature. This he accomplished, and the ever-popular "Listen to

the Mocking-bird" was the result. It was written to suit the small compass

of Whistling Dick's voice, to whom he taught it, and who did very much

towards starting it on its way to success. [snip]

It is not a far leap from "Whistling Dick" to "Whistlin' Dixie." It

should be remembered that in the Philadelphia of that day, there was a

popular minstrel named E. F. Dixey, who sang a "Dixie" called "Dixey."

Again, I must leave that for another day, but "Whistlin' Dixie" is done.

To be honest, I don't see that the expression "Whistlin' Dixie" must have

come from "Whistling Dick." It seems possible, but not probable. The

connection to the south isn't all that strong. Maybe I've misunderstood, but

when you say "'Whistlin' Dixie' is done," it sounds like you are certain

that "Whistlin' Dixie" came from Whistling Dick, which is not at all clear

from what you've presented.

For your collective information, I have included a passage from The Straight

Dope, a column written by Cecil Adams. For those unaware of the column, it

suffices to say that it is not very academic and somewhat irreverent, but is

generally accurate. Adams responds to questions sent in by readers. Note

that both Adams and Popik refer to the Dixey of Philadelphia and Emmet's song.

Q: Where did the name "Dixie" come from? And exactly what states comprise

Dixie? -Leigh-Anne H., Dallas, TX

A: Dixie is usually thought to include the states of the Confederacy, but

where the term comes from nobody knows for sure. Here are the three leading


1. Before the Civil War, the Citizens Bank of Louisiana, located in

New Orleans, issued ten-dollar notes that bore the Creole/French word "dix,"

ten, on one side. These notes were known as "dixies" and the south came to

be known as the "land of dixies."

2. The term comes from the Dixon in "Mason-Dixon Line," the famous

pre-Revolutionary War surveyors' line that separated Maryland and Pennsylvania.

3. It comes from "Dixy's land," Dixy supposedly being a kindly slave

owner on Manhattan Island, of all places. Dixy's regime was supposedly so

enlightened that for slaves his plantation came to symbolize earthly

paradise. Sounds ridiculous, but the story was widely told in the years just

after the civil war.

The trouble with all of these explanations is that there are no

published citations of the word prior to to the appearance of Daniel

Emmett's song "Dixie" in 1859. On etymologist notes that a minstrel named

Dixey performed in Philadelphia in 1856, but that's not much help. For what

it's worth, the editors of the _American Heritage Dictionary,_ normally

reliable in these matters, come down four-square on the side of explanation

#1, on the basis of what evidence I do not know.

Then you get a few characters like the guy in the journal American

Speech who speculates that it came from "dixi," Latin for "I have said

[it]." This is allegedly emblematic of the take-no-guff attitude

characteristic of the antebellum south. Forgive me if I decline to take sides.

So says Adams. Take it for no more and no less than it's worth.