Blue Collar comedian Jeff Foxworthy made a name for himself with his famous “You Might Be a Redneck” jokes, and he’s not alone in his assessment of rednecks. You only have to look around to see plenty of redneck memes and articles about “genius” redneck hacks. Rednecks are a prevalent icon in our society. Given its high-profile nature, you might think you know what the word means, but chances are, you’re wrong.
“If you own a home that is mobile, and five cars that aren’t…you might be a redneck.” – Jeff Foxworthy
First, let’s talk about what it means today. In certain circles of American society, rednecks are demeaned as being uneducated, low-class and poverty stricken. This idea has become so prevalent that some people in that class of society have decided to embrace the term. They have taken the pejorative, and in defiance, turned it around into a point of pride. In 1995, the Bellamy Brothers shot to number one on the country charts with their hit, “Redneck Girl.” Later, in 2004, the redneck girl grew up and country singer Gretchen Wilson’s hit, “Redneck Woman,” reached number one. These aren’t the only two, either. There are more than enough songs about rednecks to know that it’s a solid stereotype.
But what is a redneck?
Common knowledge says the term refers to a person whose neck has burned from working in the sun. This applies to farmers, mainly. However, it can also extend to any outdoor type labor, including construction workers, mechanics and other blue collar occupations. When it’s used as an insult, the term redneck implies ignorance, naivety and even racism. On the other hand, to those who lovingly adopted the term as their own, it refers to a salt-of-the-earth type of people who are hard-working, proud and bible-believing.
So whose definition is more accurate?
Well, possibly neither one, if you look at history.
As it turns out, “redneck” is a term that has been in use in English speaking nations for nearly four hundred years now. Its oldest roots can be traced to Presbyterian Scottish Covenanters in the 1600s, who fought against the royal interference in the church from the Stuart monarchy. The Stuarts believed in the divine right of kings, and as rulers usurped control of the church. In response, many devout Presbyterians signed covenants that promised loyalty to the church over King Charles of England. It is said that they Covenanters signed in blood to show their fervently held beliefs, and wore red bandannas or neckerchiefs around their necks as a sign of solidarity. Thus, the term “redneck” was born.
Similarly, the term “hillbilly” is derived from the Scotts-Irish supporters of King William. William, Prince of Orange was known as “King Billy,” and he deposed the unpopular James Stuart from rule in 1690. In Scotland, his supporters were known as “billy boys,” and their American counterparts, who largely populated the hills of Appalachia, became known as “hillbillies.”
Now you know.
So it was religion and a red bandana that came together to coin the term “redneck” in Scotland. Later on, when many Scots-Irish migrated to America following the Test Act in 1704, they brought the word with them. It’s not entirely certain as to whether or not the term developed a new meaning after it crossed the Atlantic. However, it is crystal clear that it didn’t originate with country bumpkins in the American South.
The word “redneck” is very much a part of our lexicon now, as it has been since before America was formed as an independent nation. So if you’re using it as an insult, you might want to first consider the history of the word.