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
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".
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.
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