A term defined by Mississippian Curtis Wilkie in Dixie: A Personal Odyssey Through Events That Shaped The Modern South as "a rural, intolerant fool." Rednecks may no longer always be actually rural, but they are generally of working-class origin, and if you believe Michael Graham in Redneck Nation, no longer limited to living in the U.S. South. "Redneck" is one of those terms that can be used with a sort of pride by people who consider themselves or their ancestors to be rednecks (comedian Jeff Foxworthy's "You might be a redneck if..." routines are an example) but are still an insult if they come from someone outside the group.

Most people (including me, originally) assume the term to be derived from the uneven sunburn one gets from working on the farm with a short-sleeved, low- (or no-) collared shirt on -- red on the arms and neck, but nowhere else. Gentlemen didn't get sunburns like that. However, as ximinez noted below before I got around to updating this writeup, the term was first used in England to describe Presbyterians and other religious dissenters; Wilkie says that historian David H. Fischer found records of its use in that sense in North Carolina dating from 1830. As many of the Scottish and Scotch-Irish Presbyterians in Southern mountains and rural areas left that church to become Baptists and Methodists, the connotations of the term shifted to describe a class and culture rather than a religious affiliation.

Cultural note: according to the wonderful cultural history Albion's Seed, redneck was originally an English term for Presbyterians, who are mostly Scottish and Scotch-Irish. These are the same people who emigrated into the backwoods of Appalachia in the 1720s and 1730s. The English prejudices against them translated into the prejudice of people from New England and Virginia against the hillbillies.

Growing up in the south, summer jobs, I wandered among them: farmers, mechanics, laborers, in my educated sore-thumb manner. I heard them speak, and sometimes I worried for our future, for our social structure, for their children. I watched them work, and I began to understand that there is an immutable dignity to manual labor. I heard them speak, and I listened more closely, realizing, as usual, that categorization was not so easy as one might think. And until you have seen the places they are from, and until you have stood beside them, straining on your tiptoes to hold up one end of a 600 pound canvas tent, until you have felt, over the course of years, in three month intervals, your body sweating in the midday sun, your muscles and sinew slowly hardening, the flesh of your hands eroding away and returning, becoming rough and calloused, and you have come home exhausted, dragging in with sweat running into your eyes and your seven-dollars-an-hour paycheck in hand, when you finally understand the pride that comes from a repair, a construction, made at the expense of your own body, and the feeling that not only have you changed something in the world, but have changed yourself, your structure as well, when you realize just how intimate your connection with physical matter really is, only then will you begin to have the understanding required to make a judgement about such a man. or woman.


Many times have my neck and arms been burned darker than the rest of me. And sometimes I really miss those days.

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.