Peckerwood is the inverse of the word woodpecker. In most parts of the country where the word originated, the woodpecker is considered to be a pest and or nuisance. Like other words sharing a similar context (a nuisance, bother, pest etc.), it quickly became a common retort in most social circles and groups of friends. It can also be used as a derogatory term referring to southern whites, similar to "rednecks".
In the 1940s, the abbreviated version "wood" entered California prison slang, originally meaning an Okie mainly from the San Joaquin Valley. This has caused the symbol of the woodpecker to be used by white power skinheads and other pro-white groups. Some white supremacist groups call male members "peckerwoods" and female members "featherwoods". It is usually drawn with a long beak, sometimes drawn to resemble Woody Woodpecker or Mr. Horsepower. Sometimes the letters "PW" or "APW" (Peckerwood and American Peckerwood) are used.
The term peckerwood has been adopted as the name of a street gang. The Peckerwood gangs are concentrated in California, where some trade in methamphetamine. In the East Bay Area of California (Contra Costa County, Martinez, Richmond, Pittsburg, Antioch) the peckerwood gang members are identified by the CO. CO. County (contra costa county tattoo, usually in but not limited to the abdominal/stomach region). The tattoo and Co. Co. County "WhiteBoy" gang trails to the prison California gang F.A.I.M. (Family Affiliated Irish Mob) affiliates of the Aryan Brotherhood. Peckerwood was originally a street gang, founded in the early 1940s by an excon in the south.
Under Peckerwood law, members are required to physically harm any other white person who has had a history of child molestation. On May 4, 2013, Charles Gaskin, who was a member of the gang according to his probation report, was sentenced for 26 years to life for the murder of registered sex offender Neil Lee Hayes.
In popular culture
- Sometimes "peckerwood" is used in combination with redneck as "redneck peckerwood", for example in Sam Peckinpah's classic Western Ride the High Country.
- "Peckerwood" is used in a 1975 Saturday Night Live skit in which Richard Pryor must complete a word association test as part of a job interview, with interviewer Chevy Chase giving increasingly inflammatory words as prompts.
- The term also appears in The Right Stuff, in a scene with Pancho Barnes declaring that "Some peckerwood's gotta take the beast up, and some peckerwood's gotta land the son-of-a-bitch. And that peckerwood's called a 'pilot'."
- The term is also used in the 1985 Robert Zemeckis film Back to the Future as a rebuttal to the opposing epithet "spook."
- It was the name of a character in the 1988 film Mississippi Burning.
- In a 1991 episode of The Golden Girls entitled "Room 7," the women visit the former home of Blanche's grandmother, Grammy Hollingsworth. Irritated by Blanche's sentimentality and belief in her grandmother's lingering presence, Dorothy adopts a southern affectation and says, "Blanche! This is your Grammy! Y'all getcha self outta here you dumb peckerwood!"
- In the television show Sons of Anarchy the term "peckerwood" is used throughout mainly as slang for members of the Aryan Brotherhood.
- The character played by Mark Wahlberg in Shooter (2007 film) intimates that he is not a threat by stating, "I'm just a peckerwood who lives in the hills with too many guns."
- The character played by Samuel L. Jackson uses the phrase in the 2012 film Django Unchained to describe a group of paid plantation workers in an 1850s setting. Additionally, the character played by Don Johnson, a plantation owner, uses the term when attempting to explain to one of his slaves the proper way to treat Django, a free black man; "Big Daddy" explains to his slave that Django should not be treated as a white person would, but rather as a "peckerwood" boy from the town nearby.
- "Peckerwood" is used to describe Dereck in the 1998 film American History X.
- "Peckerwood" is the name of the southern plantation owned by Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside in Auntie Mame.
- In The Mask of Zorro, Three-Fingered Jack calls Don Montero "peckerwood" before his failed attempt to kill Montero, who doesn't understand the term.
- In 2011, artist Christian Patterson published Redheaded Peckerwood, a photography book dealing with the 1958 spree killer Charles Starkweather.
- Hate On Display: Pecker-wood Anti-Defamation League's hate group resource page. Accessed January 16, 2007.
- Vanguard News Network
- Double-Tongued Dictionary
- "White Supremacist Gets 26 Years For Killing Child Molester". Headlines & Global News. Retrieved 2013-05-04.
- "Saturday Night Live Season 1:Episode 7 Transcript". Saturday Night Live Transcripts. Retrieved 2010-09-07.
- "Memorable quotes for Back to the Future". IMDb, the Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2010-09-07.
- Sante, Luc (8 September 2012). "Violence, Dissected". The New York Times. Retrieved 3 June 2014.