by Joe Goodell
The term “symbol” is derived from the Greek “symbolon,” a pledge or sign by which one infers something abstract. A good example is the symbolic Bulldog which aptly infers the “Go Dawgs” spirit of Mississippi State University.
Symbols for the State of Mississippi include the Flag, the Great Seal and the Coat of Arms; you are familiar with these. And presumably you know the State Flower: Mississippi’s own magnificent Magnolia, determined in 1900 by a 57% vote of school children, (over the Cotton Blossom and Cape Jasmine) and officially designated by the 1952 Legislature.
In the interim, a 1938 vote made the Magnolia the State Tree over three close contenders: Oak, Pine and Dogwood. And later on the bright yellow Coreopsis became the State Wildflower.
If you hoped that this penchant for symbolism would continue, your fondest dreams have been fulfilled — over a dozen more times — although perhaps more as mascots than as symbols.
Certainly you know the cheerful Mockingbird, found everywhere in Mississippi, as the State Bird, and probably the American Alligator as our State Reptile. For State Mammals, there are the Bottlenose Dolphin (Porpoise) in the water, and the White-tailed Deer, tied with the Red Fox, on land.
State Stones, Fossils and Shells, also get into the act, respectively, with Petrified Wood, Prehistoric Whale, and Oyster.
Back in, and on, the water there is the State Fish: Largemouth or Black Bass, and the State Waterfowl: the brightly hued Wood Duck. The lowly insect, not to be outdone, is represented twice: the Spicebush Swallowtail (State Butterfly) and the Honey Bee (State Insect). One has to wonder, however, if the Mosquito and the Fire Ant did not at least make it to the finals.
Rounding out the list, and showing some down-home Mississippi creative imagination, Milk was designated as the State Beverage, Square Dance as the State Dance, Teddy Bear as the State Toy — are you ready for this — the State Soil: perhaps originally imported by the wind or by the river, but now indigenous and unique to Mississippi: Natchez Silty Loam (however we can assume that Yazoo Clay did receive a fair share of the votes).