How to Sound Like a Local When You Move to Birmingham

Even Alabama’s largest city can’t escape the slow southern drawl. It drapes over the city like the kudzu that consumes trees lining the highway.

While the Birmingham dialect doesn’t have nearly as much twang as other neighboring regions, the Magic City does have its share of peculiar sayings and pronunciations.  If you want to sound like a local in the ‘ham, then take note of the below.

“Call me, Alabama!”

This saying comes from Alexander Shunnarah, the personal injury attorney whose ubiquitous billboards line pretty much every single highway throughout Alabama. With headquarters in downtown Birmingham, Shunnarah has become somewhat of a mascot for the city. His wide grin blankets (what seems like) billions of billboards and his commercials play ‘round the clock on a handful of local radio stations. Embrace the Shunnarah. He’s here to stay and we proudly claim him.


Pronounced “Puh-zits,” Pizitz is a name you’ll see frequently throughout Birmingham. Louis Pizitz made the name known back in 1899 when he established Louis Pizitz Dry Good Co. The location eventually became the flagship department store for Birmingham. Today, the historic Pizitz Building is a food hall where locals can get a variety of cuisine and cocktails. There are also some pretty swanky apartments upstairs.

“Respect the Polygon.”

For Birmingham residents, a polygon is more than a geometric shape you learn about in Kindergarten. It’s what local meteorologist James Spann references when residents are in the path of an impending storm (thus, they are in “the polygon.”) If you ever find yourself in polygon territory, seek shelter immediately. Tornadoes are the real deal in Alabama and are not to be messed with.

Miss Fancy was once an elephant. Now she’s a beer.

Back in the day, Birmingham was bestowed with a giant circus creature — Miss Fancy, the elephant. She would impress onlookers at the now-defunct Avondale Zoo with her tricks and larger than life personality. Her only flaw was a stomach ailment, which could only be tempered by guzzling a beer or two. Unfortunately, this was back during prohibition, so Miss Fancy had to get her booze illegally. Thankfully, the city turned a blind eye and kept a special reserve of booze on hand for Miss Fancy. Today, her legacy lives on at Avondale Brewing Company through the Miss Fancy’s Tripel — a remarkably smooth and refreshing beer. But sip with caution. This beer is said to be brewed with an ABV that’s strong enough for an elephant… 

We speak in sayings.

We’re in the south, after all, and us southerners are as creative as our literary predecessors. You’ll likely hear a few “bless your hearts” and quirky sayings like “this traffic is slow as Christmas” around the Magic City. Make sure to read between the lines, though. We sometimes like to hide our scrutiny through seemingly heartfelt phrases. We have to maintain our reputation of southern hospitality. We can’t be outright rude. That’s not how Mama taught us. 

Sweet or unsweet?

Those are the only two ways to take your tea in Birmingham, and one is dead give away you aren’t from around here. Pull up a seat at Niki’s West, one of Birmingham’s most famous meat and threes, and get a tall glass of tea to beat the Alabama heat. (Real Southerners take it sweet.)

Wait, what is a “meat and three” ?

Oh you didn’t know? A meat and three is a southern tradition and refers to any restaurant where you can go to the counter and order a meat entree (meatloaf, fried chicken, pork chop) and pick any three side dishes to go with it.

It’s a hosepipe, not a watering hose.

What do you call a flexible tube meant to release water on plants or ornery children who complain about the summer heat? A hosepipe. Not a watering hose.

Go to church, or the devil will get you!

Birmingham is in the Bible belt. It’s hard to drive a few miles without seeing a steeple. If someone ever tells you to “go to church or the devil will get you,” don’t think they’re being judgy, however. They’re likely referencing the iconic sign that stands proud off Interstate 65. Erected decades ago by W.S. “Bill” Newell, the sign was toppled by a storm a few years back. Thanks to a public outcry for the sign to return, however, the billboard is up once again — reminding all motorists who pass that they need to be parked in a pew come Sunday morning.

Sarah Cook