Redneck is a derogatory slang term used in reference to poor, uneducated white farmers, especially from the southern United States. It is similar in meaning to cracker (especially regarding Georgia and Florida),hillbilly (especially regarding Appalachia and the Ozarks), and white trash (but without the last term's suggestions of immorality).
In recent decades, the term has expanded its meaning to refer to bigoted, loutish reactionaries who are opposed to modern ways, and has often been used to attack white Southern conservatives. The term is used broadly to degrade working class and rural whites that are perceived by urban progressives to be insufficiently liberal. At the same time, some Southern whites 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 1893 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.
By 1910, 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, speculates that the prevalence of pellagra in the region during the great depression may have contributed to the rise in popularity of the term since red, inflamed skin is one of the first symptoms of that disorder to appear.
By the 1970s, the term had turned into offensive slang and had expanded its meaning to mean bigoted, loutish and opposed to modern ways, and was often used as a term to attack Southern white conservatives and racists.
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