When did ‘the ‘Sip’ become an acceptable nickname for Mississippi? (And why?)

Published 8:35 am Monday, February 12, 2018

We’re famously easygoing with our speech patterns in the South, dropping final g’s, rendering I’s that outsiders hear as ahs, stretching out our drawls, defending our y’alls, and holding firm against critics of ain’t.

But I stand before you today in strong opposition to the theft of three of Mississippi’s four syllables.

I speak of “the ‘Sip,” which seems to have gained some measure of currency as a nickname or slang term for our state.

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How this came about, I cannot say. I don’t recall ever having come across the term in my secondary or college studies, nor in everyday conversation. Officially we are the Magnolia State, of course, and unofficially the Hospitality State.

When did the ‘Sip slip in?

I recognize and grudgingly accept that some major changes have occurred in my home state over recent decades without my explicit approval, like casino gambling and Republican governors.

And I am on record acknowledging that not every syllable of the state’s name is pronounced by residents. I wrote this in a column back in 1982: “Real Mississippians never say Mis-sis-sip-pi. They say Mis-sipi.”

(I also said Real Mississippians stand when they hear “Dixie,” even if it’s being played by a car horn. I probably wouldn’t write that today.)

Still, what manner of foolishness reduces M, I, crooked letter-crooked letter, I, crooked letter-crooked letter, I, humpback-humpback, I — to ‘Sip?

Are there other states of four proud syllables lowering themselves to this sort of phonic debasement? Would Alabama accept the ‘Bam? Minnesota, the ‘So? Massachusetts, the ‘Chu?

I could go on. There are a surprising number of them, especially if you include North, South, New or West in the reckoning. The ‘Ko, for North or South Dakota?

I suggest the answer is no. There is only the ‘Sip on this perilous linguistic ledge.

I put the question to my friends on social media, to see first whether they were familiar with the term.

“Nah,” said one. “Always heard the M first. M’sippi or M’sip.”

That, I suggest, is in keeping with my 1982 reference from above.

And very few were supportive of the ‘Sip.

“Reminds me of a freshman from the Midwest at college in Connecticut who wanted to sound New Englandy, so he announced, ‘I’m going to the Cod this weekend,’” said one fellow.

“No. No, no,” said another. “Sip involves water, iced tea, or Jack Daniel’s.”

Along that liquid theme: “I hate it too, besides, we Magnolia Staters chug.”

One person reminded me that there is in fact a publication called The ‘Sip.

“The ‘Sip is a celebration of life in Mississippi,” its website proclaims, along with “Experience a ‘Sip of the South.”

You can put me down as in favor of both those aims. I just hate the name.

“Sounds like a Yankee trying to diss us,” another friend said of the term. And of course there’s no diss less welcome than one delivered by a Yankee.

Or the news media. I come from the Coast, which still holds a grudge for how the Weather Channel is said to have referred to the area in reporting on Hurricane Isaac in 2012.

It may not actually have happened. But no matter. Folks are still touchy about being called “the land mass” between New Orleans and Mobile.

Joe Rogers worked for The Clarion-Ledger, The Tennessean and The New York Times. He can be reached at jrogink@gmail.com or on Twitter @jrogink.