It is not at all unusual for a family, a community, a club or group of friends to use words, phrases and nicknames that have a special meaning within that circle but that might not be fully understood by outsiders. Words that, if heard by people who don't belong to that group, could be embarrassing or even offensive.
Spouses can have intimate nicknames for one another. Siblings, terms of endearment that sound insulting. People of certain racial groups have been heard to throw around words that, if uttered by anyone else, would be considered a slur.
The Dixie State College Board of Trustees should keep this in mind Friday when they are scheduled to vote on whether to keep the "Dixie" part of the name as their institution evolves into a university. They should remember that the connotation the word has for them, current students, alumni and residents of the larger St. George community may be one thing, while the images it will conjure up in the minds of practically everyone else are likely to be something very different, and much less friendly.
To those with a passing knowledge of American history which is most of us Dixie is the informal moniker for the Confederate States of America, the states that seceded from the Union and fought a bloody war with their once and future brethren. Although the causes and motivations for that cataclysm were varied and complex, the basic summary boils down to slavery: Dixie wanted to keep it. The Yankees didn't.
The application of the Dixie nickname to the St. George area is not, according to some scholars, meant as homage to the Confederacy. It is, they argue, a mere allusion to the fact that it is the southern part of this state, and that pioneers once attempted to grow cotton there. Without slaves.
Other experts find the etymology less innocent. Some of the settlers of the area were former slaveholders. And, in less politically correct times, Confederate images became part of the college's culture. Most of those have been officially banished, including, recently, a large statue of two rebel soldiers.
But no matter how many yearbooks are renamed, how many statues are removed, how many alumni stand up for the honor of their alma mater, the one undeniable fact is that, to the world outside St. George, Dixie stands for the last defenders of America's original sin. The fact that those others potential students, donors and employers of the school's graduates may be mistaken simply does not matter.
Trustees should ask members of their own school's faculty just how difficult it is to dislodge bad information from the brains of people who aren't really listening.
It's time for a new name, and a new image.