How to Sound Like a Memphian When You Move to Memphis

Unless you’ve lived here in Memphis for the last 10 years (or more), you run the risk of passing as a non-local. Not only might you be seen as a know-it-all tourist (you don’t want that), you’ll miss half of the flavor and culture that comes with knowing this vibrant, beautiful city.

Anything from Google to Bing can tell you the top 10 restaurants to visit in Memphis, the top 5 most popular bars, and the top 3 tourist spots; however, very few will tell you how to act like a local, learn the lingo, and sound like a Memphian–which is what we’re here to help with!

Bluff City

When we say Bluff City we mean Memphis, and the other way around. The city was built on a bluff, a low-rise flat cliff, rising from the Mississippi River. It is literally, a city on a bluff.

And while there may be other “bluff cities” out there, Memphis is the one and only Bluff City. And when it comes to our BBQ and our basketball, we don’t bluff!

M Town

Bluff City isn’t the only nickname for Memphis you’ll hear thrown around: M Town. M-Town. MTown.

However you format it, it means Memphis, and you’ll sound like you’ve lived here long enough to be on nickname terms with the city.

Deli Mexicana

We are big on food, so it is important to know some of the Memphis food lingo. The bigger name on the sign (and the registered name) is Las Tortugas, but we all call it by its subtitle, Deli Mexicana. It serves authentic Mexican food—tacos, tortas, tamales; no burritos.

All about ‘cue

We are known for our barbecue (or barbeque), and we use both BBQ and ‘cue when referring to this one-of-a-kind cuisine. You will also see bar-b-q and bar-be-que, but the question is, do you know how to order it? (I’m all about that mild sauce, pulled pork sandwich, on Texas toast.)

Wet or dry?

Wet barbecue sauce? Or do you prefer the dry rub of sugar or paprika and chili powder? Order like you mean it or they’ll find out you just read about it!

Wood or charcoal?

Know your flavors. Charcoal is the charring power, wood is the flavor power. Most restaurants use both in their grill pits, so don’t be afraid to tell them how you like it.

I swan you’ll love Memphis

Do not glance around for a big white bird after hearing this.  In M-Town “swan” is a verb.

“I swan” is a politer way to convey emotion—kind of like swearing, but nicer. It can also mean “OMG” or other exclamations. Variations include “I’ll swan” or “I swanee.”

Memfus and Murmphis

Like Bluff City, they mean Memphis. Practice saying it, practice listening to it until you can say it just like a Memphian. Start dropping consonants, and it means you’re probably about to start representing your city. While it sounds like slang, these are generally either used as terms of endearment or if you’re ready to throw down to protect the city you love.

Start saying y’all (and every variation thereof)

Yes, this is the South, and we do say y’all. Y’all tends to cover around one to three people, but if you’re talking to a bigger group, go ahead and use “all y’all” or “all of y’all.”

And if you value your life, never say “you guys.”

Bald peanuts

Not peanuts stripped of skin (although sometimes that can happen in the process). They are peanuts poured in boiling salted water until cooked and flavor. It’s a delicious dish and simple to make, and a local favorite.

Beale Street Bears

This refers to the Memphis Grizzlies, our NBA basketball team. Their stadium, the FedEx Forum, was built close to our resident music tourist trap, Beale Street. Hence the Beale Street Bears. Here’s some more Memphian slang about our team and stadium:

Big Mailbox

That’s the FedEx Forum. Get it? We also call it Fort FedEx and the FedEx Fortress.


Why would anyone go to a game wearing a t-shirt with just the words “I Believe” written across it?

Well, “Believe” has become the support slogan of Memphis for our Grizzlies. Variations are “Believe Memphis” or even just “Believe.”

Elvis Week or Death Week

That week in August. You know. The one when all the Elvis impersonators come around and mourn the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Don’t know what it feels like? You’ll find out. Unfortunately.

Those are just the basics, but you’ll quickly learn the rest.

Grant Oster