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Redneck is a derogatory slang term to refer to poor white Southern farmers in the United States.[1] It is similar in meaning to Cracker (especially in Georgia and Florida), Hillbilly (especially in Appalachia) and White trash (especially among blacks).[2]


Common American usage

The most common American usage, referring to the poor rural white Southerner, probably derived from individuals having a red neck caused by working outdoors in hot sun.[3] A citation from 1893 provides a definition as "poorer inhabitants of the rural who work in the field, as a matter of course, generally have their skin burned red by the sun, and especially is this true of the back of their necks".[4]

Political usage

By 1900, "rednecks" was in common use to designate the political coalitions of the poor white farmers in the South.[5] The same group was also often called the "wool hat boys" (for they opposed the rich, who wore silk hats). A newspaper notice in Mississippi in August 1891 called on rednecks to rally at the polls at the upcoming primary election:[6].

"Primary on the 25th.
And the "rednecks" will be there.
And the "Yaller-heels" will be there, also.
And the "hayseeds" and "gray dillers," they'll be there, too.
And the "subordinates" and "subalterns" will be there to rebuke their slanderers and traducers.
And the men who pay ten, twenty, thirty, etc. etc. per cent on borrowed money will be on hand, and they'll remember it, too."

Indeed, by 1910, the political supporters of the Mississippi politician James K. Vardaman--chiefly poor white farmers and industrial workers--began to describe themselves proudly as "rednecks," even to the point of wearing red neckerchiefs to political rallies and picnics[7]

By the 1970s, the term was still offensive slang and had expanded its meaning to mean bigoted, loutish and opposed to modern ways, and was often used to attack Southern conservatives and segregationists.[8]

Late 20th century writers Edward Abbey and Dave Foreman use "redneck" as a political call to mobilize poor rural white Southerners. "In Defense of the Redneck" was a popular essay by Ed Abbey. One popular early Earth First! bumper sticker was "Rednecks for Wilderness." Murray Bookchin, an urban leftist and social ecologist, objected strongly to Earth First!'s use of the term as "at the very least, insensitive."[9]

Author Jim Goad's 1997 book The Redneck Manifesto explores the socioeconomic history of low-income Americans. According to Goad, rednecks are traditionally pro-labor and anti-establishment and have an anti-hierarchical religious orientation.

Popular culture

The Grand Ole Opry and Hee Haw are popular entertainments from years past, and they, as well as entertainers Hank Williams, Grandpa Jones and Jerry Clower, have seen lasting popularity within the redneck community. Entertainers like Minnie Pearl used homespun comedy as much as music to create a lasting persona, and musicians like Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatt appeared on shows such as The Beverly Hillbillies, lending credence to broad humor about uncomplicated rural Americans.

According to James C. Cobb, a history professor at the University of Georgia, the redneck comedian "provided a rallying point for bourgeois and lower-class whites alike. With his front-porch humor and politically outrageous bons mots, the redneck comedian created an illusion of white equality across classes."[10]

Johnny Russell was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1973 for his recording of "Rednecks, White Socks, and Blue Ribbon Beer," parlaying the "common touch" into financial and critical success. Rednecks is a song by Randy Newman, the lead-off track on his 1974 album Good Old Boys. Country music singer Gretchen Wilson titled one of her songs "Redneck Woman" on her 2004 album Here for the Party.

In recent years, the comedy of Jeff Foxworthy, Ron White, Bill Engvall, and Larry the Cable Guy have become popular through the "Blue Collar Comedy Tour" and Blue Collar TV. Foxworthy's 1993 comedy album You Might Be a Redneck If... cajoled listeners to evaluate their own behavior in the context of stereotypical redneck behavior, and resulted in more mainstream usage of the term.

Miscellaneous uses

There are several historic uses that are no longer in current use.

Scottish Covenanter usage

In Scotland in the 1640s the Covenanters rejected rule by bishops, often signing manifestos using their own blood. Some wore red cloth around their neck to signify their position, and were called rednecks, but there was no derogatory implication.[11][12]

In the Dictionary of American Regional English, the earliest citation of the term in this context is from 1830, as "a name bestowed upon the Presbyterians of Fayetteville [North Carolina]".

National Mine Workers' Union

The term "redneck" was also used in The West Virginia Coal Miners March (1921) or the Battle of Blair Mountain when the coal miners wore red bandannas around their necks to identify themselves as seeking the opportunity to unionize. There was no derogatory implication.[13]

Irish Catholics

In northern England in the 19th century and in the U.S. in some places the term has been used in a derogatory sense to refer to Irish Catholics.[14] The first recorded American example in the Dictionary of American Regional English is from 1929, and this usage of the term remained current through the 1970s. [15]

See also


  1. ^ Harold Wentworth, and Stuart Berg Flexner, Dictionary of American Slang (1975) p. 424
  2. ^ Wray (2006) page x.
  3. ^ Addison, Kenneth N. (2009) We Hold These Truths to Be Self-Evident...: An Interdisciplinary Analysis of the Roots of Racism and Slavery in America. Lantham, MD: University Press of America.
  4. ^ Frederic Gomes Cassidy & Joan Houston Hall, Dictionary of American Regional English, 2002, pg 531.
  5. ^ Albert D. Kirwan, Revolt of the Rednecks: Mississippi Politics 1876-1925 (1951)
  6. ^ Patrick Huber and Kathleen Morgan Drowne, "Redneck: A New Discovery," American Speech 76.4 (2001) 434-437
  7. ^ Kirwan (1951), p. 212
  8. ^ Robert L. Chapman, Dictionary of American Slang (1995) p. 459; William Safire, Safire's Political Dictionary (2008) p. 612-13; Tom Dalzell, The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English: J-Z (2005) 2:1603
  9. ^ Bookchin, Murray; Foreman, Dave. "Defending the Earth: A Dialogue Between Murray Bookchin and Dave Foreman, South End Press, 1991. See Page 95
  10. ^ America's favorite redneck. - By Bryan Curtis - Slate Magazine
  11. ^ Fischer, David Hackett. (1989) Albion's Seed, Four British Folkways in America. New York: Oxford University Press.
  12. ^ redneck (1989) Oxford English Dictionary second edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  13. ^ Blizzard, William C. (2005) When Miners March: The Story of Coal Miners in West Virginia. Gay, WV: Appalachian Community Services.
  14. ^ "Redneck", definition #4, in Oxford English Diocgtionary (2nd ed. online)
  15. ^ Frederic Gomes Cassidy & Joan Houston Hall, Dictionary of American Regional English, Harvard University Press, 2002, pg 532.


  • Abbey, Edward. "In Defense of the Redneck", from Abbey's Road: Take the Other. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1979
  • Goad, Jim. The Redneck Manifesto: How Hillbillies, Hicks, and White Trash Became America's Scapegoats, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997
  • Webb, James H. Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America. New York: Broadway Books, 2004
  • Weston, Ruth D. "The Redneck Hero in the Postmodern World", South Carolina Review, Spring 1993
  • Wilson, Charles R. and William Ferris, eds. Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, (1989)
  • Wray, Matt. Not Quite White: White Trash and the Boundaries of Whiteness (2006)

External links

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