Redneck is a historically derogatory slang term used in reference to poor, uneducated white
White people
White people is a term which usually refers to human beings characterized, at least in part, by the light pigmentation of their skin...

 farmers, especially from the southern United States
Southern United States
The Southern United States—commonly referred to as the American South, Dixie, or simply the South—constitutes a large distinctive area in the southeastern and south-central United States...

. It is similar in meaning to cracker
Cracker (pejorative)
Cracker, sometimes white cracker, is a pejorative term for white people. It is an ethnic slur that is especially used for the white inhabitants of the U.S. states of Georgia and Florida , but it is also used throughout the United States.-Etymology:One theory holds that the term comes from the...

(especially regarding Georgia and Alabama), hillbilly
Hillbilly is a term referring to certain people who dwell in rural, mountainous areas of the United States, primarily Appalachia but also the Ozarks. Owing to its strongly stereotypical connotations, the term is frequently considered derogatory, and so is usually offensive to those Americans of...

(especially regarding Appalachia
Appalachia is a term used to describe a cultural region in the eastern United States that stretches from the Southern Tier of New York state to northern Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia. While the Appalachian Mountains stretch from Belle Isle in Canada to Cheaha Mountain in the U.S...

 and the Ozarks
The Ozarks
The Ozarks are a physiographic and geologic highland region of the central United States. It covers much of the southern half of Missouri and an extensive portion of northwestern and north central Arkansas...

), and white trash
White trash
White trash is an American English pejorative term referring to poor white people in the United States, suggesting lower social class and degraded living standards...

(but without the last term's suggestions of immorality).

In recent decades, the term has expanded its meaning to refer to bigoted, loutish reactionaries who are opposed to modern ways, and has often been used to attack Southern conservatives and racists. At the same time, some Southern whites have reclaimed the word, using it with pride and defiance as a self-identifier.

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 1893 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".

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:
By 1910, the political supporters of the Mississippi
Mississippi is a U.S. state located in the Southern United States. Jackson is the state capital and largest city. The name of the state derives from the Mississippi River, which flows along its western boundary, whose name comes from the Ojibwe word misi-ziibi...

 Democratic Party politician James K. Vardaman
James K. Vardaman
James Kimble Vardaman was an American politician from the state of Mississippi, serving as Governor of Mississippi from 1904 to 1908 and in the U.S. Senate from 1913 to 1919. Vardaman, known as "The Great White Chief", advocated white supremacy...

—chiefly poor white farmers—began to describe themselves proudly as "rednecks," even to the point of wearing red neckerchiefs to political rallies and picnics.

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

Coal miners

The United Mine Workers of America (UMW) and rival miners' unions appropriated both the term redneck and its literal manifestation, 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
Appalachia is a term used to describe a cultural region in the eastern United States that stretches from the Southern Tier of New York state to northern Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia. While the Appalachian Mountains stretch from Belle Isle in Canada to Cheaha Mountain in the U.S...

 between 1912 and 1936. 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 southern West Virginia
West Virginia
West Virginia is a state in the Appalachian and Southeastern regions of the United States, bordered by Virginia to the southeast, Kentucky to the southwest, Ohio to the northwest, Pennsylvania to the northeast and Maryland to the east...

, eastern Kentucky
The Commonwealth of Kentucky is a state located in the East Central United States of America. As classified by the United States Census Bureau, Kentucky is a Southern state, more specifically in the East South Central region. Kentucky is one of four U.S. states constituted as a commonwealth...

, and western Pennsylvania
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is a U.S. state that is located in the Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States. The state borders Delaware and Maryland to the south, West Virginia to the southwest, Ohio to the west, New York and Ontario, Canada, to the north, and New Jersey to...

, where the word came to be specifically applied to a miner who belonged to a union.

The term can be found throughout McAllister Coleman and Stephen Raushenbush's 1936 socialist proletarian novel, Red Neck, which recounts the story of a charismatic union leader named Dave Houston and an unsuccessful strike by his fellow union miners in the fictional coalfield town of Laurel, Pennsylvania
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is a U.S. state that is located in the Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States. The state borders Delaware and Maryland to the south, West Virginia to the southwest, Ohio to the west, New York and Ontario, Canada, to the north, and New Jersey to...

