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This article is about redneck as a pejorative. For the subculture, see Poor White. For other uses, see Redneck (disambiguation).

The term redneck is chiefly used for a rural poor white person of the Southern United States. It can be a derogatory slang term[1][2] similar in meaning to cracker (especially regarding Georgia and Florida), hillbilly (especially regarding Appalachia and the Ozarks),[3] and white trash (but without the last term's suggestions of immorality).[4][5][6]

By , 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."[7] 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.[8] At the same time, some white Southerners have reclaimed the word, using it with pride and defiance as a self-identifier.[9]

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 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".[10]

By 1900, "rednecks" was in common use to designate the political factions inside the Democratic Party comprising poor white farmers in the South.[11] 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:[12]

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.

Poor white sharecroppers in Alabama in

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.[13]

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.[14]

By the 1970s, the term had become offensive slang, and its meaning had expanded to mean bigoted, loutish, and opposed to modern ways. It was often used as a term to attack Southern white conservatives and racists.[15]

Coal miners

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.

Coal miners in soda fountain, Kentucky, 1946

The United Mine Workers of America (UMW) and rival miners' unions used the red bandana, in order to build multiracial unions of white, black, and immigrant miners in the strike-ridden coalfields of northern and central Appalachia between and . The origin of redneck to mean "a union man" or "a striker" remains uncertain, but according to linguist David W. Maurer, the former definition of the word probably dates at least to the 1910s, if not earlier. The use of redneck to designate "a union member" was especially popular during the 1920s and 1930s in the coal-producing regions of West Virginia, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania.[16]

Late 20th and early 21st centuries

The late social and political essayist Joe Bageagnt (1946–2011) used redneck in his writing and books to refer to the Scots-Irish/Ulster Scots descendant peoples of his linage in America and the retelling of their culture and tribulations as the unacknowledged white American underclass. He not only includes the poor southern whites in his definition, but those of the rural mid-west and west and those who were forced off the land during the 30's and later during the great post war urbanization.

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".[17]

But many members of the Southern community have proudly embraced the term as a self-identifier.[18][19] Among those who dispute that the term is disparaging, Canadian Paul Brandt, a self-identified redneck, says that primarily the term indicates independence.[20]

Popular culture

Johnny Russell was nominated for a Grammy Award in for his recording of "Rednecks, White Socks and Blue Ribbon Beer", parlaying the "common touch" into financial and critical success. 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.

Comedian Jeff Foxworthy's 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.

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.[21][22] 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.[23]

Dictionaries document the earliest American citation of the term's use for Presbyterians in , as "a name bestowed upon the Presbyterians of Fayetteville [North Carolina]".[10][22]

Roman Catholics

In Northern England in the 19th and 20th centuries, Roman Catholics were also known as rednecks.[24]

See also


  1. ^ Harold Wentworth, and Stuart Berg Flexner, Dictionary of American Slang () p. 424.
  2. ^ "Redneck - Definition and More". Merriam Webster. Retrieved January 25, 2014. 
  3. ^ Anthony Harkins, Hillbilly, A Cultural History of an American Icon, Oxford University Press (2004), p. 39.
  4. ^ Wray (2006) p. x
  5. ^ Ernest Cashmore and James Jennings, eds. Racism: essential readings (2001) p. 36.
  6. ^ Jim Goad, The Redneck Manifesto: How Hillbillies, Hicks, and White Trash Became America's Scapegoats (1998) pp. 17–19
  7. ^ Robert L. Chapman and Barbara Ann Kipfer, Dictionary of American Slang (3rd ed. 1995) p. 459
  8. ^ William Safire, Safire's political dictionary (2008) p. 612
  9. ^ Goad, The Redneck Manifesto: How Hillbillies, Hicks, and White Trash Became America's Scapegoats (1998) p. 18
  10. ^ a b Frederic Gomes Cassidy & Joan Houston Hall, Dictionary of American Regional English (2002) p. 531.
  11. ^ Albert D. Kirwan, Revolt of the Rednecks: Mississippi Politics 1876-1925 (1951).
  12. ^ Patrick Huber and Kathleen Morgan Drowne, "Redneck: A New Discovery," American Speech 76.4 (2001) 434-437.
  13. ^ Kirwan (1951), p. 212.
  14. ^ Sterling Eisiminger (Autumn 1984). "Redneck". American Speech 59 (3): 284. doi:10.2307/454514. 
  15. ^ Robert L. Chapman, Dictionary of American Slang (1995) p. 459; William Safire, Safire's Political Dictionary (2008) pp. 612-13; Tom Dalzell, The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English: J-Z (2005) 2:1603.
  16. ^ Patrick Huber, "Red Necks and Red Bandanas: Appalachian Coal Miners and the Coloring of Union Identity, 1912-1936," Western Folklore, Winter 2006.
  17. ^ Bookchin, Murray; Foreman, Dave. Defending the Earth: A Dialogue Between Murray Bookchin and Dave Foreman. South End Press. 1991. p. 95.
  18. ^ 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. 
  19. ^ Page, Clarence (July 18, 1989). "'Redneck' is not a word that a politician should take lightly". The Milwaukee Sentinel. Retrieved July 30, 2010. [dead link]
  20. ^ "Country singer Brandt proud to be a 'redneck'". Canwest News Service. November 28, 2007. Retrieved 2010-06-30. 
  21. ^ Fischer, David Hackett. (1989) Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America. New York: Oxford University Press.
  22. ^ a b redneck (1989); Oxford English Dictionary second edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  23. ^ Herman, Arthur, How the Scots Invented the Modern World. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2001, p. 235.
  24. ^ 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. 


  • Abbey, Edward. "In Defense of the Redneck", from Abbey's Road: Take the Other. New York: E. P. Dutton,
  • Ferrence, Matthew, “You Are and You Ain’t: Story and Literature as Redneck Resistance,” Journal of Appalachian Studies, 18 (Spring–Fall ), 113–30.
  • Goad, Jim. The Redneck Manifesto: How Hillbillies, Hicks, and White Trash Became America's Scapegoats, New York: Simon & Schuster,
  • West, Stephen A. From Yeoman to Redneck in the South Carolina Upcountry, 1850–1915 ()
  • Weston, Ruth D. "The Redneck Hero in the Postmodern World", South Carolina Review, Spring
  • Wilson, Charles R. and William Ferris, eds. Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, ()
  • Wray, Matt. Not Quite White: White Trash and the Boundaries of Whiteness ()

External links