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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, Texas, 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."
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.
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.
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.
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. Redneck is mentioned several times on Texas-based animated sitcom King of the Hill by Hank Hill's antagonistic neighbor Kahn.
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.
Many southerners have adopted the disparaging term redneck as a banner of pride.
At the meeting the appellant called Roman Catholics "rednecks," a name most insulting to them, and challenged them to get up.
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