. The word's varied usage can be seen in the following two examples from the book. "I'm not much to be proud of," Houston admits to his admiring girlfriend Madge in one scene. "I'm just a red necked miner like the rest." In another scene, a police captain curses Houston as a "God-damned red neck" during a fruitless jailhouse interrogation, before savagely beating him with a sawed-off chair-leg.

The earliest printed uses of the word red-neck in a coal-mining context date from the 1912-1913 Paint and Cabin Creeks strike in southern West Virginia and from the 1913-1914 Trinidad District strike
Ludlow massacre
The Ludlow Massacre was an attack by the Colorado National Guard on a tent colony of 1,200 striking coal miners and their families at Ludlow, Colorado on April 20, 1914....

 in southern Colorado
Colorado is a U.S. state that encompasses much of the Rocky Mountains as well as the northeastern portion of the Colorado Plateau and the western edge of the Great Plains...

. It is not known where the term originated. UMW national organizers quite possibly transported "redneck" from one section of the country to the other. Then again, its popularizers may have been agents of the Baldwin–Felts Detective Agency, an industrial espionage and mine security company headquartered in Bluefield
Bluefield, West Virginia
Bluefield is a city in Mercer County, West Virginia, United States. The population was 10,447 at the 2010 census. It is also the core city of the Bluefield WV-VA micropolitan area which has a population of 107,342.-Geography & Climate:...

, West Virginia, which supplied company guards and spies in both the West Virginia and the Colorado strikes. What is relatively certain, however, is that it originated as a negative epithet
An epithet or byname is a descriptive term accompanying or occurring in place of a name and having entered common usage. It has various shades of meaning when applied to seemingly real or fictitious people, divinities, objects, and binomial nomenclature. It is also a descriptive title...

. Apparently, coal operators, company guards, non-union miners, and strikebreakers were among the first to use the term "redneck" in a labor context when they derided union miners with the slur. According to industrial folklorist George Korson, non-union miners derisively called strikers "rednecks" in the Appalachian coalfields, while slurring them as "sweaters" in Oklahoma
Oklahoma is a state located in the South Central region of the United States of America. With an estimated 3,751,351 residents as of the 2010 census and a land area of 68,667 square miles , Oklahoma is the 28th most populous and 20th-largest state...

 and the southwestern coalfields. It is possible that redneck emerged in strike-ridden coalfields to mean "union miner" independently of its use in the deep south. Clearly, the best explanation of redneck to mean "union man" is that the word refers to the red handkerchiefs that striking union coal miners in both southern West Virginia and southern Colorado often wore around their necks or arms as a part of their informal uniform.

Late 20th and early 21st century

Late 20th century writers Edward Abbey
Edward Abbey
Edward Paul Abbey was an American author and essayist noted for his advocacy of environmental issues, criticism of public land policies, and anarchist political views. His best-known works include the novel The Monkey Wrench Gang, which has been cited as an inspiration by radical environmental...

 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!
Earth First!
Earth First! is a radical environmental advocacy group that emerged in the Southwestern United States in 1979. It was co-founded on April 4th, 1980 by Dave Foreman, Mike Roselle, Howie Wolke, and less directly, Bart Koehler and Ron Kezar....

 bumper sticker was "Rednecks for Wilderness". Murray Bookchin
Murray Bookchin
Murray Bookchin was an American libertarian socialist author, orator, and philosopher. A pioneer in the ecology movement, Bookchin was the founder of the social ecology movement within anarchist, libertarian socialist and ecological thought. He was the author of two dozen books on politics,...

, an urban leftist and social ecologist
Social ecology
Social ecology is a philosophy developed by Murray Bookchin in the 1960s.It holds that present ecological problems are rooted in deep-seated social problems, particularly in dominatory hierarchical political and social systems. These have resulted in an uncritical acceptance of an overly...

, objected strongly to Earth First!'s use of the term as "at the very least, insensitive".

But many members of the Southern community have proudly embraced the term as a self-identifier. Among those who dispute that the term is disparaging, Canadian Paul Brandt
Paul Brandt
Paul Rennée Belobersycky is a Canadian country music artist, known professionally as Paul Brandt. Growing up in Calgary, he was a pediatric RN at the time of his big break...

