The term redneck is a derogatory term chiefly used for a rural poor white person of the Southern United States. Its usage is similar in meaning to cracker (especially regarding Georgia and Florida), hillbilly (especially regarding Appalachia and the Ozarks), and white trash (but without the last term's suggestions of immorality).
By the 1970s, the term had become offensive slang, and its meaning had expanded to mean bigoted, loutish, and opposed to modern ways.
Patrick Huber has emphasized the theme of masculinity in the continued expansion of the term in the 20th century, noting, "The redneck has been stereotyped in the media and popular culture as a poor, dirty, uneducated, and racist Southern white man."
- 1 Anti-conservative epithet
- 2 19th and early 20th centuries
- 3 Late 20th and early 21st centuries
- 4 Popular culture
- 5 Outside the United States
- 6 See also
- 7 Notes
- 8 Further reading
- 9 External links
By 1975, say Chapman and Kipfer, the term had expanded in meaning beyond the poor Southerner to refer to "a bigoted and conventional person, a loutish ultra-conservative." For example, in 1960 John Barlow Martin felt that Senator John F. Kennedy should not enter the Indiana Democratic presidential primary because the state was "redneck conservative country." Indiana, he told Kennedy, was a state "suspicious of foreign entanglements, conservative in fiscal policy, and with a strong overlay of Southern segregationist sentiment." William Safire says it is often used to attack white Southern conservatives. The term is also used broadly to degrade working class and rural whites that are perceived by urban progressives to be insufficiently liberal. At the same time, some white Southerners have reclaimed the word, using it with pride and defiance as a self-identifier.
19th and early 20th centuries
Political term for poor farmers
The term characterized farmers having a red neck caused by sunburn from hours working in the fields. A citation from provides a definition as "poorer inhabitants of the rural districts...men who work in the field, as a matter of course, generally have their skin stained red and burnt by the sun, and especially is this true of the back of their necks".
By 1900, "rednecks" was in common use to designate the political factions inside the Democratic Party comprising poor white farmers in the South. The same group was also often called the "wool hat boys" (for they opposed the rich men, who wore expensive silk hats). A newspaper notice in Mississippi in August 1891 called on rednecks to rally at the polls at the upcoming primary election:
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.
By , the political supporters of the Mississippi Democratic Party politician James K. Vardaman—chiefly poor white farmers—began to describe themselves proudly as "rednecks," even to the point of wearing red neckerchiefs to political rallies and picnics.
Linguist Sterling Eisiminger, based on the testimony of informants from the Southern United States, speculated that the prevalence of pellagra in the region during the great depression may have contributed to the rise in popularity of the term; red, inflamed skin is one of the first symptoms of that disorder to appear.
The term "redneck" in the early 20th century was occasionally used in reference to American coal miner union members who wore red bandannas for solidarity. The sense of "a union man" dates at least to the 1910s and was especially popular during the 1920s and 1930s in the coal-producing regions of West Virginia, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania. It was also used by union strikers to describe poor white strikebreakers.
Late 20th and early 21st centuries
Writers Edward Abbey and Dave Foreman also 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".
Further songs referencing rednecks include "Rednecks" by Randy Newman, "Redneck Woman" by Gretchen Wilson, "Redneck Yacht Club" by Craig Morgan, "Redneck" by Lamb of God, "Redneck Crazy" by Tyler Farr, and "Your Redneck Past" by Ben Folds Five.
Outside the United States
Historical 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 by the Scottish ruling class to denote that they were the rebels in what came to be known as The Bishop's War that preceded the rise of Cromwell. Eventually, the term began to mean simply "Presbyterian", especially in communities along the Scottish border. Because of the large number of Scottish immigrants in the pre-revolutionary American South, some historians have suggested that this may be the origin of the term in the United States.
The exact Afrikaans equivalent, "rooinek", is used as a disparaging term for English people and South Africans of English descent, in reference to their supposed naïveté as later arrivals in the region in failing to protect themselves from the sun.
- Stereotypes of white Americans in the United States
- Culture of the Southern United States
- List of ethnic slurs
- Class discrimination
- Bogan, Australian term
- Plain Folk of the Old South
- Redlegs – poor whites that live on Barbados and a few other Caribbean islands
- Harold Wentworth, and Stuart Berg Flexner, Dictionary of American Slang (1975) p. 424.
- "Redneck - Definition and More". Merriam Webster. Retrieved January 25, 2014.
