Key West Lexicon

Someone the other day asked directions to the Conch Republic Seafood Company, and I had to stop and think which waterfront restaurant they were seeking. It was the Conch Farm, of course, but they looked quizzically from me to their map when I mentioned the nickname. They seemed quite certain that I was going to lead them astray into some aquaculture lab, where they had no prayer of getting a bite to eat and a rum drink. I can only hope they trusted me and my directions. But I started thinking of the Key West lexicon that has developed over centuries and continues to change and adapt to new businesses, laws and leaders. Most visitors have no idea that the Conch Farm was supposed to be farming the edible mollusks as part of ongoing efforts to revitalize the Keys conch supply. I suppose that idea has gone by the wayside, so the conch we eat comes from the Bahamas . But the name of the place stuck and will forever be the Conch Farm for most locals.

Another term we use to unintentionally confuse our island’s guests is “the boulevard.” We all know that the term refers to North Roosevelt Boulevard , but tourists see both North and South Roosevelt on their maps and in their guidebooks, and can’t be sure which we’re specifying. When we mean South Roosevelt Boulevard , we say, “ South Roosevelt Boulevard ,” and we usually provide added detail about where something is along the road. “I’m on South Roosevelt near the airport,” or “. . . in front of the Sheraton,” or “by Houseboat Row.” Oh wait, that last one wouldn’t help some people who have only known the Doubletree Grand Key Resort or whatever those pastel, concrete condos are called. We’ve also gone and changed the entire name of a weekly newspaper. “The Blue Paper,” as we refer to it is actually called “Key West The Newspaper,” but almost no one calls it that.

Local developers are hoping against hope that the term “Toxic Triangle” will fade from memory in its reference to the waterfront area off Trumbo Road by the old steam plant. There are legendary “wooden nickels” that symbolize happy hour drinks and everyone in town knows who I mean when I say, “the Frisbee guy.” And that’s just on land. For you local boaters out there, think of the nicknames you have for marine-related stuff. Thousands of people next week will be going “bugging,” but will be catching Florida spiny lobsters. And I’ve heard nearly every captain I know refer to a marine location known as “Toppino.” It’s actually Mark er 32 due south of King’s Pointe Marina, and I have no idea how the Toppino family went from concrete and construction to marine navigation buoys. People who “live on the hook” aren’t literally suspending themselves from meat hooks, but rather are living aboard a boat moored offshore, and if you’re on a boat “out front,” you’re in the Atlantic rather than the Gulf of Mexico . Small dolphins, or mahi mahi, are called chickens, and big yellowtails are “flags.” Go figure.

We’ve all heard Conchs call each other “cuzzie,” so there’s no need to pull at that thread, but I do wonder how drunk we must sound to tourists when they hear us, around 3 a.m., say, “I called Sixes,” or “I called Friendly.” Huh? Granted, by the time most of us are in need of a cab, we may be a little tipsy, but visitors have no way of knowing that we’re referring to the town’s taxi companies and are actually making more sense than they give us credit for. And there are those nights when someone we know should have taken a cab home, and ends up on the cryptic sounding, “keys so.” Every local recognizes the acronym for the popular Monroe County Sheriff’s Office Web site ( that features mug shots of too many familiar faces – after spending too many wooden nickels.

Mandy Bolen’s columns appear in The Key West Citizen

Mandy Bolen's award winning "Tan Lines" column appears bi-weekly in the Key West Citizen. Offering unique insights on life in the southernmost island and life in general, her wit and wisdom has been likened to that of a "female Dave Barry."