Andrew Van Dam at The Washington Post recently conducted research using Airbnb listings as his primary data. He analyzed how the listings described the properties on offer, with the ultimate goals of (1) determining how to draw boundaries around what's considered "the South," and (2) understanding what "words and ideas" make "Southern culture unique." I'm particularly interested in this research because I was born in Georgia, spent almost my entire childhood in Louisiana, went to college in Mississippi, and then went back to Georgia for graduate school. I feel like I know something about "the South."
Van Dam first searched the listings to see if they mentioned "markers of Southern culture such as 'Southern charm,' 'Southern belle,' or 'Southern hospitality.'" Using this data, not surprisingly, Van Dam's research revealed that "the most Southern states in the Union" are Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina, Georgia, and Louisiana. The next most Southern are Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina, Arkansas, and Virginia. And finally, the states that still count as "the South" but are less Southern than the ones already listed are Florida, West Virginia, Texas, and the District of Columbia.
Next, he sought to understand "the most Southern things" that the listings mentioned. He explains that to meet the criteria for inclusion, something had to have been mentioned in at least 200 listings. What did he find?
The result shows a South still defined by the legacy of slavery. The two most Southern words in our entire database are "antebellum" and "plantation," words deeply tied to the Confederacy and a romanticized vision of an era defined by the mass enslavement of Black people. ("Confederate" also ranks among the top 15 most Southern words.)
Here are the top 15 most Southern words used in the Airbnb listings: antebellum, plantations, alligators, dolphins, hurricanes, armadillos, stilts, Baptists, redfish, y'all, Elvis, Confederate, shrimp, gameday, and Appalachian.
I'm surprised that crawfish, boudin, and gumbo didn't make the list, but maybe that's just my Louisiana bias showing!