, a self-identified redneck, says that primarily the term indicates independence.

Popular culture

The Grand Ole Opry
Grand Ole Opry
The Grand Ole Opry is a weekly country music stage concert in Nashville, Tennessee, that has presented the biggest stars of that genre since 1925. It is also among the longest-running broadcasts in history since its beginnings as a one-hour radio "barn dance" on WSM-AM...

 and Hee Haw
Hee Haw
Hee Haw is an American television variety show featuring country music and humor with fictional rural Kornfield Kounty as a backdrop. It aired on CBS-TV from 1969–1971 before a 20-year run in local syndication. The show was inspired by Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, the major difference being...

are popular entertainments from years past, and they, as well as entertainers Hank Williams, Grandpa Jones
Grandpa Jones
Louis Marshall Jones , known professionally as Grandpa Jones, was an American banjo player and "old time" country and gospel music singer...

 and Jerry Clower
Jerry Clower
Howard Gerald "Jerry" Clower was a popular country comedian best known for his stories of the rural South. He was often nicknamed "The Mouth of the South", although this title has also been used for other individuals.Clower began a 2-year stint in the Navy immediately after graduating high school...

, have seen lasting popularity within the redneck community. Entertainers like Minnie Pearl
Minnie Pearl
Sarah Ophelia Colley Cannon , known professionally as Minnie Pearl, was an American country comedienne who appeared at the Grand Ole Opry for more than 50 years and on the television show Hee Haw from 1969 to 1991.-Early life:Sarah Colley was born in Centerville, in Hickman County, Tennessee,...

 used homespun comedy as much as music to create a lasting persona, and musicians like Earl Scruggs
Earl Scruggs
Earl Eugene Scruggs is an American musician noted for perfecting and popularizing a 3-finger banjo-picking style that is a defining characteristic of bluegrass music...

 and Lester Flatt
Lester Flatt
Lester Raymond Flatt was a bluegrass musician and guitarist and mandolinist, best known for his membership in the Bluegrass duo The Foggy Mountain Boys, also known as "Flatt and Scruggs," with banjo picker Earl Scruggs. Flatt's career spanned multiple decades; besides his work with Scruggs, he...

 appeared on shows such as The Beverly Hillbillies
The Beverly Hillbillies
The Beverly Hillbillies is an American situation comedy originally broadcast for nine seasons on CBS from 1962 to 1971, starring Buddy Ebsen, Irene Ryan, Donna Douglas, and Max Baer, Jr....

, lending credence to broad humor about uncomplicated rural Americans.

According to James C. Cobb, a history professor at the University of Georgia
University of Georgia
The University of Georgia is a public research university located in Athens, Georgia, United States. Founded in 1785, it is the oldest and largest of the state's institutions of higher learning and is one of multiple schools to claim the title of the oldest public university in the United States...

, the redneck comedian
A comedian or comic is a person who seeks to entertain an audience, primarily by making them laugh. This might be through jokes or amusing situations, or acting a fool, as in slapstick, or employing prop comedy...

 "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."

Johnny Russell
Johnny Russell
John Bright "Johnny" Russell was an American country singer, songwriter, and comedian best-known for his song "Act Naturally", which was made famous by Buck Owens, who recorded it in 1963, and The Beatles in 1965...

 was nominated for a Grammy Award
Grammy Award
A Grammy Award — or Grammy — is an accolade by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences of the United States to recognize outstanding achievement in the music industry...

 in 1973 for his recording of "Rednecks, White Socks and Blue Ribbon Beer
Rednecks, White Socks and Blue Ribbon Beer
"Rednecks, White Socks and Blue Ribbon Beer" is the title of a song written by Bob McDill and Wayland Holyfield, and recorded by American country music artist Johnny Russell. It was released in July 1973 as the first single from his album Rednecks, White Socks and Blue Ribbon Beer. The song peaked...

