Sunday, May 25, 2014


Gwen from Lake Ann, Michigan, called in to ask if the term redneck was due to the red clay prevalent in Georgia. It seems to me that redhand would have been the designated term if digging in the dirt had been the cause. The most likely reason for the nickname is the sunburned neck of a farmer working in hot climates. The Dictionary of American Regional English has a citation from 1893: "the 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".

It started as an insult—a poorly educated white bigot from a rural area in the South. But as time went on, the term was co-opted by people proud to call themselves rednecks because they put a positive spin on it. [Rednecks, white socks, and Blue Ribbon beer

Complicating matters, and leading to heated battles on the internet, is the fact that the term redneck has been used in several historical situations where poor white American Southerners were not involved.

In the mid-17th century, Scots-Irish Presbyterians who refused to embrace the state-sponsored Anglican Church signed petitions (some using their own blood as ink) and wore red pieces of cloth around their necks as a symbol of resistance. Oddly enough, 200 years later, the term redneck was an insult hurled at mackerel-snapping Roman Catholic Irish people. Evidently, God has no favorites.

In the early 20th century, the word redneck was applied to its striking members in Appalachia by the United Mine Workers of America. A red bandana became their symbol of defiance to mine owners.

Available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

Nook edition

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