Biloxi is home to the Biloxi Lighthouse which survived the devastation of Hurricanes Camille and Katrina. The Lighthouse is now emblazoned on most licenses plates in the State of Mississippi and reminds us every day that we are survivors. Today, much of Biloxi has been rebuilt and is more beautiful than ever.
One of the first slangs I learned when I moved here is that Biloxi, MS is pronounced, "Bil-lux-zee, Miss-ssip-pi". I also quickly learned to love the slow, deliberate pace and the special sense of place that exists here.
1. "It's hot as blue blazes!"
I visited Biloxi long before I moved here. In August 1966, when I was 13-years-old, my family took a trip from the Northeast down to the Mississippi Gulf Coast. We stayed in Biloxi, MS at the best Gulf-front hotel. I still remember the stately homes, grand oak trees and small, quiet town. I remember taking a boat from Biloxi across the Mississippi Sound past mysterious barrier islands and into the Gulf of Mexico.
I can still picture how the clouds built up in the afternoon and the humidity went up with it. It was the hottest place I had ever been. I remember overhearing someone say, "It's hot as the devil today!" A few of the locals warned my younger sister and me to stay out of the hot afternoon sun for fear of heatstroke. "You best stay out of the sun in the afternoon." We did not, of course, abide this warning.
During the days I wondered down the white sand beach and laughed at the small, imitation waves – nothing like the "big" ocean waves we had in New Jersey. I watched the shrimp and crab boats come in. I stopped in the shops and tried to talk to people. I really couldn't understand half of what they were saying. The Biloxians were just as mystified by my Yankee accent and the fast pace of my speech. But people were friendly and nice to me. After just a couple of days, I got used to the way everyone spoke.
I drank proper tea with the ladies on the hotel porch, and ate small cakes and tomato sandwiches. I learned that it was essential to be polite and always to say "Yes, sir" and "No, ma-am", and when you just had to say something mean or nasty, it was essential to end the sentence with "bless her heart." Like, "That girl is just so ugly no man'll ever marry her, bless her heart."
I returned to Biloxi many times after that summer visit and finally decided to make Mississippi my home. I am a proud Mississippian by choice.
2. Gone Fishing
Biloxi is home to some of the finest sports fishing along the entire northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico and people come from all over to fish here. Both visitors and locals down here do a lot of fishing, but they spend even more time talking about fishing. On any given day, you can walk into a cafe or bar and hear guys talking about what they caught or what they should have caught. I'm told that "a bad day of fishin' is better than a good day of work." There are, however, surprisingly few local fishing expressions probably because fishing is a universal language. The same expressions used in the North and throughout the South are found in Biloxi. "Time to fish or cut bait."
Of course, this is the South so we also have hunting and hunting expressions. My favorite is still, "that dog won't hunt" which is used to describe an argument that doesn't make sense.
3. "Are you hungry, want something t'eat?"
Here food is a central part of life. Every holiday and occasion is an excuse for food. From the Sunday church potluck to a birthday celebration, you can be guaranteed that dinner will be served. If you want people to come to a political rally, have a fish fry and offer everyone a free dinner. You want to raise money for the Red Cross, hold a "pig roast" (barbecue a whole hog and serve it with the fixin's). In Biloxi, the local cuisine that is just a bit different – part Southern, a bit French Creole, fresher and lighter than most Southern food but still loaded with butter. Food based on French and British traditions, influenced by Austrians, Bohemians and Louisiana Cajuns who moved to the city about 100 years ago, and refined by chefs from the city's elegant tourist and casino hotels – stuffed crabs, Shrimp Biloxi in beer and butter sauce, grilled redfish and strawberry trifle. And there are still a couple places in town with "proper tea service".
4. Biloxi Blues
The blues were born in the nearby Mississippi Delta and are part of life in Biloxi and its slang. Gospel, zydeco, R&B, rock & roll, and country music flourish here. Some people say there is music in the language of the South. I'm not sure about that but I know there is a lot of talk about music in Biloxi. Today, most of the music in Biloxi is found in the casinos that line the beachfront. But once there were many small clubs that offered patrons liquor, gambling, prostitution and, of course, music.
5. Right and Might
People really do not use a lot of slang in Biloxi. But some words have different meanings here. "Right" can be used to mean an emphatic version of very: "She's right smart." or "I didn't think I would like beets, but I'll admit, they're right good!" "Might" is also used in unusual ways that are grammatically wrong, but very expressive: "I've never done that before, but I might could." meaning there is more than a bit of doubt that it will happen.
6. Picturesque Expressions
Biloxians, like most Southerners, pepper their speech with vivid expressions. The best of these sayings need no translation and new ones are constantly being invented. Here are a few common examples: "She's more nervous than a long tail cat in a room full of rockin' chairs" "The lights are on, but nobody's home." (A description of someone who is just plain dumb.) "Common as pigs' tracks." (A trashy person.)
7. A Bit of Magic
Hoodoo and Voodoo are found from southern Mississippi over to New Orleans and both have added to the rich vocabulary of the Blues. But in Biloxi they have shown up in some unexpected places – on the menus of some of the casino restaurants. Chicken Grigri from gris-gris, a Voodoo talisman that protects the wearer from evil and attracts good luck. Steak Mojo named after the Hoodoo good luck charm, "mojo", and pronounced with the "J" versus the Cuban and Latin American mojo sauce which is pronounced with an "H". And my favorite, Black Cat Bone BBQ named after a mystical and very powerful Hoodoo charm.
8. A Day at the Casino
People have been gambling in Biloxi since the city was founded. But in 1992 gambling was legalized in Mississippi and Biloxi was transformed once again. Now the beach is lined with over a dozen casino complexes with resort hotels and 24-hour gambling. One day, I walked into one of Biloxi's casinos and just watched people. They were in a hotel on one of the most beautiful beaches in the U.S., no one even knew if it was day or night, but they were all playing! Well, that's what Biloxi is here for!
9. My Heavenly Days!
Whatever else one wants to say about Biloxi, it is still in Mississippi and that means that there is always someone "Praising the Lord" or talking about heaven. "Gracious light!" (Oh my!) "She's just a precious angel straight from heaven!" (She so cute or sweet or both.) "That stinks to high heaven." (That smells really bad.) "Lord, she sho nuff is in trouble now. She is flat standin' in the need of prayer." And adding a mention of God sometimes just makes an insult acceptably "po-lite": "He hasn't got the sense the Lord gave a toad." (My neighbor's favorite expression!)
10. Playground of the South
Biloxi's motto describes the city perfectly. For over 300 years, people have come to Biloxi to relax, enjoy the pristine beach, boat, fish, gamble, drink and party. And Biloxians add to the whole spirit of the place with how they constantly play with language.
Can't Get Enough? Discover More of Biloxi
- Overview: Biloxi Travel Guide