", parlaying the "common touch" into financial and critical success. Rednecks
Rednecks (song)
"Rednecks" is a song by Randy Newman, the lead-off track on his 1974 album Good Old Boys.- Lyrics and interpretation :"Rednecks" is sung from the perspective of a Southern "redneck". In it he expresses his dismay at the way that the North looks down upon The South...

is a song by Randy Newman
Randy Newman
Randall Stuart "Randy" Newman is an American singer-songwriter, arranger, composer, and pianist who is known for his mordant pop songs and for film scores....

, the lead-off track on his 1974 album Good Old Boys. Country music
Country music
Country music is a popular American musical style that began in the rural Southern United States in the 1920s. It takes its roots from Western cowboy and folk music...

 singer Gretchen Wilson
Gretchen Wilson
Gretchen Frances Wilson is an American country music artist. She made her debut in 2004 with the Grammy Award-winning single "Redneck Woman," a number-one hit on the Billboard country charts. The song served as the lead-off single of her debut album, Here for the Party...

 titled one of her songs "Redneck Woman
Redneck Woman
"Redneck Woman" is the debut single of American country music artist Gretchen Wilson. Released in 2004, the single served as the lead-off to her multi-platinum debut album Here for the Party. The song was also Wilson's only number one single on the U.S. Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks...

" on her 2004 album Here for the Party
Here for the Party


In recent years, the comedy of Jeff Foxworthy
Jeff Foxworthy
Jeffrey Marshall "Jeff" Foxworthy is an American comedian, television and radio personality and author. He is a member of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour, a comedy troupe which also comprises Larry the Cable Guy, Bill Engvall and Ron White. Known for his "you might be a redneck" one-liners, Foxworthy...

, Ron White
Ron White
Ronald "Ron" White is an American stand up comedian and satirist who has had two Grammy Award-nominations, and is RIAA certified 10x Platinum for CD and DVD sales of over 10 million units...

, Bill Engvall
Bill Engvall
William Ray "Bill" Engvall, Jr. is an American comedian and actor best known for his work as a stand-up comic and as a member of the Blue Collar Comedy group.-Early life:Bill Engvall was born in Galveston, Texas...

, and Daniel Lawrence Whitney as Larry the Cable Guy
Larry the Cable Guy
Daniel Lawrence Whitney , better known by his stage name and character Larry the Cable Guy, is an American comedian, actor, and former radio personality....

 has become popular through the "Blue Collar Comedy Tour
Blue Collar Comedy Tour
The Blue Collar Comedy Tour was a comedy troupe featuring Jeff Foxworthy with three of his comedian friends, Bill Engvall, Ron White, and Larry the Cable Guy, who had replaced fellow comedian Craig Hawksley, who performed in the first twenty shows on the tour...

" and Blue Collar TV
Blue Collar TV
Blue Collar TV was a television program that aired on The WB Television Network with lead actors Jeff Foxworthy, Bill Engvall and Larry the Cable Guy. The show's humor dealt principally with contemporary American society, and especially hillbilly, redneck, and Southern stereotypes. The show was...

. Foxworthy's 1993 comedy album You Might Be a Redneck If... cajoled listeners to evaluate their own behavior in the context of stereotypical
A stereotype is a popular belief about specific social groups or types of individuals. The concepts of "stereotype" and "prejudice" are often confused with many other different meanings...

 redneck behavior, and resulted in more mainstream usage of the term.

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
Bishops' Wars
The Bishops' Wars , were conflicts, both political and military, which occurred in 1639 and 1640 centred around the nature of the governance of the Church of Scotland, and the rights and powers of the Crown...

 that preceded the rise of Cromwell
Oliver Cromwell
Oliver Cromwell was an English military and political leader who overthrew the English monarchy and temporarily turned England into a republican Commonwealth, and served as Lord Protector of England, Scotland, and Ireland....

. Eventually, the term began to mean simply "Presbyterian
Presbyterianism refers to a number of Christian churches adhering to the Calvinist theological tradition within Protestantism, which are organized according to a characteristic Presbyterian polity. Presbyterian theology typically emphasizes the sovereignty of God, the authority of the Scriptures,...

", 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.

Dictionaries document the earliest American citation of the term's use for Presbyterians in 1830, as "a name bestowed upon the Presbyterians of Fayetteville [North Carolina]".


  • 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
  • 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)

External links

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