Lowcountry Lingo: Your Dictionary for Charleston Terminology

Brooke McCallion
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You pick up a lot of local terms after living in one place for a while.

Like many cities, Charleston has her own language. Yet unlike many cities, Charleston's is one of extremely intricate diversity—a melting pot with just a few more (or a least a few funkier) ingredients, if you will. Heavily shaped by British colonialism, West African culture, French Huguenots, Sephardic Jews, Antebellum aristocracy, hurricanes, fire, religion, agriculture, and the extreme will to fight change for over 300 years, the Holy City has unsurprisingly developed quite the lexicon down the years.

Some people move to this city, fall in love with it, and never look back. Others can’t take the heat and think there are too many mosquitoes. Either way, if you’re going to spend any amount of time here, you might as well learn a few phrases that can help you get around, or at the very least keep you from being completely oblivious. You’ll never need to know these terms outside of Charleston, but they do provide some insight and context into the local culture and pulse.

Processed with VSCOcam with c3 preset
Processed with VSCOcam with c3 preset Brooke McCallion

Cadets— Students of The Citadel, commonly seen running in groups of two or three, dressed in navy, always with an orange reflective belt snugly around their waists.

Trout Set— The wrong way to set a hook on a Redfish, the right way to set a hook on a freshwater trout.

Sand Spur— Tiny balls covered with extremely sharp spikes, often experienced while exploring sand dunes while barefoot, seemingly originating from the bowels of Hell.

McKevlin’s— A surf shop on Folly Beach, home to Charleston’s cheapest surfboard wax.

Painkiller— An orange flavored frozen rum drink, typically enjoyed while watching football at Hometeam BBQ after a day on Sullivans Island.

Drum Beater— A fly resembling a small crab used to catch Redfish (Red Drum).

Palmetto Bug— American Cockroach; noticeably larger in size than upstate cockroaches, often flying through the air, you’re worst nightmare while walking to The Blind Tiger at night.

$1040— The amount of money you owe Sullivans Island if caught drinking on the beach

Skiff— a small boat able to maneuver in extremely shallow water, often seen being pushed around on grass flats with a long pole.

Skeg— A large, broad single fin, always on a longboard. Popular on Folly Beach’s small waves due to its stability and tracking.

Huger/Vanderhorst/Legare— Names of Charleston streets you do not know how to pronounce. Correct pronunciation: Hujee, Vandrost, Luhgree.

Geechee— Another term for the Gullah People, famous for their sweetgrass baskets and spices.

Joggleboard— Found on most porches South of Broad. A long bench that both rocks like a rocking chair and bounces up and down when shifting your weight. Great for entertaining babies and setting other overly expensive outdoor decor on top of.

Pluff Mud— Rancid, soft, deep mud. What you will sink into immediately upon walking into the marsh. The boatless fisherman's worst nightmare.

Flood Tide— A large incoming high tide most anticipated by fishermen searching for tailing Redfish.

Bow Hog— An inconsiderate fishermen who will not leave the bow of a skiff until he/she catches a fish.

Willy Le

Washout Wheat— A Popular beer by local brewery Holy City Brewing.

Rickshaw— Bike taxis. Typically operated by tattooed young adults with aggressive driving habits. Often seen parked outside of AC’s on King Street, or outside of Ben & Jerry’s on Market Street.

Old Bay— A favorite seafood seasoning throughout the Lowcountry, though most often mixed with other seasonings and added to the rim of a Bloody Mary, much like salt on the rim of a Margarita.

The Popsicle— A build-your-own beach cruiser style bike available at Afford-a-Bike on King Street. The most popular form of transportation among College of Charleston freshmen, and anyone who cares about personalizing their bicycle.

The Crosstown— A high-speed thoroughfare separating Downtown Charleston from the Hampton Park area of the peninsula. Notorious for complicated turn offs, excessive honking, and multitudes of fender benders.

Have any other suggestions for Lowcountry terms and expressions? Let us know! 

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