- Anthony Harkins, Hillbilly, A Cultural History of an American Icon, Oxford University Press (2004), p. 39.
- Wray (2006) p. x
- Ernest Cashmore and James Jennings, eds. Racism: essential readings (2001) p. 36.
- Jim Goad, The Redneck Manifesto: How Hillbillies, Hicks, and White Trash Became America's Scapegoats (1998) pp. 17–19
- Robert L. Chapman, Dictionary of American Slang (1995) p. 459; William Safire, Safire's New Political Dictionary (1993) pp. 653-54; Tom Dalzell, The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English: J-Z (2005) 2:1603.
- Patrick Huber, "A short history of Redneck: The fashioning of a southern white masculine identity." Southern Cultures 1#2 (1995): 145-166. online
- Robert L. Chapman and Barbara Ann Kipfer, Dictionary of American Slang (3rd ed. 1995) p. 459
- Ray E. Boomhower (2015). John Bartlow Martin: A Voice for the Underdog. Indiana UP. p. 273.
- William Safire, Safire's political dictionary (2008) p. 612
- Goad, The Redneck Manifesto: How Hillbillies, Hicks, and White Trash Became America's Scapegoats (1998) p. 18
- Frederic Gomes Cassidy & Joan Houston Hall, Dictionary of American Regional English (2002) p. 531.
- Albert D. Kirwan, Revolt of the Rednecks: Mississippi Politics 1876-1925 (1951).
- Patrick Huber and Kathleen Morgan Drowne, "Redneck: A New Discovery," American Speech 76.4 (2001) 434-437.
- Kirwan (1951), p. 212.
- Sterling Eisiminger (Autumn 1984). "Redneck". American Speech. 59 (3): 284. doi:10.2307/454514. JSTOR 454514.
- Patrick Huber, "Red Necks and Red Bandanas: Appalachian Coal Miners and the Coloring of Union Identity, 1912-1936," Western Folklore, Winter 2006.
- James Green (2015). The Devil Is Here in These Hills: West Virginia's Coal Miners and Their Battle for Freedom. New York: Grove Press. p. 380. ISBN 9780802124654.
- Bookchin, Murray; Foreman, Dave. Defending the Earth: A Dialogue Between Murray Bookchin and Dave Foreman. South End Press. 1991. p. 95.
- Kyff, Rob (August 3, 2007). "Embrace Slurs, Reclaim Pride". Hartford Courant. p. D.10. Retrieved 2010-06-30.
Many southerners have adopted the disparaging term redneck as a banner of pride.
- Page, Clarence (July 18, 1989). "'Redneck' is not a word that a politician should take lightly". The Milwaukee Sentinel. Archived from the original on September 27, 2015. Retrieved July 30, 2010.
- Fischer, David Hackett. (1989) Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America. New York: Oxford University Press.
- redneck (1989); Oxford English Dictionary second edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Herman, Arthur, How the Scots Invented the Modern World. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2001, p. 235.
- The All England Law Reports Reprint: Being a Selection from the Law Times Reports, 1843-1935, retrieved 16 December 2013,
At the meeting the appellant called Roman Catholics "rednecks," a name most insulting to them, and challenged them to get up.
- Jean Bedford, A Dictionary of South African English, Oxford
- Abbey, Edward. "In Defense of the Redneck", from Abbey's Road: Take the Other. (E. P. Dutton, 1979)
- Ferrence, Matthew, “You Are and You Ain’t: Story and Literature as Redneck Resistance,” Journal of Appalachian Studies, 18 (2012), 113–30.
- Goad, Jim. The Redneck Manifesto: How Hillbillies, Hicks, and White Trash Became America's Scapegoats (Simon & Schuster, 1997).
- Harkins, Anthony. Hillbilly: A cultural history of an American icon (2003).
- Huber, Patrick. "A short history of Redneck: The fashioning of a southern white masculine identity." Southern Cultures 1#2 (1995): 145-166. online
- Jarosz, Lucy, and Victoria Lawson. "'Sophisticated people versus rednecks': Economic restructuring and class difference in America’s West." Antipode 34#1 (2002): 8-27.
- Shirley, Carla D. "'You might be a redneck if...' Boundary Work among Rural, Southern Whites." Social forces 89#1 (2010): 35-61. in JSTOR
- West, Stephen A. From Yeoman to Redneck in the South Carolina Upcountry, 1850–1915 (2008)
- 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)
|Look up redneck in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
- Poor Whites — The Georgia Encyclopedia (history)