Hattiesburg, Mississippi is on the media map these days because of the University of Southern Mississippi’s most famous alum, Brett Favre. It is that time of year when Farve’s decision about returning to play in the NFL makes news everywhere. It is a story that has moved from the sports pages to the front pages of some newspapers and from Sports Illustrated to Men’s Journal. And it is in the August Men’s Journal cover story that I did a double-take when I read this sentence: “It is not quite 10AM, and the hamlet of Hattiesburg is already blowing things up.”
What? Hattiesburg – a hamlet?
My idea of a hamlet is a bit different than Hattiesburg, which is the fourth largest city in Mississippi and which has a population of almost 50,000. Legally, Mississippi has only cities, towns and villages as relates to classification of municipalities. Section 21-1-1 of the Mississippi Code provides, “…Those having two thousand inhabitants or more shall be classed as cities; those having less than two thousand and not less than three hundred inhabitants shall be classed as towns; and those having less than three hundred and not less than one hundred inhabitants shall be classed as villages.” Not a hamlet in sight in the law book.
So what is a hamlet? Perhaps it is different in the reporter’s “neck of the woods,” as we Southerners might say. When I first visited New England I found that what I called lakes were called ponds. So the same word can have different meanings in different parts of the country. After checking several dictionary sources, it seems that “hamlet” pretty much means the same everywhere. It is a community with no official boundaries, no government of its own and is not incorporated.
I do not know why the reporter chose to use the word “hamlet” to identify Hattiesburg. But I do know that this is the kind of thing that those who work in the tourism industry wring their hands over. It is a tough job trying to portray Mississippi’s image, but when a visitor labels Hattiesburg a hamlet – well, it just shows how difficult the image-making business can be.
Click here to read the Men’s Journal article.